Every parent of school-aged kids has the same dilemma – how to pack healthy lunches their kids will eat.
Everyone in our house has been waiting all summer for September to come. Our three year old twins started full day Junior Kindergarten this year. They are really excited about going on the school bus. We are excited to no longer pay for daycare times two!
Of course, time is money because now Mister and Missy need to take their own lunches to school. We (I) agonized in over what to pack in their lunches, how to pack it, how heavy it would be for their backpacks, how to keep their food warm or cool, and so on. Lucky for us, our kids like to eat and get excited with simple foods.
We decided to go with bento box-style containers called Lunchblox by Rubbermaid™. They are amazing and affordable! Aside from having to label and wash the individual pieces, it gives you the flexibility to pack lunches with different configurations. For days we want to pack them a hot (cold) lunch, we got the Funtainer by Thermos™. Finally, for juices, a litterless Rubbermaid™ reuseable juice container. All these items are available at Walmart or our local supermarket, Loblaws.
We (I) had grand plans to make a monthly menu just like the kids’ daycare to take the guesswork out of making lunches and help with weekly groceries. Instead we are winging it and somehow things have been working out well, despite a few late nights spent making their lunches. First was a big shopping trip to Costco to stock up on those essential nut-free snacks until I heard that schools in our area are recommending healthy, nutritious and litter-free snacks. So those Costco purchases (granola bars, applesauce cups, animal cracker pouches, juice boxes) are now a treat once or twice a week.
We have tons of ideas for snacks, but find it difficult to come up with options for the main lunch. Generally, we have been sending them whole wheat bread and cheese, one fruit or vegetable, a small yoghurt or applesauce, and alternating the packaged treats with some homemade baked goods.
I believe the following factors help to makes these lunches disappear into their tummies and not just nibbled on by our little munchkins:
1. Asking M&M what they want in their lunches. Surprisingly, I have been getting some very detailed specs, especially from Mister.
2. Packing the lunch the night before. To keep things dry, I toast the sandwich bread and place the cut fruit/veggie in a paper towel before placing in the lunch container before placing it in the fridge.
3. After breakfast every morning, we take a moment to do the lunchbox “reveal” where they get to see what’s for morning snack, lunch, and dessert. This gets them excited about eating! If there’s something objectionable in their lunch box, now is their chance to tell us.
4. Giving some kind of dip on the side, whether it’s jam for muffins or ranch dressing for veggies, to make the food go down easier.
5. Keeping the portions small, but giving them variety without letting it get overwhelming. For example, we’ll give them half an apple because we know they will eat it, but only 2-3 small pieces of a vegetable. They are more likely to eat a piece or two of the vegetable this way and something is better than nothing!
Here is the menu, more or less, of the first few days of junior kindergarten for our little ones:
Day 1: applesauce, yoghurts, apple slices, seedless red grapes, buttered toast, cheese cubes, water
Day 2: oatmeal-carrot muffin, strawberry applesauce, ½ egg salad sandwich, ½ boiled egg, yoghurt, water, homemade popcorn, 11 goldfish crackers
Day 3 hot lunch: yellow split-pea lentil (daal) and indian flatbread (roti), ½ oatmeal-carrot muffin, raisins, dried blueberries, shreddies, ½ banana, watered down juice
Day 3: Cream cheese pinwheel sandwich (wrapped in the roti), lemon poppy seed loaf, yoghurt, granola bar
Day 4: swiss cheese stuffed in pita pockets, homemade hummus, zucchini sticks and carrots, fortune cookie. Notice the pink and blue compartments are mixed up. This caused a fight at the lunch table which had the kindergarten teachers in stitches. Our Boy/Girl twins are very territorial about their colours!
Cheese pita pockets, hummus and veggies
Day 5: whole wheat croissant stuffed with cheese, applesauce, yoghurt, red bell peppers, pear, cheese cubes, 15 mini cheddar crackers and watered down pineapple juice. We used the Pillsbury bake-your-own croissant dough and placed cubes of pizza mozzarella cheese inside. Yum!
Cheese-filled croissant with sides
Missy generally has been eating almost all that we give her while Mister has a more discerning taste.
What our picky eater doesn’t like (and why): homemade baked goods (too dry), homemade hummus (too much garlic), zucchini sticks, red bell pepper (not crunchy)
What has been a crowd pleaser so far: homemade popcorn, bread and cheese, Grandma’s daal, shreddies and crackers, anything that comes in a package.
Tomorrow we will try roast beef sandwich squares, red grapes, and their favourite – daal and rice.
What are some of your go-to school lunch options for your kids? Do you find it gets easier or harder to make school lunches as they get older?