Top 5 Tips for Packing Kid-Approved Lunches
We may know deep down that packing home lunches are healthier than what the school can provide, but many parents struggle with finding healthy foods that their kids will actually eat.
Are you stuck in the boring sandwich and potato chip lunch mode? Are your kids begging for something different, but you just don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re looking to save money on school lunches or for your kids to eat healthier. Whatever the case may be, these tips are for you!
TOP 5 TIPS FOR PACKING KID-APPROVED LUNCHES
TIP #1 LET THE KIDS HELP
Giving your kids some ownership of their lunches will help you save you both time and money. Letting them help can actually get them excited to eat the food they’ve prepared. It gives them a sense of pride, gives them freedom, and allows them to feel responsibility.
Giving your kids some lunch responsibility can help them get more experience in the kitchen and can lead to an increased interest in participating in the preparation of other meals. Kids naturally love to create and explore, and the kitchen is the perfect place to do that. Sometimes this can seem like it slows the whole process down but trust me on this. Eventually, they will be making their own lunches without your help, and that will save you tons of time!
Make it easier for your kids to help pack their lunches by placing lunch items in the pantry and refrigerator so they can easily see what is available to pack in their lunches. Label the crisper drawers or keep items for packing in their lunches in the lower shelves so they can reach them. Keep their lunch boxes and containers in easily accessible places.
TIP #2 THINK REUSABLE
Another way to create more responsibility for your kids is to have reusable containers. This will teach them how to properly wash and put away their containers so they will be ready for them when they are preparing their next lunch. By using reusable containers, you’ll save money and reduce the garbage you create too.
Not sure which reusable containers you should use? Below are a few of our favorites!
There are so many styles of lunch boxes, so do some research and find one that fits your needs. Some features to look for are insulation (this is important to help keep your food cold) and size (make sure it is big enough to hold enough food). My son generally goes straight from high school to work, so we usually pack him a lunch and a snack so that he can make it through work until he comes home for a late dinner.
Here are a couple of lunch boxes that we have used for several years. Arctic Zone Expandable Lunch box is perfect for holding lots of food and keeping it cold all day and the Packit Freezable lunch tote, you actually put the whole thing in the freezer and the gel inside the insulation freezes, so this tote doesn’t need extra ice packs. PlanetBox lunch boxes are perfect for little people who like having a variety of foods to munch on.
Have a variety of sizes for main dishes, sides, and condiments. These can be plastic, stainless steel, glass, and or silicone.
PlanetBox containers are stainless steel, leak-proof, and dishwasher safe bento-style lunch box. They also sell containers with lids for dips, yogurt, salsa, etc.
A Thermos is perfect for keeping hot foods hot or cold foods really cold. We pack tamales, soup, fried rice, oatmeal, bean dip, etc. in the thermos to keep warm until lunch or you can pack, yogurt, apple sauce, fresh-cut fruit, etc. to stay extra cold.
Bento Style meal prep containers work well too. This type of container is perfect for those little people (or big people for that matter) that don’t like their food to touch.
Rubbermaid makes a lot of reusable containers that come in different sizes. Their LunchBlox series comes with a reusable ice block as well.
Don’t forget the reusable utensils. We use these BPA-free utensils that are an all in one fork, spoon, and knife.
TIP #3 FOLLOW THE HOME LUNCH 1-2-3 PLAN
Growing kids must eat a balanced diet. This is why I created the Home Lunch 1-2-3 Plan to help you. This plan allows you to create a balanced meal that includes protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. By following the Home Lunch 1-2-3 Plan, you can still get a balance with finger-food type lunches.
