Social media is filled with images of school lunches containing a variety of foods. It’s usually something like a sandwich, a fruit, a vegetable, a homemade muffin, and a little “treat.”
Now I’m not against all the foods I listed above, but I don’t think all of them are necessary. In fact, they may even be wasteful.
Let me explain….
Today kids have 20–30 minutes for lunch while at school. This includes the time it takes to get to the lunchroom, sit down, settle down, open and unpack their lunch, eat, clean-up and lineup for what’s next. This means they have an average of 10 minutes (if that) to actually eat.
So…if you want your kid to eat a healthy lunch (and not waste food), packing a large variety of food is not the best approach. Especially if there are several containers and packages that your child must open.
And in many cases, your child may eat the “treat” and homemade muffin, and then run out of time to eat the healthier stuff.
Therefore, I recommend keeping school lunches super simple. Less stress for you AND your child. Because some children, especially picky eaters, get overwhelmed with too many options and an abundance of food in front of them
Think about what you would serve at home for lunch. A sandwich with a piece of fruit. Or a bowl of pasta with a veggie.
At most, all you need to pack is TWO THINGS. A main dish and a fruit or veggie. That’s it! And in some cases, one thing is all you need.
Before I share some specific examples of what to pack, here are a few tips to keep in mind when packing school lunches:
- Use containers that are easy to open. If your child has trouble, he or she will need to waste time trying to track someone down to help. I recommend using a two compartment bento box of sorts. I have personally been using the same ECOlunchbox since 2013.
- Save new foods for home snacks and meals. If you pack something your child isn’t familiar with, there is a good chance he or she won’t eat it. Therefore, stick to foods you know your child will eat.
- Don’t forget utensils! Again, if you forget the utensils, your child will need to spend precious time searching for them.
- Use an ice pack. This will ensure the food stays at a safe temperature until lunchtime.
- If you’re packing a hot lunch, Thermos brand containers work great to keep food warm. These containers are also great for liquid cold foods, such as yogurt.
- Ask your child not to dump the food he or she doesn’t eat. This will allow you see what’s working and what’s not. To (calmly) talk to your child about it. Are you packing too much or too little? If you notice there is something that your child never eats, maybe you should save that food for home.
- Avoid packing foods that are difficult to chew. For example, celery can be difficult to chew for some children (including my son). So, I stopped packing it in his lunch and only serve it at home when he has more time to eat. Whole nuts can also be hard for kids to chew. However, chopping them into smaller pieces often makes it easier.
- Pack foods that are easy for your child to get into his or her mouth. For instance, some younger kids may struggle with utensils. If this is the case, finger foods are probably best. I use these adorable metal picks for my son’s lunch. They are fun and easy to use.
- Pack foods that are ready to eat. While I love the idea of “building your own” sandwich or tacos, most kids just don’t have the time. Chopping and slicing meats, fruits, and veggies are also essential. Your child doesn’t have time to cut up his or her steak.
- Pack water to drink. It’s the healthiest option. Plus, it will save you money. I recommend using reusable stainless steel water bottles. I have personally been using the Thermos brand FUNtainers since 2011.
- Create a weekly lunch calendar and get your child’s input. He or she will then know what to expect. Many children, especially picky eaters, don’t like to be surprised when it comes to food.
- KEEP IT SIMPLE!
So…what do super simple school lunches look like?
Most often it’s a main dish with a fruit or veggie on the side. But some main dishes are enough.
Consider the following main dishes that don’t necessarily need anything extra:
- Soup, stew, or chilli (e.g. chicken vegetable, split pea, beef stew, black bean soup)
- Yogurt parfaits – full fat plain Greek yogurt with berries and a little raw honey. Chopped nuts, seeds, and/or granola are also nice additions.
- Overnight oats – these can be prepared overnight and include fruits, nuts, and seeds for a complete lunch
- Salad with protein (e.g. chicken Caesar salad)
- Pasta with a veggie and protein (e.g. broccoli and chicken or broccoli and meat sauce)
- Bean or meat and veggie burritos
- Quinoa veggie bowl
- Bean salad with veggies
Now for some two item lunch ideas, use the chart below. Pick one item from each column. Mix and match to find combinations your child will eat. And consider getting your child’s input.
Also, I can’t emphasize enough that leftovers work great. I would never cook my son a piece of chicken or a pork chop in the morning just to pack in his lunch. If it’s in his lunch, it’s because we had it for dinner the night before or earlier in the week.
Leftovers can also be used to make new meals. For example, roasted chicken can be used to make chicken salad.
And, as your child grows, simply pack larger portions.
Veggie or Fruit
|Egg salad||Carrot sticks or slices|
|Tuna or salmon salad||Red pepper slices|
|Hard boiled eggs||Berries|
|Chicken salad||Apple slices|
|Sandwich or wrap*||Melon cubes|
|Salmon (or other fish)||Pomegranate seeds|
|Lentil pasta||Cucumber slices|
|Beans with cheese||Avocado slices|
|Fajita or taco meat||Cherries|
|Homemade granola (with nuts or seeds)||Pear slices|
|Ham and cheese cubes||Diced mango|
|Lasagna||Sugar snap peas|
|Pulled pork or chicken||Coleslaw|
|Hummus and pita||Potato salad|
|Mac and cheese||Cherry tomatoes|
There are endless possibilities for sandwiches and wraps. However, most commercial brands of bread contain main unnecessary ingredients, including sugar.
My favorite brand of bread is Berlin Bakery. They make a whole grain spelt bread and a sourdough spelt bread that contain only the necessary ingredients.
Homemade bread is also great if you have the time. Sprouted bread is the next best but still check the ingredient list.
Some sandwich ideas include:
- Uncured deli meats and cheese
- Smoked salmon and cream cheese
- Peanut or sunbutter with raw honey
- Hummus and avocado (tomato and/or cucumber also work)
- BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato)
- Egg salad
- Chicken salad
- Tuna or salmon salad
To Sum It Up…
The idea is to KEEP IT SUPER SIMPLE. Save the fancy stuff for the weekends when you have more time. And when your kids have more time to eat and enjoy your fun creations.
Keeping it simple will save you time, money, and your sanity. And most importantly, your child will eat a healthy lunch.