Foodie Friday: Packing Lunches for Your Kids

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Categories Foodie Fridays, School, School-Age, Theme WeekTags

There are moms who pack works of art in their kids lunch boxes every day.

And then there’s me. The fanciest I get is scribbling an “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” note, in permanent marker, on my daughters’ paper napkins.

My girls actually like the lunches served in the school cafeteria, and they’re not terribly expensive. They’re not as nutritious as I’d like, though. While they do tend to feature whole grains, there’s a lot of processed meats and fruit. School also offers free breakfast to all children, which helps all the kids by keeping their classmates from being hungry and unfocused during the day. The breakfasts are terribly sugar-laden, so I prefer to balance them with a more nutritious meal from home.

I allow the girls to choose to eat school lunch once or twice a week. The rest of the time, I pack lunches for them. Every lunch consists of some basic components.

Whole grain

The whole grain in J and M’s lunch forms the basis of the calories to fuel them through the afternoon. They’re pretty easy to feed on this front, and I have a lot of options:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat bagel
  • Tortillas
  • Brown rice
  • Whole grain crackers (Goldfish, Triscuit, etc.)
  • Pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Barley

Protein

It’s tempting to leave the protein out of a child’s meal, especially when it’s hot out, but kids need protein for growth and cell repair. Just make sure you keep it either hot or cold for food safety.

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Cheese (sticks, cubes, or in a sandwich)
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Hot dogs

Fruit or vegetable

We’re unusual, I know, but vegetables and fruits are the easiest things for me to find for the kids. J is partial to jarred mandarin oranges and M can’t stand them. M likes applesauce, and it makes J gag. The kids don’t have to have identical lunches. My girls are now old enough to appreciate my efforts to personalize their meals, so if I pack oranges or grapes for J, M gets apples or spinach. Apart from applesauce and corn, my kids refuse cooked vegetables, so I don’t try.

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Jicama
  • Berries
  • Spinach
  • Chopped cabbage
  • Apple slices
  • Corn

Hot or cold solution

When school starts up in the summer, we’re still dealing with 100 degree temperatures here in Texas. Food safety is paramount. I generally stick with cold lunches and use ice packs or frozen juice boxes to keep food at a safe temperature until it’s ready to eat. It’s easier to keep food cold if it starts cold, so packing lunch the night before and storing it in the refrigerator overnight makes the morning that much easier. J has also recently developed a taste for ice cold water, so we put her water bottle in the freezer at night so she can sip it throughout the day. It melts fast.

The alternative is to pack hot foods, like soup or pasta. I like to keep the girls’ macaroni and cheese warm. We have some nice Thermos containers. I fill the containers with boiling water for a minute or so before tipping it out and refilling the container with warm lunch. My girls especially love tomato soup or spaghetti and meatballs. (Insulated containers work equally well to keep your kids’ food cold. Just store them in the refrigerator.)

Dessert

Very rarely, I’ll include a sweet treat in my daughters’ lunch. My favourite Texas grocery chain, HEB, makes a delicious store brand digestive biscuit with 3g sugar per cookie. Target’s Archer Farms brand has fruit strips made of fruit, without any added sugar. Every so often, I’ll drop in a small piece of chocolate, but only when it’s cool outside.

Combinations

There are a number of options for combining a whole grain, protein and fruit or veggie into a meal.

  • Cook up some protein with vegetables and rice, pasta or barley in an unsalted broth for a hearty soup.
  • Wrap refried beans and shredded cheese in a tortilla for a simple burrito.
  • Mix up leftovers to make a fine fried rice.
  • That old standard, the sandwich.
  • My kids call them “homemade lunchables” when I pack up Ritz crackers with sliced meat and cheese for them to make their own minisandwiches.

I wish my kids liked more adventurous meals. Apart from the soups and burritos, I’m not a big fan of the meals I pack for my daughters to take to school. They like them, though. I admit that I’ve been looking forward to the day or two I’ll get off packing lunches after a full summer of packing their food for camp every day.

Do you pack your kids’ lunches? What do they like?

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Sadia

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

3 thoughts on “Foodie Friday: Packing Lunches for Your Kids”

  1. We are only three weeks into packaging lunches for preschool, and only two days a week, at that. Still, I’ve had enough experience to feel that this is hard work! 😉

    Although I’m packing cold lunches, I have managed to find an assortment similar to what the girls would eat at home. They always have fresh fruit and fresh veggies (carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes are our “fresh” favorites), and I’ve included a dollop of hummus a couple of times. For protein, I’ve tried a few things so far. We’ve done an almond butter + cheese sandwich (we don’t do jelly on our sandwiches)…this week I happened to buy Swirl Rye bread, and the girls thought that was *super* special. 😉 One day I packed a scoop of tuna salad; one day I packed stuffed eggs. I try to limit processed foods, but I will put in a couple of wheat crackers if the girls don’t have bread as part of a sandwich.

    While I did cut one of their sandwiches into a heart shape, and I once used a small cutter to make flowers out of cucumbers, I’ve resisted the temptation to get too cutesy…I know I can’t keep that up!

    The girls’ very favorite part of lunch seems to be the tiny Post-It notes I put in their bags. They can’t fully read yet, though, so my messages are pretty limited to “I love you!” “Mommy loves you!” “Sasha [our cat] loves you!” They don’t seem to care, though…they usually pull the note out of their bags immediately after school to thank me for their surprise. And you might know that just makes my afternoon. :)

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