What To Pack In Your Kid's Lunch Box
My youngest daughter Maddie gave me the idea for this post and even helped write it. For many years, one of my stay-at-home responsibilities was making lunch for the kids. Sounds easy enough but for those of you who prepare your child’s lunch every day, five days a week, you know this task can be daunting especially if your kids are picky eaters.
I remember years ago when my girls loved Smucker’s “Uncrustables” – crust-less peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I used to buy them by the case at Costco and serve them in their lunch boxes just about every day for weeks on end. One day they rebelled and said, “NO MORE” and both have refused to eat another one since. Now it’s gotten a little more complicated, so with Maddie’s help we came up with some suggestions that may help fellow lunch makers.
For the record, a couple of years ago, my wife agreed to relieve me of lunch-packing duties but last week she was out of town for work so the baton was passed back to me. It reminded me how important lunch is for your kids and why you want to get it right. Fortunately, my oldest daughter is now in high school and likes the food served at the cafeteria, so we are down to one packed lunch per day.
Now, packing your kid's lunch is a cost effective way of ensuring they have enough nutrition for the day. But, to pack “the right” lunch is a balancing act, since the kids can choose what to eat and not eat. Here are a few tips I’ve developed over the years.
Main Meal aka “entrée”
It has to be something they like that is cold or can still be eaten cold, since there is no place to heat it up at most schools. Pasta or sandwiches are good choices but if you are doing a sandwich, leave the tomatoes off to the side so the sandwich doesn’t get soggy – let your kids put the tomato in themselves.
Don't pack the same sandwich two days in a row, your kids will get sick of it (see “Uncrustables” above!).
Another option is leftovers, but make sure they like it cold. I once tried sending some leftover beef stew in Maddie’s lunch and at first she thought it was chocolate pudding………..until that first bite.
My girls enjoy leftover chicken, steak, pork and even leftover fish like salmon once in a while. But give some thought to the smell – NO HARD BOILED EGGS!
In my opinion snacks (or “sides”) are very important and hardest to get right. I recommend 2-3 snacks because if they don’t eat their main meal, at least they’ll have enough to fill up. Also, if they have an after school activity, they have something to eat.
The first snack for me is usually a piece of fruit, like apple slices, grapes or some strawberries, anything your kid likes.
The next snack is a vegetable that can be in addition to or instead of fruit. A great choice for my girls is edamame, it is easy to make, delicious, and high in protein. But, it's the same as fruit - whatever your kid likes. Some other suggestions include baby carrots, celery sticks, snap peas, cucumber, and broccoli (I slice the stem into “broccoli chips”).
After that I usually put in something with dairy, like cheese or yogurt. For the cheese, string or cubed is good and for the yogurt anything portable. Remember the spoon!
Lastly, offer them something that qualifies as dessert but is still somewhat healthy. A good choice is trail mix (or as my daughter calls it “m&ms and disappointment”) or a granola bar.
Now there is only one more thing left: water. Since there’s only a limited amount of time for them to get to the lunchroom, find a seat and eat their lunch, packing a small water helps so they don't have to worry about getting some before class.
There you have lunch!
The final tip food wise is: pay attention if the same food items keep coming back untouched. They obviously don't want it and it doesn’t matter how many times you pack it, they’re not going to eat it. I know right now it seems like a lot of extra work, but soon it will just become a pattern.
When buying a lunchbox, there are several things to consider. If there are going to be fresh ingredients, you’ll want one that either comes with a cold pack or at least has a place to hold one that won’t get in the way. You can see from the photo, my daughter’s current lunch box has netting to hold a cold pack at the top so there’s more room in the main compartment.
Insulation is obviously one of the more important factors when choosing a good lunch box. I’d like to think the more you pay, the better the insulation but I’m not sure that’s true. I have a feeling the cost of a lunchbox has a lot to do with whose photo is on the box. I remember paying up for lunch boxes with my girls’ favorite cartoon or Disney characters on them. One year she had a lunchbox with Ricky Martin on it. I wonder how much we paid up for that one?
When I was a kid, my mother packed our lunches in brown paper bags. I know some of my friends had those fancy metal lunchboxes with Superman or The Lone Ranger on them, but we went with the economy disposable bags. By the time I sat down for lunch, my sliced banana sandwich on Wonder Bread was so smashed, you didn’t know whether to eat it or have a catch with it.
No matter how much you pay or don’t pay for your kid’s lunch box, the most important response you’ll want to hear from your kids when they come home from school is, “Out of everyone at the lunch table I had the best meal!"