I’m a dietitian. I have a kid. You’d think it’d be easy to pack kid lunches then, right?
Not for me. My son is starting his second year of part-time preschool. Although I’m having trouble believing it, he’ll be in the Toddler Room this year. Not only does that mean my son is growing up too fast, but it also means I have to pack him a lunch. A real “big kid” lunch, not a collection of chopped-up finger foods and purees in an assortment of tiny boxes and bowls like I got away with last year.
I never thought I’d have to pack school lunches so early into parenthood! Just the thought stresses me out. I want him to have a variety of foods, but balanced meals — and brainstorming ideas that check those boxes can be tough. Despite trying to do my best, I always felt like I was being judged as a parent by what food my son came to school with. Where’s the protein? Why no veggies? Where’s the oatmeal? That’s not enough milk! Last year was a daily last-minute scramble for odds and ends I thought passed for a good enough meal I could throw in individual serving-size containers. Not only is that boring, but it’s not allowed this year. Single lunch boxes only!
I’m determined not to let packing a healthy lunch for school be a stressor this year. Instead, I’ve perfected my methods over this long hot summer, and I’ve practically got it down to a science!
You can click through to see examples of some of the lunches I’ve put together. Add your suggestion in the comments so I don’t get stuck in a rut — it’s a long school year!
All photo credits: Heather Neal
In the meantime, here are 4 tips I’ve picked up along the way:
- Pick the right container. I typically use a generic plastic resealable container divided into three sections or a box that has three different compartments and folds itself. Bento boxes would be fun too. Be sure they’re BPA-free and are microwavable and freezable (if you think you’ll be doing that).
- Go for convenience. You don’t have to whip up a gourmet meal to satisfy both your kid and your nutrition requirements. I like using on-the-go fruit and veggie pouches and portable fruit snack cups. They’re high fructose corn syrup-free and taste good.
- Mix it up. It doesn’t matter if certain things “go” with each other. Kids don’t care! Graham crackers and pizza? Tacos and blueberries? Why not?
- Maximize leftovers. We eat dinner after my son goes to bed, so he doesn’t typically have the same dinner as us. That doesn’t mean I can’t still use leftovers in his lunch. They don’t have to be “lunch-y”— just yummy!
Oh, and if these lunches look like they’re missing something, it’s because we’re an allergy family. Adding cheese cubes, yogurt tubes, or string cheese could round out the lunches a little.