Packing school lunches day after day can be a challenge – especially if you end up dealing with sad sandwiches and wilted carrot sticks at the end of the day. Here are 10 tips to make sure those lunch boxes come back empty.
1. Let the Internet help
The internet is your ally. Check out great websites like yummylunchclub.ca (started by a registered dietitian) and 100daysofrealfood.com (which includes easy recipes that replicate popular store-bought lunchtime convenience items).
2. Stick with what’s real
Pack plain yogurt mixed with fruit instead of overly sweetened “kids” yogurt and “fruit” chews or roll-ups. Be wary of sugar-free products like certain fruit cups; they may contain artificial sweeteners.
3. Breakfast: It’s what’s for lunch
Use your kids’ favourite morning leftovers like hardboiled eggs, pancakes and sausages to create satisfying lunches.
4. Try a re-run
Speaking of leftovers, try packing their favourite supper leftovers like chili, stew or curry for the kids to stuff into a whole wheat tortilla or pita. It’s economical and you already know they like it.
5. Go peanut-free
A peanut-free lunch can also be a stress-free lunch. Eat Right Ontario offers great peanut-free and protein-heavy lunch ingredient ideas (see tip number nine), including refried beans, tahini, cold cooked meat and chickpeas.
6. Protein power
School schedules don’t always match children’s hunger schedules. For kids with an early lunch hour and a long afternoon ahead of them, maximize portions of protein, which has staying power.
7. Keep fruit juice to a minimum
Half a cup of juice counts as one serving of fruit but it also has less fibre than a piece of real fruit. Too much juice has been linked to teeth decay, diabetes and obesity. Avoid soda, energy drinks and “fruit drinks” altogether, which only offer empty calories. Water and milk should be the go-to beverages for school-age children.
8. Play with serving sizes
It can be frustrating if your kids bring back the fruit and sandwiches you’ve packed (or worse, if they’re throwing them away at school). Make it easier for them by peeling, slicing, or chopping fresh fruit and vegetables and cutting sandwiches or wraps into bite-sized pieces. This is especially important for younger kids (think of how intimidating it can be to bite into a big apple with baby teeth) but even teens with busy schedules will appreciate these “convenience” foods.
9. Ask for input
Are your kids fussy eaters? Let them have a say in what goes into their lunch boxes. Better yet, get them directly involved with packing their lunches. According to Heart and Stroke Foundation dietitian Carol Dombrow, kids who are part of the process and have a say in what goes into lunch bags are more likely to want to eat what has been prepared. Be sure to check out the Heart and Stroke’s tasty heart-friendly lunch suggestions.
10. “Super” it up
We’ve all read about superfoods. It’s important that our kids eat them too. Lunchtime is a great time to work superfoods into their diets. Bean-based hummus, a container full of fresh berries, and leftover eggs and spinach tucked into a tortilla are all tasty ideas for a “super” lunch.
Your turn: Share your best lunch ideas in the comment section below.