Most of the moms I know enjoy summer vacation for about a week before we start counting down the days until school starts again. But while the school routine keeps our children busy in more constructive ways than fighting over toys and negotiating with me for more screen time, it brings its own challenges: namely, packing lunches.
At home, we can throw easy foods like rice and beans or taquitos in the microwave and everyone’s happy. But packing lunches and snacks that both meet my standards for nutrition and health AND meet my children’s standards for taste and cool factor? I run out of ideas FAST.
I have come up with a few stand-bys that satisfy my need to pack them decent lunches and that my kids won’t trade away or throw out.
1. Rice and beans. When I’m really on my game, I’ll make a big batch of rice and beans that will last us through the week. I can scoop some into a thermos for the kids, and it’s a great healthy entree. I typically try to have some in the fridge at all times (you can read my easy overnight recipe for beans and rice here).
2. Fruit. I have tried for years to get my kids to eat fresh fruit at school. It should be easy, right? You don’t have to prepare a banana, apple, or plum. Just toss it in the lunch box and go. But no. Fruit bruises or it turns brown, and my kids won’t eat it no matter how many times I tell them those are sweet spots. Kids with loose teeth can’t bite into hard fruits like apples, and sliced apples don’t work because they turn brown. I feel like I need to hashtag this #FirstWorldProblems. Anyway, I’ve started experimenting with fruit cups. Del Monte diced mangos are a current favorite, especially since unlike other fruit cups, they do not use high fructose corn syrup. This gets my kids all the good parts of fruit (1 ½ servings of fruit in a cup) without the yucky additives.
3. Veggies and dip. On the weekend, I stock up on cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, broccoli, and sweet peas (in season, my kids eat sweet peas like candy). I wash and prep them in small reusable containers so all I have to do is grab one and toss it into my kids’ lunch box each day. Since dip helps the veggies go down, I either send in prepackaged ranch dip or pour ranch dressing (which I buy in gallons these days) into another small reusable container.
4. Crackers and cheese. I’m still trying to convince my kids that customizing their crackers is more fun than buying them already made. We can choose their favorite kind of cheese (one of mine only eats cheddar cheese, another loves swiss, for example) and grab a handful of whole grain snack crackers like Triscuit or Ritz. We throw these into reusable containers with a slice or two of nitrate-free lunch meat for some protein and they’re set.
5. Pasta shells. On Monday evenings, we usually make quinoa pasta shells with ground turkey – a meal all of my kids love – and then have leftovers on hand to send with lunches for the rest of the week. This is another easy one to scoop into the thermos.
How do you pack creative and healthy school lunches?