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Family Central: School Lunches, Made Easier

When it comes to school lunches, I always start out the year optimistically: I’m going to make interesting, healthy lunches every day! Ones that my kids will actually eat! But within a couple weeks, I’ll be honest, it sometimes just seems easier to load up on the Lunchables.

With another school year looming (or, for some of you, having already started), I’m feeling good about lunches again. Here’s my plan for making lunches hassle-free this year.

Let kids help shop. Let them try one new thing – a snack, a fruit, a sandwich bread – every week. Also, I find that if they pick out something new themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.

Let them choose between healthy – and healthier. Your kids only want to pick out chips and candy? Find some healthier alternatives (organic fruit chews, baked chips) and give them an either-or at the store. And for junk food junkies, institute the one-junk rule: They can have one not-so-healthy item in each lunch, but everything else has to be “good for you.”

Let them pack. By third grade, most children are able to pack their own lunch. (You’ll still want to supervise, to make sure they don’t try to just take cheese sticks and Ding Dongs.) But even younger kids can be part of the process, especially if you do it the night before, while you’re cleaning up after dinner.

Mix it up. Brainstorm with your family and try to make a list of mix-and-match, go-to lunch components, so you don’t end up with the same boring sandwich-apple combo every day. Some ideas:

  • Not your average veggies: Visit our kit kitchen, in produce, to let kids pick out pre-cut, ready-to-go vegetable slices that you can pair with dip or ranch dressing. Snow peas, red or orange bell peppers, broccoli; you might be surprised what they pick.
  • Wrap it up: Our homemade flour tortillas make a great bread substitute.
  • Mini-sandwiches: Pick up mini brioches or dinner rolls for cute, smaller sandwiches. If the rolls seem too thick for little mouths, hollow out part of the middle before adding the filling, to make it more manageable.
  • Hummus and pita chips: I’ve been surprised how many kids who try hummus really love it. High-protein and filling, it can take the place of a sandwich for many kids when paired with pita bread or baked pita chips.
  • Not just peanut butter: Change up that pb&j, with freshly ground almond, cashew or pecan butter. Sweeten it with honey or even maple syrup for another change.
  • Go organic: Feel better about those lunch treats by choosing organic snacks, baked chips, and healthier alternatives. One product line to check out is Back to Nature, which makes crackers and cookies with no preservatives, natural flavors and whole grains. We like the honey graham sticks, the organic saltines, and the crispy baked cheddar crackers.
  • Soup and salad: Better-insulated lunch boxes these days make it easier to take hot soups and cold salads. You can let them try samples at our chef-prepared counter so they can give their lunches the seal of approval before you pack them!