Getting a child to eat healthy meals is hard enough at home. Packing a nutritious lunch that won't make a return trip from the school cafeteria is even harder. Planning ahead and using a few simple techniques to create healthy school lunches with kid appeal will give you an edge on busy school mornings.
7 Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches
- Gear up! Reuseable lunch containers with a single lid and multiple compartments are easy for little fingers to open. They also encourage your child to eat a more balanced meal, since the entire lunch is in view. Make sure you've got a thermos for hot meals, as well as an insulated lunch bag and ice packs to keep cold food at a safe temperature.
- Stock the pantry. Prepare for rushed mornings by having plenty of lunch packing staples on hand. Keep a good supply of nonperishables, such as crackers, pretzels, rice cakes, fruit leather, and dried and canned fruits. Check to see if your child's school restricts peanuts or tree nuts before packing PB&J. If it does, sunflower seed spread is a delicious and readily available peanut butter alternative to keep in the cupboard.
- Create some sandwich appeal. Use cookie or sandwich cutters to make kid-friendly shapes and remove the crust in one stroke. Change out the bread with bagels, pancakes, or waffles. Roll up sandwich fillings in whole grain tortillas or wraps then slice them into pinwheels. Be creative with the fillings, too, by using fruit, such as apples or banana, instead of jelly in a nut or seed butter sandwiches.
- Pack lunches with some assembly required. Make your own, healthier version of the prepackaged kits with stackable crackers, meat, and cheese. Give your child some granola or fruit to mix into either yogurt or applesauce. Don't forget that kids love to dip, and are more likely to eat veggies if there's some ranch dressing or humus on the side.
- Use your freezer. If you make pancakes or muffins on the weekend, freeze the extras for lunches during the week. They don't even need to be defrosted, just make sandwiches from the pancakes or toss the muffins right into the lunch box, where they'll keep the rest of the lunch cool as they warm up.
- Embrace leftovers. If dinner was a hit, then go for a sequel the next day. Keep in mind that most schools don't have a microwave available to students. Some foods, such as pasta or soup, are great in a thermos, while a surprising number of others, such as chicken or meatballs, are also good cold. If you start giving your child the option of eating leftovers at school, you may be surprised at how often you get requests for them.
- Don't be afraid to decorate! A little bit of lunch bling goes a long way toward making healthy foods more appealing. Use a silicone cup to separate foods and add a splash of color. Food picks are inexpensive, adorable, and will make your child's lunch the subject of envy, no matter how many veggies you slip in there.
Be sure to leave your own lunch packing tips in the comments!