To keep with our theme of “back-to-school,” let’s talk about lunch. Some schools have excellent lunch food, but many kids (and parents) prefer to bring their lunches with them. As parents, we all want our kids lunches to be healthy and safe, but we also want them to be EATEN. If your kid is picky like mine, you know how frustrating it can be to throw their food away on an almost daily basis. Here are some tips for making lunches healthy, safe, and interesting for those precious kiddos, while staying organized for your own sanity.
Keep it Healthy and Safe
- Brown paper bags are cheap and convenient, but will not keep your precious baby’s lunch safe because many schools will not have a refrigerator for lunches brought from home. An insulated lunch box/bag with ice packs is a much safer option for keeping lunches at the proper temperature.
- When certain foods stay between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for too long, bacteria have the opportunity to grow to an unsafe level. It’s easy to put an ice pack in an insulated bag to keep foods cool. It is much more difficult to keep hot foods hot, so it is best to only include foods that are eaten at room temperature or cold. If you do find a container that will keep foods hot, try it out at home first by placing hot food in, waiting four hours (or the amount of time between lunch packing and lunch time) and then test the temperature using a meat thermometer.
- Include a protein source like meat, nuts, or nut butters. Check with your school for policies about peanut butter. Some schools may prefer that it not be included due to allergies.
- Include a fruit and a vegetable.
- Include one dairy product- cheese, yogurt, or milk. * If you choose cheese slices, make sure the package reads “cheese” and not “cheese food.” Read the ingredients list to see if it is made from milk. Not all American cheese singles are made equal.
Keep it Fun and Interesting
Instead of a plain old sandwich day after day, try mixing it up. If you do make a sandwich, a fun surprise would be to cut the sandwich with a large cookie cutter in a kid-friendly shape. Here are some fun lunch ideas for kids:
- Wraps: Anything rolled up in a tortilla is fun and easy to eat. Wraps are great because there are a variety of different tortillas available, and they can be filled with just about anything you want. Some of my favorites are
- Hummus wraps- a nice helping of hummus spread on a whole wheat tortilla with lettuce, cucumber, and tomato.
- Cream cheese roll-ups: Cream cheese spread on any variety of tortilla and rolled up with your child’s favorite veggies. Carrots, cucumbers, and bell pepper strips work well. The fun thing about cream cheese roll-ups is the infinite variety. Different flavors of cream cheese, different veggies and different tortillas keep this one interesting.
- Deli meat, mayo or mustard, and cheese wrapped up in a tortilla.
- If your child likes salad, wrap up a salad.
- Tuna wrap
- Chicken salad wrap
- Pizza wrap- as long as your little one will eat it cold, wrap up some pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, and marinara sauce in a tortilla.
- Tuna or chicken salad with crackers or some type of roll (dinner roll, sweet roll, crescent roll)
- Ham sushi- wrap pieces of cheddar or colby-jack cheese with ham or another lunch meat so that it looks like sushi.
- Salad with hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, and bite-size chicken pieces
Keep it Organized
There is a simple formula for a well-balanced lunch box.
Protein source + Grain + Fruit or Veggie + Somethin’ Special + Drink
To keep all of this quick and easy, it might take some time up front.
- On Sunday, wash and cut up all of your veggies and fruits. Pack them in individual containers such as snack size zip-top baggies or small plastic containers with lids. Store these all together in the fridge. You could buy small storage bins/baskets if you want to get really fancy!
- Buy individually wrapped cheese snacks/sticks or cut your own and package like the fruits and veggies. Again, store these together in the fridge.
- Wrap your wraps, build your sandwiches, and box up your salads (or whatever main dishes you choose) You’ll need five (for five days) for each kid who will be taking lunches to school. Store these together in the fridge.
- Do the same packaging with crackers or any other treats like cookies, dessert cakes, and the like and keep together in the pantry.
- Be sure to stock up on individual juice boxes, bottles of water, or milk for drinks.
Once all of your prep-work is done, you or your kids can grab what they need from the fridge and pantry and toss their lunch items into their insulated lunch bags with an ice pack and they are good to go in a minute or less! If your kids are the ones who will be actually packing the lunch bags, put the formula on the refrigerator with a magnet, so they can remember what they are looking for.