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It’s that time of year again! The newness of back-to- school is wearing off, and my grown children have started to complain about how hard it can be to pack healthy, tasty lunches for their own kids.
I remember getting discouraged when my kids were young. At one point, all they wanted for their lunches was bagels and cream cheese…every single day!
If you’re in a lunch rut, too, read on for some inspiration and practical tips. You can pack healthy lunches (day after day) without losing your sanity. Below are some of the simple solutions I developed over the years, plus some things I’ve learned from my kids now that they’re packing lunches for my grandkinds!
1. Go light on the packaged snacks.
There are a lot of healthier packaged snacks out there today. They’re better than Twinkies and corn syrup-filled “fruit” snacks, but they still shouldn’t be the foundation of a lunch. Instead, build the meal around something like dinner leftovers, a sandwich made with healthy bread, or our favorite make-ahead quesadillas (Ezekiel tortillas + shredded cheese + refried beans).
2. Avoid plastic containers.
Don’t pack healthy food in toxin-leaching plastic containers, plastic wrap, and plastic bags! Instead, choose glass containers, stainless steel containers, silicone containers, or beeswax-coated wrap. Check out our favorite water bottles and sippy cups here.
3. Combine sweet and savory tastes.
A satisfying meal is one that includes a balance of sweet and savory tastes. It’s easy to pack these tastes into a lunch. For example, if you include something savory or salty like meat or tamari tofu cubes, balance it out with something that’s moderately sweet, like fruit, a homemade cookie, or a bar. Classic combos like apples and cheese are great, too.
4. Remember the rainbow.
Including a “rainbow” of colorful fruits and veggies boosts nutrition and satisfaction. Plus, color is fun for kids. I don’t mean that you have to include all colors every day. Packing a couple of colorful foods per lunch is fine
—think carrots and blueberries or purple grapes and cucumbers.
5. Get the kids involved.
Kids can help prepare part or all of their lunches. This boosts their independence, helps them appreciate their food, and can help overcome picky eating. For example, Maia lets her boys mix up their own batches of DIY trail mix by setting out bowls of various seeds, popcorn, nuts, and dried fruits (the kids especially love juice-sweetened dried cranberries).
Or, if all else fails, be boring! Simple is good. Don’t let fancy lunchbox Instagram feeds overwhelm you. Your kids don’t need a five-course meal. Find something well rounded that works for them (hello, sandwich and fruit!), and pack the same thing every day until it’s time to move on.
Need more ideas?
Here are some of our favorite healthy and delicious lunch items to keep on hand:
- It sounds weird, but green pepper slices are delicious dipped in peanut butter, almond butter, or sunflower seed butter (a.k.a. “sun butter,” a good option if nuts aren’t allowed).
- Cheese and apple slices are a classic combo. Squeeze lemon juice or orange juice on the apple slices to keep them from turning brown.
- Blanched veggies, such as cooked green beans and sugar peas, are a hit. Maia’s kids also love these real baby carrots
- These homemade veggie-filled dips are great with crackers, as sandwich spreads, etc.
- Leftover whole-grain pancakes or waffles can be made into wraps or sandwiches or cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters.
- Smoothies and yogurt stay fresh in insulated containers like these.
- Hard-boiled eggs are filling and tasty as is or which a pinch of salt and
What are your go-to solutions for packing healthy and tasty lunches for your kids?
Please share in the comments.
To your health,
P.S. You’ll notice in this post that I’ve linked a variety of ingredients to Thrive Market. If you aren’t familiar with Thrive, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s a Costco meets Whole Foods meets Amazon model, with hard-to-find healthful foods delivered, for free, at steeply discounted prices. We’ve partnered with Thrive to get you $60 off your first three orders.