Packing a lunchbox that is simple yet varied and healthy yet kid-approved is no easy feat. Don’t give up. Here are 5 simple ways to up the appeal.
Ok, let’s be real here. The lunches that I pack most days are not fancy-looking. My main goal is to pack a balanced lunch that my kids will actually eat! And while my lunches have evolved as my kids have grown, here are some tips that have stayed:
No. 1 Add some crunch
There’s a reason potato chips go so well with a sandwich. They add a nice contrasting crunch (oh, and yes, a little salty flavor too). And with so many kid favorites being soft foods–pb&j, ham and cheese, noodles, berries, applesauce, melon, cheese, and yogurt–it can be nice with some added crunch. While carrots and apple slices will fit the bill, mix it up by adding something salty & crunchy. Here are some tasty, but healthy ideas:
- Roasted chickpeas
- Whole grain tortilla chips
- Whole-grain crackers
- Rice crackers
- Seedy crackers
- Toasted bread
No. 2 Toothpicks or Thin Pretzel Sticks
Kids love little mini skewers. So use those toothpicks or pretzel sticks to layer on some fun healthy foods, such as grapes, cheese, baby tomatoes, melon pieces, and chicken. Or stick them into little mini sandwiches to hold them together. Here are some fun combination ideas:
- Grape tomatoes, chicken, and bell peppers
- Cheddar cheese, roasted turkey, and cucumber
- Pineapple and grapes
- Blueberries and cantaloupe
No. 3 Compartment Lunchbox
I have found bento-style lunch box containers to be really helpful. These earth-friendly containers streamline the process, remind you to pack a variety of healthy (not prepackaged and processed) foods, and help make a pretty presentation. My current go-to is the below pictured easy lunchboxes. They are easy to clean, seal well, and reasonably priced–which is good if your kids are like mine and sometimes lose their lunchboxes. (OK, that only happened once, but it was right after I splurged on a fancy, high-priced one!)School lunches are in session. Here are 5 simple ways to up the #lunchbox appeal... Click To Tweet
No. 4 Thermos
Once or twice a week I change it up and send a hot meal in a thermos. It’s usually something simple like leftover pasta or soup. My younger son is just now getting into these hot meals. The key to keeping them nice and warm is heating the thermos with some hot water before adding the hot contents. Here are some simple ideas. All can be made ahead of time and then heated the morning of school:
- Chicken Soup
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Tuscan Bean Soup
- Tomato Soup
- Tortellini and Sauce
- Pasta Bolognese
- Pasta and Peas – This is one of my older son’s favorites. Simply cook macaroni or other shaped pasta (or heat leftovers). Towards the end of cooking add frozen petite peas. After draining toss with organic butter and a touch of sea salt. Take it up a notch by adding some diced, cooked Canadian bacon or keep it vegetarian and add canned, drained chickpeas.
No 5. Sweets and Treats
With so many opportunities to have sweets coming at us every day, I only pack a food treat now and then, and when I do it’s usually petite in size and homemade…for example, little brownie bites, small oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, mini pumpkin muffins, or nut-free cocoa-coconut bliss balls. Now that my kids are both in Middle School, they also have the opportunity to buy cookies and ice cream every day! And although I’m sure they would love to buy a cookie every day, we have agreed to a deal they can buy one sweet a week.
So on most days, it’s the fruit that’s the sweet treat. (And in my 9-year old’s case, usually chocolate milk too). That’s why I love the idea of a non-food treat such as a handwritten note or a pre-made lunch note, like these Lunch Bite Cards from Jodi at Create Kids Club. Jodi has created an assortment of cards with a mix of fun facts, jokes, and sweet messages.
Have Kids Age 10 or Older?
While some of these strategies may still appeal to them, chances are they are no longer into “cute” lunches. I encourage you to have them start packing their own lunch. Help them out by posting a lunch box suggestion guide. Better yet, have them help create the guide by using a template like this one from Sally at Real Mom Nutrition. Post it somewhere where they can see it and be sure to keep a variety of these lunch box foods on hand.
My 11-year old and I have agreed that he will make his own lunches this year. The exception being on days when he gets a hot meal in his thermos–which I haven’t quite trained him on preparing yet! His favorite thermos meals are pasta and peas, chicken noodle soup, and leftover pasta Bolognese. He also likes to order hot lunch once or twice a week.
Have Picky Eaters?
Try creating a list of all the foods in different food groups that your child will eat. This can be helpful in two ways: 1) you may realize they like more foods than you thought. 2) post it in your kitchen and it becomes a handy reference.
Need More Tips?
Check out some of my past posts on the topic of lunch box packing…