The kids have recently returned to school after winter break but you may already be in a “packed lunch slump.” Here are 10 ways to make packed lunches healthy, fun and fast.
1. Get a bento box system. Laptop Lunches has great options for bento box-style lunches. Bento-ware includes a soft-sided case with sturdy, dishwasher safe containers (top rack only) that fit together inside, just like a bento box. The system pays for itself as you can ditch zip-lock bags and pack a far greater variety of lunch options, including dinner leftovers, berries and dips. You can purchase Laptop Lunches online or at Whole Foods.
2. Wrap it & have your child choose the filling. Kids love having turkey and cheese or veggies with hummus wrapped in a tortilla. Kroger offers some great options for tortillas. Need some inspiration? Check out Tanya Steel’s book Real Food for Healthy Kids: 200+ Easy, Wholesome Recipes, available on Amazon.com. Steel, a mother of two and the editor of Epicurious.com, says, “Whatever you make, you want to get your kid in on the decision, otherwise all the care in the world won't get him to eat it. So empower your kid by giving them two healthy choices before you make it. Say 'You can have this or that' and make sure each choice has protein to help them focus, and complex carbs to keep them full and sated.”
3. Get creative with leftovers. Nutritionist and Bastyr University faculty member Cynthia Lair is the author of Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children, and Their Parents, and Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players, Parents, and Coaches. She is also the co-producer and host of the popular online show Cookus Interruptus, which shows how to cook family-pleasing meals from organic ingredients, despite life's interruptions. Lair’s website offers lots of ideas for healthy and delicious packed lunch options made from leftovers and using a bento box system.
Steel says busy parents should “think like a chef and cook seasonally and efficiently. Perhaps there is a roast chicken you made for that night's dinner that can then be mixed with a bit of mayo and honey mustard and rolled up or put into lettuce leaves. Avoid the temptation to just dump whatever you had two nights ago into their lunch box as they are unlikely to want to eat it."
4. Ditch the white bread for whole grains. There are lots of fun and more nutritious options available now than white sandwich bread, including bagels and English muffins made with whole grains. Essex Bagels is a great resource when expanding your sandwich options.
5. Make friends with the thermos. You can find thermos bottles in a variety of sizes at Target. Get one that seals tightly, can be cleaned easily daily and will fit into your child’s existing lunchbox. Now you can offer all sorts of great hot packed lunch options from soup to pasta with sauce.
6. Have fun with fruits and veggies. Your kids will eat more fruits and veggies if they have something to dunk them in. Use a small container or bento box to pack a dip or hummus for veggies, or some yogurt or peanut butter to smear on cut apples or banana.
7. Surprise them with a note or drawing. Write a short note on a Post-it or toss a quick drawing into your child's lunchbox. Start a drawing and ask him or her to complete it and bring it home, or write “grade for the school day so far” on the back of your note so it becomes an interactive process and you can discuss it further when he or she gets home.
8. Shake things up with a new drink. Fill your child's water bottle with sparkling apple cider, or add some cut up lemon or lime slices or a few berries to their water. Or flavor their milk with a few drops of pure vanilla extract.
9. Make your own Lunchables. Kids love those pre-packed lunches with sliced meat, cheese and crackers. Steel says you can make your own versions that are equally fun and much more nutritious. “Sodium and sugar are the two things that are in practically every packaged food. The more you can give your child fresh food, the better off they are. I would recommend making some easy things to have on hand for lunch, like cutting up whole wheat pita chips, drizzling them with a little olive oil, a touch of salt and a bit of grated Parmesan cheese, and pop it in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes. You can do that exact recipe with any veggie from carrots to kale and kids will gobble them up."
10. Encourage tweens and teens to pack their lunch. As your child gets older, they can pack their own lunch, but they still need your guidance to make good choices. Steel says, “Getting them involved, from the planning and shopping to the prepping, is the answer.