Packing Healthy, Easy School Lunches

Tips from local moms on kid-friendly, healthy and easy school lunches.

School is about to start, and one big decision (other than what the first-day outfit) will be is whether or not your child will eat a packed lunch or buy lunch from school.

The great thing about packing lunch is that you know what your kids will be eating, and you can cater the meal to their allergies and preferences.

Patch spoke to some moms and contributors and came up with a few tips every family can use. See their assorted answers in italics below.

How to get your kids excited about packing a lunch:

  • Make a deal with your kids. Give them a certain amount of money each week and explain they can either buy school lunch with it, or save it and bring their lunch from home for free.
  • One big thing kids seem to be into these days is bento box type meals. Little compartmentalized boxes with a bunch of different choices inside—grapes, finger sandwiches, maybe sliced peaches. A lot of people go seasonal with these, using what is fresh. It is cool because it is pleasing and sustainable. 
  • Post a list on your fridge of the week’s lunch choices from these categories: sandwich, fruit, snack, sweet. Because the kids have options, they tend to eat what they chose.

Easy preparations to make packing school lunch simple:

  • Every Sunday night I prep all the snacks in little containers, I clean the fruit and have it ready, I clean and cut the veggies (carrot sticks, celery, etc.) and have those ready in small containers, too. I store juice boxes and yogurts on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator door so that everything is always in the same place and I can quickly make the lunches each morning. Having everything already prepped saves me so much time and allows me to spend time with my kids instead of making lunches and starting my day stressed.
  • Freeze a 1/3 filled water bottle overnight & fill the rest w/reg water in the AM - serves as a freezer pack for the lunch box and water for your kid. — Jenni Pompi, contributor

Lunch ideas and options:

  • One of my favorite lunches as a child that my great aunt would make for me after a hard morning of swimming was a hard boiled egg (cut into eighths) and ham and cheese roll-ups. If it went to school, she would cut up the egg and put it into a little thermos (mine had Garfield on it) and set the rolled up ham and cheese in a baggie. Worked great. I still will make that lunch for myself when I've been out for a day of swimming. I miss her a lot and eating that is like a little hug from her. 
  • I was blessed with a hungry, but picky eater who doesn't like to eat the same lunch twice in one week, so I have to get creative. I try to pack three to five items that do not need to be cut and that he can open by himself. An easy favorite of five-year-old Oscar is peanut butter on celery, a cheese stick, and some whole grain pretzels. He also loves cream cheese sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar on toasted whole wheat bread, with a baggie of almonds and raisins, and a clementine (I start the peel.) Three-year-old Miles is much easier. He's happy with your standard PB&J on whole wheat, some sliced strawberries, and a cup of yogurt.
  • Last year, I got some old jars and I tossed some peanut butter, ranch or french dressing in the bottoms. Then I cut carrot and celery sticks and stuck them in the jar. Ta-Da! Instant dippers. You could also probably do it with apples or other fruits. 
  • Something that my four-year old loves is when I give him a deconstructed pizza—Ritz crackers, mini pepperonis and either a mozzarella string cheese or a packet of those little 100-calorie cheese cubes. I also tend to toss a fruit in with the mix, too, his favorite is cut up cantaloupe, but apples, bananas and grapes are all hits as well.
  • My kids don't eat sandwiches and are really picky about what they will eat, which makes packing lunches hard. They do, however, love Lunchables, but I don't want them eating those every day because of the cost and nutrition. Instead I make my own version with cut up meat, fresh cheese, and crackers. They get to make their own little stacked meat sandwiches and I get to feel better about the kind of food I'm giving them.
  • I also got sent to school with soups in that thermos a lot (sometimes SpaghettiOs, too, another favorite). I don't see that much anymore, maybe we can bring that back! 
  • Fruits and veggies taste better fresh and in season, making kids much more likely to eat them. I’ll never forget the ecstatic look on my little niece’s face when she tasted her first ever summer peach. Introduce your kids to seasonal goodies they can use in their lunch by visiting one of our region's farmers markets. 

Have a great tip for other parents packing school lunches? Tell us in the comments!


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