It's hard enough trying to figure out what to make for your own lunch. When you're packing lunch for kids every day, the problem is exponentially multiplied -- especially if your children are picky eaters or have food allergies. Let's get out of this school lunch rut and find ways to make a variety of healthy lunches that kids will actually eat.
Find More Lunch Ideas
Probably the worst part of making school lunches is just figuring out what the heck to pack. After your 100th packed lunch, both you and your child are probably bored sick of peanut butter or Vegemite sandwiches.
Thankfully, there are lots of great sources for lunch ideas:
- School lunch plans.Check out how kids around the world eat lunch at Cozi or What's For School Lunch?.
- Expand your concept of lunch. Anything your kid will eat is game -- including more "breakfast" or "dinner" foods -- as long as his or her meals are balanced the rest of the day. (Heck, we often have waffles for dinner.)
- Check out lunch roundups. The image above is from a Coupons.com infographic on one month of easy school lunch ideas (which you can see in full at the bottom of this post). In addition to checking that out, there's 100 Days of Real Food's School Lunch Roundup, Tip Junkie's 27 best lunch food recipes, Food with Kid Appeal's index of healthy foods, the Food Network's 15 Kid-Approved Lunches, and ParentMap's bento lunch ideas (for when you're feeling ambitious). Or, for the more sophisticated young gourmands out there, these 25 "quick and easy" school lunches from Bon Appetit.
- Spin the wheel. Lunchtaker, a site dedicated to fresh, healthy lunch ideas (for both kids and adults) offers a "lunch food lottery" random menu planner complete with vegan and dairy-free options (the results can be hit and miss though).
Use The Right Containers
It sounds silly, but the kind of container you use to pack lunches can make a big difference on your lunch-making Zen. Containers that have lost their covers and a shortage of plastic bags just add more obstacles to an already stressful morning.
The right lunch container, however, can make packing a school lunch almost enjoyable, like an art. (Literally, have you seen these crazy bento lunches?) In addition, lunch boxes like the PlanetBox shown above encourage you to offer a balanced meal with portion sizes that don't overwhelm kids.
Create a School Lunch "Menu" with Your Child for More Variety
Especially if you have a picky eater, it helps to have a list of everything your kid likes (and try to expand options as they get older). Giving kids lots of choices can also ease the lunch-making process.
Tip Junkie has a very smart Pick Your Lunch food checklist you can download and print (free site registration required) or you can create something similar based on your kids' preferences.
I'm doing something similar with my daughter, creating a "menu book" with sections that flip over to switch up the main food, vegetable, fruit and snack options. Take a spiral notebook and use an X-Acto knife to create the four sections. Paste in photos of foods and then you can flip through to create a meal. It's still a work in progress, but the combination of photos plus having her do it with me might just work.
Use Basic Cooking Shortcuts
So basically we're talking about good old planning ahead so you're not scrambling, but too often we focus on dinner when lunch deserves more attention too. Some other things you can do to save time include creating grab-and-go snack stations in your fridge and pantry and making a week's worth of lunches in one day.
Hopefully the tips and resources above will help you survive Operation Lunch until your kid is old enough to pack her own lunch. (So then you only have to worry about your own brown bag blahs.)
Here's that infographic I mentioned earlier: