It's back to school time, which means parents have a lot of homework
of their own--buying school supplies, signing forms, arranging carpools,
and, one of the most important tasks, pulling together healthy packed
lunches. If that last one always feels like a chore, here are five creative
tips for lunches that will earn a gold star from your kids.
1. Build a better lunch box. To accommodate a wide variety of foods, your child's lunch box should
have some essentials:
- Containers with multiple compartments, such as bento boxes. Alternatively,
you can use an assortment of lidded containers in various sizes.
- A small container with a lid for dips (think ranch dressing for veggies
or yogurt for fruit), sauces or other liquids.
- An insulated thermos for hot foods, such as soup or spaghetti.
- Reusable sacks for sandwiches, chips or other items.
- An insulated lunch bag to keep food cold and ice packs. (The U.S. Department
of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends using
at least two ice packs, layering them underneath and on top of containers
holding perishables.) In a pinch, you can also use frozen water bottles
or juice packs.
- Reusable fork and spoon.
2. For protein, go beyond PB&J. The classic combo isn't always an option--some schools don't allow
peanut butter because of allergy concerns, while kids can often get bored
with it. You still want your child to get protein at lunch to get them
through a long school day. Other options to try:
- Cubed cheese, served with crackers.
- Eggs--hard-boiled, served in egg salad sandwiches or in mini quiches.
- Beans and rice.
- Slices of ham or turkey rolled up with slices of cheese.
- Cottage cheese.
- Greek yogurt (plain topped with fresh fruit; flavored yogurts tend to have
a lot of sugar).
- Protein pancakes--kids can enjoy this breakfast favorite for lunch with
protein-packed ingredients such as egg whites, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt,
oats or flaxseeds. There are hundreds of recipes online so you can experiment
and find one that's a hit with your child.
- Leftovers--set aside some of last night's entree to use the next day.
The roast chicken from dinner can be chopped up for lunchtime pasta salad,
tacos or wraps.
3. Think outside the bread box. Don't limit yourself to sliced bread when it comes to lunches. Get
- Tortillas--use for wraps, quesadillas or burritos, or top them with sliced
turkey, cheese, tomato and lettuce, roll up and cut into rounds.
- Pizza crust--use for flatbreads or make mini pizzas or pizza strips; can
also bake with herbs for bread sticks to accompany soup.
- Polenta slices--top with meatballs or mushrooms and marinara sauce.
- Pita pockets--stuff them with any kind of sandwich filling.
- Waffles--they can stand in for sandwich bread when you layer cream cheese
and fruit between them.
- Lettuce cups--they can be filled with ground turkey or chopped chicken
and veggies; works well with Asian or Mexican flavors.
- Apple slices--Spread almond butter and cinnamon between two slices for
a twist on a sandwich. Brush the apples with lemon juice to keep them
4. Make it appealing to the eye as well as the palate. This is where bento boxes and other divided containers come in handy--the
food just looks better when it's neatly organized and presented (and
your kid may be more likely to eat it). If you've got the time and
want to go the extra mile, try these fun ideas:
- Turn sandwiches into flowers, stars or other fun shapes with cookie cutters
to make them appealing to young kids and picky eaters.
- Buy paper sticks you'd use to make cake pops and turn them into skewers
for fruits or cubed cheese and meat.
- Make youngsters smile by wrapping an apple or banana in plastic and sticking
on googly eyes to create silly faces.
- Older kids can have do-it-yourself school lunches--separately pack the
components of tacos, sloppy joes or sandwiches with moist ingredients
that can turn bread soggy and let your child assemble them for lunch.
5. Teach your kids to pack their own lunches. It teaches your children independence, and there's a greater chance
they'll eat and enjoy the lunch if they pack it themselves. (And it's
one more thing off your to-do list!). To help them:
- Make a checklist for them to follow to ensure they get a balanced lunch--snack,
fruit, sandwich, veggies, etc. Use pictures of food for younger kids who
aren't reading yet.
- Use separate bins in the refrigerator or pantry for each food group on
your checklist, so kids can just grab what they need. (It also makes it
simple to tell when you're running low on certain items.)
- Keep all lunch box essentials in one location that's easy for kids to reach.
- Encourage them to do as much as they can the night before, so they're
not rushed or stressed in the morning.