Author: Ashley Wentworth
It’s back-to-school season which means many of us are fretting about what to send in our kids’ lunchboxes, myself included. Unless your child takes advantage of the school meal program for all of their school meals, planning and packing lunches can be daunting. It seems like a constant battle between sending foods that support them during their long school day, and ones they’ll actually eat.
Here are a few ideas to help make packing for lunchtime easier.
Pack Enough Food
My first tip is to pack enough food. Many schools have time for a snack/breakfast in the morning in addition to a normal lunch period. This basically means packing enough food for two meals, especially if your child has a small breakfast at home or doesn’t eat before school.
Having enough food to eat supports their energy, concentration, learning, and growth. I know if I’m hungry I usually am not productive and have poor focus and concentration. Our kids are no different. Being hungry can also cause irritability (hello, hangry!) and is distracting.
Use School Programs
Take advantage of your school’s snack and meal offerings. Some states have adopted universal free school breakfast and lunch meals which is a no-brainer to help with your budget. Look over the menu together with your student and pick out some items or meals for them to try.
Make It a Joint Effort
Include your child in the planning and packing process for their school meals. Have them help you come up with some items or meals they might like to have for the week or over the next few weeks. You can include these on your grocery list and then have them available.
Some families have kids pack their own lunchbox each day.
Pack plenty of food and a variety of options. This will give them some different things to choose from. I know I don’t know what I want for lunch right when I wake up in the morning. Include items from all of the food groups, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber, and fun foods can all be part of a school meal.
Try to help your student explore which foods help keep them full and satisfied during their day.
Kids go through phases of liking things and then not wanting them for a while, just like adults. If their tastes change, try to go with the flow and pick some new or different items to try.
Make It Easy for Them
Kids often do not get a lot of time to eat lunch in school. Make it easier for them. For example, send oranges already peeled. Slice up apples. Have everything ready to eat so they don’t waste time peeling and cutting and end up with no time to actually eat.
Handy Lunchtime Tools
- Bento boxes are great with helping to include variety. There are many different compartments to have fun with. It also saves space to help include more food instead of containers using up the space.
- Small cooler/ice packs are great to help keep things that need to be refrigerated stay cold during the school day.
- We use our thermos a lot! We pack soup, macaroni and cheese, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and more.
- Cookie cutters can be used to make food items seem more fun and appealing. Cutting sandwiches, cheese, or anything into shapes automatically makes them more desirable to little ones.
- I’m not sure about you, but I absolutely hate having a million plastic, zippered snack bags floating around the kitchen and the lunch box. We love our reusable snack bags! They certainly help save money as well.
Ditch the Guilt
When we think “processed” we usually think unhealthy, prepackaged food. But truth be told, most of the food we buy at the store is processed in some way. It’s ok to send processed convenience foods like dried or canned fruit for example. Fruits and vegetables don’t have to be fresh for every meal/snack. If your kids like them and eat them, it’s a win!
Food Item Ideas
- Open-faced sandwiches
- Fruits and vegetables, canned, cooked, fresh, dried, freeze-dried, or frozen
- Write notes or draw pictures on bananas and oranges to make them fun
- Try different cuts to keep things exciting—sliced, cubed, or cut into fun shapes
- Send some kind of dip for fruits and vegetables if your child likes it better this way. We love mixing yogurt and peanut butter together for a quick fruit dip! Hummus, salad dressings, yogurt, or whatever your child enjoys.
- Leftovers from dinner
- Cheese—cubed, sliced, or string
- Nut butters if your school allows it, Sunbutter if not
- Deli meat and cheese rolls
- Muffins or breads
- Homemade Lunchable style items
There are no rules when it comes to packing meals for your kids. Choose foods they like. If it seems like they are getting bored with things, try something new. Almost anything can be sent as a school meal—think outside the (lunch) box. Happy back-to-school!