Thursday, August 30, 2012

4 tips for fun and easy packed lunches

My third-grader says he's unhappy with the president. This took us by surprise, especially since he'd written to the White House in the spring and was delighted to get a small package in return.

So what happened?

School lunch, of all things. My son is unhappy that he has to choose fruit and a vegetable with every meal, and that chocolate milk is off the menu — thanks to major improvements in the federal program.

The funny part is that the new school menu — packed with fruits, veggies, and whole grains — isn't much different from what I pack most days. Here's his lunch box today, for example:


Peanut butter on whole wheat bread, carrots, grapes, Cheez-Its, and a cookie. Not too bad. The Cheez-Its are the dregs of a box purchased as a summer treat, and the rest is typical lunch fare.

The boy wants a packed lunch every day. Awesome. Except I can count all the entrees he's willing to eat on one hand —with fingers left over. Today's lunch is OK, but boring. For me, and soon for him if we don't get creative.

Here are four tips to help make school lunches a little easier for you, and more fun for your kids.


Make a lunch menu

Our "What's for lunch?" checklist gives my son a chance to design his own menu. It lists healthful offerings in each food group, plus room to add his own. The "tip jar" is another spot where he can make suggestions.

You can use this free menu weekly, monthly, or as often as you wish. Download the Word document and change it as needed to reflect your own family's tastes. (You also can download the pdf version.)

Anna has offered a picture-based menu to empower her children to choose — even the option to be surprised.

Play with nutrition

The MyPlate program offers free printables including coloring pages and posters to help you talk about healthful eating with your family.

School-age kids can play the online game Blast Off, fueling a rocket ship by choosing a balanced plate of healthy foods.

If you have a toddler or preschooler, check out the special section with tips on getting kids involved in the kitchen — a topic near and dear to our hearts!

Put kids to work

With my younger son now in kindergarten, I'm appreciating more than ever the benefits of helping my kids be more independent.

Keep some easy-to-pack good food choices on a shelf in the pantry and in the refrigerator, and put your children in charge of choosing something for their snack or lunch each day. If they're willing and able to do more, encourage them! This is going to be a priority for me — one week into school, and I've already sent the wrong snack with the wrong kid.

Enjoy yourself!

Browse our collection of back-to-school lunch recipes and tips, and find something new to enjoy. For a quick list of inspirational ideas, check out this post full of great ideas for filling lunch boxes with fresh, fun food. And please share your own tips here and on our Facebook page!


Myrna said...

This was an interesting posting, and gave me lots of ideas for when I have to bring a light meal for myself, before playing concerts. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Love that lunch box layout! Never seen one like that before. Where did you find it?

Darienne said...

Myrna, so glad you found it helpful!

A, about the lunchbox: Do you mean that awesome compartmentalized one at top? We splurged on PlanetBox. Lots of reviews from families who say these hold up three years and more (we've had to replace our cheaper boxes at least every year). There are fewer lids and pieces: much easier for kids to manage during a hurried lunch break, less to lose at school, and fewer pieces to individually wash. My boys love these so far. They're just the right size, the compartments help remind me to pack good variety, and the outside pockets provide room for drinks and morning snacks.


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