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Maria

What Should I Pack in My Child's Lunch Box?

by Maria on September 17, 2013

 

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One of the most frequently asked questions I get regarding kids and nutrition is for ideas on what to pack in lunch boxes.

We have a couple of good blog entries on this topic already (Lunch Box Stars – Part 1, 5 Different Sandwiches, 1 Type of Bread), but given that it’s back to school time again, I thought I would write another entry on it. However, as I started writing, it soon became apparent that I needed to write both an article and a blog on the topic. So if you want even more of a how-to on packing nutritious, balanced lunches check out the article Build a Better Lunch.

Needless to say, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, probably because it hits close to home for me too.  Having two school-aged boys I am constantly trying to figure out ways to get more vegetables, protein, and overall variety to their lunch boxes.

The lunch challenge became all the more real for me this fall, with my younger son starting full-day kindergarten. Now anyone who knows Henrik well, knows that he is particular about what he eats. I am hoping he grows out of this picky stage soon, but in the meantime, I have to come up with lunches that appeal to him and will keep him going until he comes home.

In addition to being picky, Henrik could do without variety. While I pride myself in packing a different fruit and vegetable in the lunch box every day of the week, he would prefer to have strawberries and carrots every day.

The same goes for his entrée, nut butter on crackers every day please! He loves the Late July brand organic peanut butter crackers, but is also happy with my homemade version of whole wheat crackers and almond or peanut butter. (If your school or class is nut free, try making these with sunflower seed butter). I am hoping to try some other "entrees" with him this fall, but given that he is still adjusting to school, I figure we will hold off a little.

Lunch box 2: Almond butter on wheat crackers, spelt pretzels, cocoa hearts, organic chocolate milk, pear slices, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, hummus. 

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One thing I do with both my boys is talk to them about what to pack in their lunch and snack. I tell them the importance of having a variety of foods, especially fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein, so that they get lots of energy to run fast and all the vitamins they need to grow and learn. 

This fall, to help them and myself think of food ideas, I created a lunch food list. I basically made a list of all the different categories of food that you should choose from for a balanced lunch, and then had the kids help me come up with all the foods they liked in each category. I then posted the list inside one of my kitchen cabinet doors where I keep the weekly meal plan. This way when I’m planning lunches each week and get stuck on what to pack for lunch I can just look at my lists.

You may not need to do this, but if you have a picky eater or would like to increase the variety of foods you pack in the lunch box, this is a great tool. What’s more, you may be surprised by how many foods your picky eater eats in each category. And again, make your list with the kids, this will get them involved and hopefully excited about what is in their lunch.

Here is my list. As you can see, my boys don’t eat everything, but at least I know they are getting a variety of foods in their lunch and that they like it.

FALL 2013 LUNCH IDEAS

 

Elliott

Henrik

Combo Foods

Jam Sandwich

BL Sandwich (Bacon & Lettuce)

Salami Sandwich

Chicken Noodle Soup

Pasta and Peas

Swedish Pancakes

Pizza

Peanut Butter Crackers

Grilled Cheese

 

 

Grains

 

Whole grain crackers

Whole grain pretzels

Popcorn

Crisp bread

Granola Bars

Raisin/Everything Bagel

Homemade muffins

Waffles

Pancakes

Whole grain crackers

Whole grain pretzels

Popcorn

Crisp bread

Granola Bars

Raisin Bagel

Homemade muffins

Waffles

Pancakes

Veggies

 

Carrot sticks

Cucumbers

Green beans

Snap peas

Lettuce

Baby Spinach

Carrot sticks

Cucumbers

Green beans

Snap peas

Red bell peppers

 

Fruits

(all except mango)

Strawberries

Grapes

Pear

Peaches

Plums

Apples

Orange slices

Melon

Kiwi

Banana

Applesauce

Dried fruit

Strawberries

Raspberries

Grapes

Apple slices

Applesauce

Dried fruit

Protein

Chicken Tenders

Swedish Meatballs

Grilled Chicken

Peanuts

Chicken Tenders

Dairy

 

Milk

Yogurt

Kefir Push Up (ProBugs)

Chocolate Milk

Kefir Push Up (ProBugs)

 

And one final thought, for now, these days it’s easy to go on the internet and find pictures of school lunch ideas.  Pinterest has a plethora of fun lunch box ideas. It can be inspiring and overwhelming at the same time. While I think it’s great to make a lunch more cute and nutritious at the same time, I don’t think you should panic or feel inadequate if you don’t serve smiley faced sandwiches on homemade bread or include kale in the lunch.

The reality is most of us only have a few minutes every day to spend on packing lunches. So quick and simple is good. The good old sandwich is a classic lunch box staple, and can be very healthful and satisfying. If you want to go beyond the sandwich, you can do a lot with a little advanced planning and shopping. For instance:

  • Make a batch of the healthful muffins, like the mini morning glories or zucchini, and freeze them to have on hand for lunches.  
  • Plan a soup night and then serve leftovers in a thermos for lunch the next day.     
  • Freeze leftover waffles and use to make a waffle sandwich with jam and peanut butter or cream cheese. (Or use an all-natural store-bought frozen waffle, such as Van's).
  • Perk up the lunchbox with a homemade cookie. (Our chocolate chip cookies are a healthier take on the classic cookie, and will provide a sweet treat as well as whole grains).
Lunch box 3: Peanuts, raisin bagel, cucumber slices, strawberry slices, organic cheese stick, chcocolate chips.
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Lunch box 4: Jam sandwich on white whole wheat bread, homemade popcorn, organic baby carrots, organic applesauce, organic low-fat milk.

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