After being contacted by two journalists and a television show for interviews about Back to School Lunches, I though I would re-publish this article from last year.
Our fishing expedition on Flathead Lake this summer was comical. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to catch anything, even though the boat next to us was reeling in fish every time we looked! Clearly, there was something we weren’t doing right. As a man from the next boat yelled over to us, “What kind of bait are you using?” a crazy thought entered into my mind: Feeding children is a lot like fishing – you have to have the right lure, or they won’t bite! Packing desirable school lunches is a lot like the fine art of selecting an appealing lure while fishing. Try some of these stress-free strategies for packing lunches that are healthy for your kids and the environment. They’ll be sure to bite!
- Ask your kids what they will enjoy. Remember that if they don’t like certain foods at home, they won’t like them at school either!
- Ask for their input before loading their lunch box. Just because they liked something today doesn’t mean that they will like it again tomorrow.
- Keep in mind that your children don’t have much time to eat…so pack foods in small portions that are easy to eat, so they have time left to play.
- Don’t be lured into buying prepackaged lunches, which are high in fat, sugar, salt and calories, are much more expensive, and produce tons of unnecessary garbage.
- Let your child help you select a cool lead-free and reusable lunch bag or lunch box. Pick up a few reusable containers that will fit inside – this will prevent food from leaking and getting smashed, and will help you avoid using disposable items like plastic bags and foil.
- Pack a reusable drink container instead of juice boxes, juice pouches, cans, and disposable plastic bottles.
- Instead of packing a paper napkin, use a cloth one (baby wash cloths, or cut up old t-shirts work great for this!)
- Pack stainless-steel utensils instead of using disposable plastics.
- Buy in bulk instead of purchasing pre-packaged items. This will save you money, and you can reuse or recycle the containers at home.
- Whenever possible, pack lunches the night before. Why add more stress to your morning routine?
Here are a variety of ideas for some fun and interesting lunches. Don’t forget to include fruits or vegetables, protein and whole grains every day.
- Instead of sliced bread, try rice or whole grain crackers, whole wheat pita bread, whole grain bagels and tortillas.
- Wrap it Up! Combine a variety of spreads, fillings and wrappers for a sandwich alternative your kids won’t forget. For lots of wrap recipes, please visit the Healthy School Lunches page at What’s Cooking.
- Quiches or frittatas are full of protein. Try making a batch in a mini muffin pan – they will be a great size for school lunches and will last in the refrigerator for the whole week. Organic and free range eggs are good choices!
- Whole grain pasta or couscous salad
- You can make several peanut butter and jam sandwiches at a time. Wrap them tightly and store in the freezer. Toss one in a lunch bag and it will be thawed by lunch time! Is peanut butter banned at your school? Try: cashew butter, almond butter, soy nut butter, sunflower seed butter or tahini (sesame seed paste) as alternate spreads
- Many of the thermos treasures below can be made ahead, stored and warmed before packing.
- Tortellini with pesto
- Spaghetti with marinara sauce
- Noodle Soup
- Fried Rice
- Chili with corn chips on the side for dipping
- Fruit Smoothies…cold, of course!
Container Combinations…for kids to assemble and snack on themselves
- Purchase yogurt in bulk, and serve in a reusable container. On the side, pack some toppings, such as dried fruit, granola or grape nuts.
- Carrots, cucumber or broccoli with dip, such as ranch dressing, plain yogurt with dill, or peanut/almond/cashew/sunflower seed butters
- Nachos: pack containers of ground turkey/tofu, guacamole, grated cheese and tortilla chips
- Whole grain crackers, slices of turkey, ham or tofu, cubes of cheese
Packing an appealing school lunch will lure your children into eating well, help them to be more successful in school, and help the planet, too. Don’t be caught with the wrong bait, or your kids might throw it back!
Michelle Stern owns What’s Cooking, a Certified Green SF Bay Area business that offers cooking classes and gifts to children. Her classes encourage students and their families to use cooking as a way to spend quality time together in their own kitchens and out in the community where they can help those less fortunate.