By Rita Chavez
School is back in full force, and that means lunch at school for your kiddos. If your kids are anything like mine, lunch time can be tricky, as my daughters’ preferences seemingly change from week to week and sometimes day to day. The only constant that I know for sure is that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will always be a sure thing both my girls will eat. I have definitely gone through weeks where I just want to pack a PB and J and call it a day (when I haven’t planned anything out or we have all woken up late), but I really try to get some variety into my daughters’ lunches as much as possible. I’m going to share some of my school lunch prep tips and tricks that have helped me successfully pack lunches for my girls.
Plan Out Your Menu Weekly: Whenever I meal plan for our family dinners, I also try to meal plan for my daughters’ lunches as well. Since I know that they both really love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, those will make their way into the menu at least twice a week, but I also do try to incorporate different lunch options, mostly cold lunch options that can be easily packed and will keep until lunch time at school. Homemade lunch-ables, egg salad sandwiches, grilled cheese and spinach sandwiches, boiled eggs, and yogurts are some of my girls’ favorite easy lunches, and they can keep well with an ice pack in the lunch box.
Pre-Portion and Package at Home: I really love that so many companies make individually pre-packaged portions for convenience these days, but most of the time, you are paying extra for that convenience, or the portion sizes aren’t as big as your little one wants (or needs). Buying in bulk, or just in full sized containers and pre-portioning them at home can really help cut down on costs and you can also customize the portion sizes to your liking. You can use Ziploc bags, or small plastic storage containers to pre-package snacks or other lunch items. And if you are interested in cutting down on waste, there so many types of nifty re-usable packages available aside from the standard square plastic container. Silicone sandwich and snack bags, bento style lunch boxes, and even reusable beeswax snack and sandwich wraps are some wonderful eco-friendly lunch packing options.
Give Your Little One Options: I could meal plan all day long for the upcoming school week, and I know that come Monday, my daughter would not want a particular snack that we had planned to pack for that day. Giving her a few options to choose from each day (but not too many), may help ensure that she does actually eat her lunch that day. Prepackaging snacks and lunches helps with this, and setting up a hanging shoe organizer on the pantry door will also help display all of her available options for her to choose for the week, and she can decide which pouch she would like to pull from when we pack her lunch. I can also set up all her fruits/veggies in a bin in the refrigerator for her to choose from as well. Having them choose their lunch helps them feel empowered and confident about their lunch choices.
Make the Presentation Appealing: Much like how we perceive how appetizing a meal will be by the way it looks when it is placed in front of us at a restaurant, our children will also feel the same way about their lunch when they open their lunch box or bag during lunch. Some fruits and veggies can be tricky for me to get my daughter to eat, so I will prep them the way I know she will enjoy them. She does not like baby carrots at all, but loves to eat whole carrots because that’s what Sven the reindeer from the movie Frozen eats. She also does not like to eat apples whole, but will eat two if they are cored and quartered. Same exact fruits and veggies, different presentation, but if the few extra minutes of prep will get her to eat them, I will spend those moments so I know she is eating her lunch at school.
Pack an Extra Special Treat or Note: Nothing makes my daughter more excited to open her lunch box at lunch time than knowing that I hid a secret Hershey kiss or a little love note with her lunch. Since she is in first grade, she is learning to read, and I will leave little fun shaped post-it notes for her to find and read aloud at lunch. She also knows that there will be a special treat waiting for her and it is to be enjoyed only when her main lunch has been eaten. This is a good incentive to get her to eat her lunch, and also to get her to look forward to her lunch time as well.
I know there will be days that my daughter brings home some un-eaten food in her lunch box, or days when she is just not excited about anything in her lunch box, but as long as I know that she is learning to make good food choices and also that she feels included in her lunch decisions, I will call that a lunch packing mom win.
Rita is an Army wife of ten years and a mom to two little girls. She graduated from University of Hawaii: West Oahu in 2010 with a Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Public Administration, but has a passion for helping animals and most recently worked for the oldest no-kill animal shelter in San Antonio, TX. As a recent military move led her family to bid goodbye to San Antonio, she now volunteers with The Carrying On Project in Fort Drum, NY, where she shares her love and knowledge of babywearing with other caregivers. When she is not volunteering, Rita enjoys taking photos of her daughters and dogs, and her hobbies include cooking and crafting.
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