Sending the kids to school with a lunch they’ll actually eat can be the biggest burden of the school year for parents. If my wife, Amanda, and I are not organized with lots of healthy options on hand, we’re scrambling to get to the local grocery store. I’ve found that planning is the key to stress-free lunch packing; it keeps us from grabbing processed or prepackaged foods out of desperation.
Ask kids to help
They’re the ones eating it, so take their suggestions seriously. Get them preparing their own meals, and include them in shopping for ingredients. It’ll make your job easier, and will lead them in the right nutritional direction. And having them take some ownership will have them proudly eating what they helped pack.
Keep it simple
As a teacher, I know lunchtime is a social time for kids—food is not the focus. Their goal is to eat quickly, then get outside to play. So keep things simple: fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, sandwiches cut into bite sizes. Make it easy to eat; otherwise, you’ll see it left untouched when you empty their lunch bag at home.
Leftovers work, too
Make extra portions of your family dinners; they’re great options for the next day. (Our son, Quinn, 7, loves cold pizza for lunch.) Pasta, chili, stew, stir-fries and soup can be reheated in the morning and packed in a Thermos. Also good is a crisp salad topped with leftover chicken, chickpeas or fish.
This will help keep them going all day. Meat, cheese, eggs, beans and seeds are great options. Our nine-year-old daughter, Lucy, loves a hard-boiled egg in her lunch—whereas Ella enjoys cheese with whole-wheat crackers and fruit (she’s 12 and a tad more sophisticated).
On Sunday, organize your week
A few hours in the kitchen will ease the week’s lunch-packing madness. Fill reusable individual containers with yogurt, vegetables, etc., to keep in the fridge, ready to go. And make healthy homemade squares or cookies to freeze and then pack in lunches throughout the week.
Paul Finkelstein is a chef and teacher at Northwestern Secondary School in Stratford, Ont., where he heads up the culinary arts program. He is a regular contributor to Best Health. Follow him @paulfink.
October 2011 issue of Best Health magazine