The Home Lunch 1-2-3 Plan works like this:
PICK 1 MAIN DISH ITEM
- Nut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
- Deli Wraps
- Pasta Salad
- Hard-Boiled Eggs
- Tuna or Chicken Salad
- Fried Rice
- Pita & Hummus
- Egg Muffins
- Bean Dip
- Guacamole & Chips/Veggies
- Granola Parfait
- Caesar Salad
PICK 1-2 FRUIT OR VEGGIE ITEMS
- Pears (fresh or dried)
- Bananas (fresh or dried)
- Apricots (fresh or dried)
- Berries (fresh or dried)
- Apples (fresh or dried)
- Cherries (fresh or dried)
- Pineapple (fresh or dried)
- Plums (fresh or dried)
- Mango (fresh or dried)
- Red Pepper
- Grape Tomatoes
- Zucchini Chips
- Kale Chips
PICK 1 SIDE OR TREAT
- String Cheese
- Cheese Slices
- Goat Cheese
- Granola Bars
- Veggie Chips
- Rice Cakes
- Trail Mix
- Tortilla Chips
- Nut Butter
If you need a little inspiration, try these kid-approved lunch combinations and recipes!
IDEA #1: BENTO BOX SUSHI
Pick 1 Main Dish Item: Smoked salmon and steamed rice balls
Pick 1-2 Fruit & Veggie Items: Sliced cucumbers
Pick 1 Side or Treat Item: Seaweed squares
IDEA #2: “LUNCHABLES”
Pick 1 Main Dish Item: Turkey and cheese slices with a side of spicy mustard
Pick 1-2 Fruit & Veggie Items: Avocado and cucumbers
Pick 1 Side or Treat Item: Crackers
MAIN COURSE IDEAS
- Sweet Pea Hummus
- Ranch Dressing with Veggie Sticks
- Avocado Toast (Just make sure you pack the spread and bread separately)
- Cucumber Tomato Salad
- Easy Peasy Carrot Chips
TIP #4 PROPER PREP IS KEY
Prepping as much as you can over the weekend will save time and stress during the weekday morning rush of getting the kids off to school.
Spend time over the weekend preparing food for the week to come and get the whole family involved.
Make a menu for the week just like you would for dinner.
We find that making and posting a menu plan works for us. That way, everyone knows what to expect each day, and prepping lunch goes a lot faster. Sit down together and come up with 10 favorite lunch ideas, and then you’ll be set for 2 weeks. The kids won’t get bored with the same old lunch every day.
Use the healthy Home Lunch 1-2-3 Plan above to help get some ideas flowing.
Once you’ve finalized your menu for the week, identify what items you’ll need to make each meal.
To get the kids involved, we like to create assignments that allow them to keep stock of how much we’ll need of each item (bars, muffins, dip, dressing, hard-boiled eggs, cooked grains like rice or quinoa, etc.).
Helping the kids learn that cleaning out their lunch box every day after school is an essential part of any responsible evening routine.
You can decide if packing lunches is better for your family to do at night following dinner or in the morning before school.
Get the kids involved as much as possible, this will relieve the pressure of having so much to do, especially if you’re also getting ready for work.
WARM LUNCH TIPS
The best way to have warm lunch options is to invest in a leak-proof insulated (thermos) container.
Preheat the thermos by adding boiling water, cover with the lid, and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Heat-up the food that will be put into the thermos. Dump out the water that was used to pre-warm the thermos, put the heated food into the thermos, and put on the lid.
This is a great way to use left-overs from your dinner meal.
COLD LUNCH TIPS
A thermos can also keep food cold.
Plan ahead by putting the thermos in the freezer overnight. In the morning, remove from freezer and add cold food.
If you forget to place the thermos in the freezer, try adding ice water to the thermos, let it sit for 15 minutes, then dump out the water and add the cold food.
Invest in some good re-freezable ice packs.
We have found that soft gel ice packs seem to stay colder longer and are less bulky in the lunch box.
TIP #5 SPRINKLE IN SOME LOVE
Let your kids know you’re thinking about them with jokes, brainteasers, kindness quotes, or a love note or note of encouragement. Keep a stack of these notes handy and sneak them into their lunch box before they head out the door.
With a little planning, some extra help from the kids and a variety of healthy choices, your kids will be toting exceptional lunches to school and returning an empty lunch box every day!