Don’t even think about slipping a super-processed Lunchable into your child’s backpack. Catherine McCord, school lunch maven and author of Weelicious Lunches (William Morrow, 2013), shares her expert tips to create a school lunch your child will actually eat.
You stand in front of the lunchbox and stare. You’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and just plain stumped. There's no denying it: packing school lunch is tough! Your first hope is that you can come up with an array of nutritious foods to pack. But even trickier, you want your kids to return home with an empty lunchbox.
You also want making lunch to be easy enough that you can consistently offer your child a variety of foods. How can you keep lunch interesting? How can you pack healthy, appealing food that your child will actually want to eat?
Here are top tips to think about when packing school lunch for your kids:
1. Find balance. Each lunch should include a fruit, vegetable, carbohydrate, and protein. But this doesn’t mean packing the same old sandwich and piece of fruit every day. Rather, think outside of the (lunch)box. For example, pack sliced apples with nut butter, vegetables and an herb-yogurt dip, a mini panini, wrap, or even a thermos full of warm soup. (Get the recipe for Weelicious Veggie Tortilla Roll-Ups!)
2. Pay attention to visuals. Choose from a variety of fruits and vegetables that have an array of different colors. Cut them in interesting shapes and sizes: A melon baller, mini cookie cutters, or even a cheese grater can transform the shape and texture of foods your child might initially turn his nose up at into something visually fun and appealing.
Other eye-appealing healthy choices include berries, apples and avocado cubes tossed with lemon (so they stay bright and fresh), edamame, cucumber spears, kiwi slices, and sugar snap peas.
3. Let’s talk texture. While not the first thing that comes to mind when making lunch, for some kids, mealtime is a sensory experience. Does your child like smooth food like yogurt? Crunchy foods like apples or pretzels? What about squishy foods like cherry tomatoes? Mix and match textures to keep things exciting.
4. Savvy reuse. When you were growing up, hearing the word “leftovers” may have sent you running for the hills. But with a few smart techniques, you can breathe new life into last night’s dinner for today’s lunch. For example, fajitas can morph into a Mexican wrap sandwich. Beans and rice can become a quesadilla with cheese; try mixing bright-green pesto into bow-tie pasta.
To streamline busy mornings, it’s a good idea to keep a stockpile of lunch basics like steamed veggies, grilled chicken, and cooked quinoa in your fridge.
5. Liquid assets. Always pack fluids so your little one stays hydrated at school. Whether you choose to fill a reusable bottle with good ol’ water, coconut water (which is extremely hydrating), or even unsweetened herbal tea, healthful liquids are a must for kids all day long.
Bonus: The most important thing to remember with lunch is to keep it fun. Encouraging your kids to be involved in the lunch-making process will make them feel more empowered about eating it too!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Launched in 2007, Catherine, mom to Kenya (6) and Chloe (4), created Weelicious.com as a platform to show parents around the world how easy and beneficial it is to expose children to wholesome and delicious homemade food. Weelicious, which now houses over 700 original recipes, isn’t about taking risks or presenting challenges in the kitchen. Catherine inspires her community with ingredients that are readily available and recipes that are fast and easy to follow. Weelicious interacts with an ever-expanding international audience on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.