My daughter just started nursery school, which means I have officially crossed the threshold into school-lunch land. I have heard time and again from parents: “what should I pack?,” “How can I mix it up?,” “How can I make it healthy yet ensure my kid will eat it?” I have plenty of ideas and suggestions, but no actual time in the trenches… until now.
So, until I’ve learned some real-life school lunch lessons on my own, I thought to share with you the articles and blog posts on the dreaded school lunch chore that I’ve found helpful as I wade through these new waters of parenthood. I suspect in another year or two I’ll have more to offer on the topic, but until then, I’m relying on the wisdom of my elders (in parenting years, that is).
The lunch box
Whether you’re like me and starting from scratch, or last year’s sack is simply too battle-worn to make it another year, the first challenge to lunch victory starts with selecting the right lunch box. The key features to look for are:
- Easy accessibility for little fingers. Too many zippers and pouches can confuse a kid who might never “find” all the goodies you’ve packed.
- It doesn’t have to be polar-proof but it should fare better than the old-school brown bag to prevent food-borne illness.
- BPA-free. Sure, most kid gear these days is free of bisphenol-A, but not all. BPA is an industrial chemical found in certain types of plastics or even as a coating for some metal products. BPA has been known to seep into food and may have health effects on the brain, particularly in children.
Lisa of 100 Days of Real Food offers a helpful review of five popular lunch boxes. Although not on the list, I went with Bentgo Kids, which met my requirements above and, in addition, is leak-proof, dishwasher safe, and sends some proceeds to Feed the Children (huge bonus for me as a consumer). I also purchased a Pack It lunch bag for the box, persuaded by Sally at Real Mom Nutrition, who offers some other excellent lunch box hacks.
What to put in the box
Obviously, some of this is knowing what your kid will and won’t eat—whether it’s what they’re into today or for the next month—while still presenting various healthy options.
One friend of mine who’s been fighting the lunch box fight for a good six years says that the key to winning it is simple: pack a protein, a fruit, a veg, and—as she puts it—“a crunch.” Bento-style boxes make this general “check-list” approach to lunch-packing easier. Even if the “crunch”—some chips, pretzels, or Cheerios— is the least healthy part of an otherwise nutrient-dense, wholesome meal that actually gets eaten, consider yourself a lunch-boxing champ.
For more useful ideas, author and fellow dietitian, Katie Morford, offers up a ton of ideas in her book, Best Lunch Box Ever. Holly Grainger, also a mommy and dietitian, has a downloadable 125 +25 Lunchbox Ideas Your Kids (and You) Will Love, and so far this mommy is definitely loving it. (Whether my child will, too, is TBD.)
Don’t stress, test (and steal)
Lunch making doesn’t have to be (overly) stressful. Don’t wear yourself out trying to create Pinterest-perfect butterfly-shaped sandwiches or bend over backwards to concoct exotic new meals. If you’ve got new ideas, use the weekends to test them out on your little (or maybe not-so-little) one. Keep a list of things that work and that which does not. Get feedback from your kid on what he or she gets excited to see come noontime or what she covets from her friend’s lunch box, and steal other parents’ ideas as much as possible (as evidenced by this blog). Because in the end, we’re all in this together, fellow parents!
So in that spirit, I encourage you to leave a comment and share your own lunch box tips, trials, and tribulations. What’s worked for your family? What was your worst packed lunch idea? What’s the best lesson you have for a newbie lunch packer (ahem) or for parents of the pickiest eaters?