The back to school season is full of excitement school supply shopping, new clothes, new friends and teachers, and the opportunity for growth. But as parents, we know that the age-old struggle is approaching: getting kids to eat their lunch at school. There is no worse feeling than sending your little one off for a fun day at school only for them to return with a mostly full lunchbox–not only because they’re missing out on the fuel they need to learn, but also because it feels horrible to waste so much food!
Crafting school lunches that both excite and nourish your kids can sometimes feel like a puzzle. As parents, we understand the daily challenge of ensuring that the carefully prepared lunches don't return untouched.
In this blog post, we'll explore creative and balanced lunch ideas that strike the perfect chord between flavors, nutrition, and kid-friendly appeal. From playful bento boxes filled with colorful bite-sized treats to innovative wraps and interactive DIY assemblies, we're here to transform lunchtime into a fun and delightful experience for your little ones. Join us as we share tips for prepping ahead, getting your kids involved in the process, and navigating common dietary preferences and restrictions.
Pick the Perfect Lunchbox
Lunch boxes come in so many different varieties these days. The one that works best for your kiddo will depend entirely on their age and their abilities. Smaller kids might deal better with bento boxes that are easy to open and don’t require any additional help to open packages, which can be overwhelming for some little ones. For older kids, they might prefer something more utilitarian and basic.
Here are a few options:
- A stainless steel lunch box: this is a great option for both older and younger kids. It’s easier to open for little hands and still utilitarian enough for older kids.
- Stainless steel ice pack: Perfect for keeping lunches and drinks cold. Who wants to drink lukewarm water or juice anyway?
- Reusable snack bags: These are great for older kids who don’t want to take a bento-style lunchbox. Just wrap up their favorites and place into their favorite lunch bag. For younger kids, these are a great option for sending snacks at snack time: they won’t need help opening a package and they’re super fun to show off.
- Sandwich wraps: No more plastic bags! These sandwich wraps are great for packing sandwiches for both older and younger kids: easy to open, fun to use, and keep sandwiches and wraps fresh.
- Bento bag: Bento Bags are great for older kids... or yourself! Use them to wrap up fresh fruits, extra snacks, and more.
Stock Up On Kid-friendly Staples
What’s the secret to getting kids to eat their lunches? Buying foods they like. But if your kids are like the kids we know, they’d prefer to eat convenience foods and chicken nuggets for every meal–and quite frankly, that’s not what we’re envisioning for our kids everyday!
There is a middle ground between catering to your child’s preferences while also ensuring that their nutritional needs are met. Repeated exposure to foods that your child might not love, but will try, can help them learn to love those foods–or even add a new favorite! Having a well-stocked pantry and freezer is the first step to making lunch easy.
Here are a few staples to have on hand every week:
- Whole grains: whether your child prefers whole wheat bread or tortillas, keep them stocked. If your kiddo needs gluten-free options, there are so many on the market! Make sure to check manufacturer’s websites for additional coupons. Also keep whole grain pasta (or GF pasta) on hand for pasta salads–a great, easy lunch option.
- Lean protein: deli meats, canned tuna, and boiled eggs are the easiest, while also being very kid-friendly. Variety is key when it comes to maintaining kids interest, so make sure to rotate what you use week-to-week.
- Dairy or dairy alternatives: cheese sticks, yogurt cups, and milk or plant milk cartons are great options. You can also buy blocks of your kiddo’s favorite cheese and cut into sticks to avoid excess packaging.
- Fruits and vegetables: Remember, pick the ones your kids will eat. If your child has refused to eat broccoli for years, now is not the time to put it in their lunchbox! Baby carrots, cucumbers, and fruit are classics. Every kid likes one of them. So if they like strawberries, go with strawberries.
- Condiments: Hummus, almond butter, and cream cheese can make fruits and veggies disappear. Kids love dip. That’s just a fact.
- Healthy snacks: whole grain crackers, granola bars or bites, and trail mix are easy additions to lunchboxes that provide energy. Select options with dried fruit and minimal added sugars.
Making creative, exciting lunch boxes doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Here are a few ideas for creative options that won’t eat up all your time:
- Use cookie cutters. No need to buy new, fancy ones. If you’re like us, you have tons of cookie cutters you’ve collected over the years. Use these to cut sandwiches into fun shapes and dress up fruits and veggies.
- That’s a wrap! Kids love wraps. They’re easy to eat. Plus, when you cut them into 1-inch slices, it’s like kid sushi! You can make wraps with deli meat, lettuce, and their favorite spread; almond butter and banana; or hummus and veggies… whatever your child prefers. You can also make several in advance to have ready to pop into lunchboxes.
- Prepare fruits and veggies in advance. Wash and dry fruits and veggies when you buy them. Then slice and/or chop before placing in airtight containers. When it’s time to pack up lunches, let kids pick their favorites from the options and use those.
- Don’t be afraid to make a batch. Kids love pasta salad? Whip up a big batch to pack into lunches for the week. Baking healthy muffins? Use a mini muffin pan to use them for sides in lunches.
Now, bribing kids to eat their lunch might not be everyone’s idea of a good way to do things. But offering an incentive can be a great way to get kiddos to focus on finishing their lunches. Not only does eating at school help them learn, it avoids that after school blood sugar crash that leaves moms with the hangry leftovers of the day.
Incentives don’t have to be rewards either. You might let your kids pick a favorite snack to include in their lunch everyday–like a favorite potato chip, chocolate, or cookie. Have them help you pack their lunch so they know exactly what will be in it–and so they can make decisions regarding what they’ll be eating.
Kids often eat more when they feel they have control over the decision. By offering the opportunity for them to be involved in the lunch-making process, even if they’re very young, you’re more likely to end up with lunches that are mostly eaten (instead of mostly untouched).
It’s important to talk to our kids about food waste and how impactful it is. Use age-appropriate language and imagery to help them understand why wasting food isn’t something you like to see, but also give them the freedom to know that if they try something and don’t like it, they aren’t in trouble if they don’t eat it. It’s never too early to help our kids become more conscious of the impact they have on the planet!