It’s that time of year again. Whether you have been impatiently waiting for it or dreading it (or more than likely, a mixture of both) it is officially Back to School! And with that comes the task of packing 5 lunches and snacks a week per kid. This task can be a little daunting, but I have some tips for you that will hopefully make this task a little less stressful!
We talk a lot here about creating meals that are PHFF for ourselves, but this is a great way to also plan meals for our kids! Blood sugar balance is just as important for them, especially when they are at school all day. We all know how crappy we feel when our blood sugar is out of whack…just imagine how that would feel being a kid that’s having to focus and learn new stuff all day! Please don’t think I am saying all this to scare you or to shame you (there’s been plenty of days where it feels like my kids have lived off of Goldfish). I’m simply trying to encourage you to use PHFF for your kids as well! In the long run, this will actually make your life so much easier for the whole family and help take the guesswork out of what to send with your kiddos.
Some helpful tips
Get your kids involved! Kids are more likely to eat meals when they have some control over either the decision-making or preparation process.
If you have younger kids, try preparing their lunches while they eat breakfast. Give them a choice between a few options and let them watch you pack it! This way they feel like they have made the decision about what to eat for lunch themselves. Which they have, just with some guidance. Don’t simply ask, “what do you want for lunch?” This is too broad for young kids. Ask them, “would you rather have (option 1) or (option 2) for lunch today?” – options that you have already thought of.
Elementary-aged kids also love this, but you can start giving them a little more freedom. Ask them what types of snacks and sides they want with their lunch. Taking them to the store or letting them help you during a grocery order can make them feel like they made those choices for themselves and will almost always ensure that they eat what they (you) have bought for the week. I can’t tell you how many times I have bought something without their input that they refused to eat, but if they put it in the cart (literally the same exact thing), they eat it every time AND are excited about it.
For older kids, creating a system that allows them to pack their own lunches from items you have already prepared is extremely helpful! This encourages independence and supports their autonomous food choices, again within reason (you aren’t just letting them pack all the flavors of Taki’s).
Regardless of their age, let them have some freedom. So many times I have said no to food pairings because they didn’t make sense to me…quesadilla with a side of pickles and beef jerky…yuck! But honestly why not?! If weird food combos result in them actually eating their lunch then so be it! I mean, really…figuring out what to make can be a battle, but ensuring that they actually eat what you send them with is really the ultimate battle.
Always offer whole food items. Find fruits and vegetables that your kids like! Even if they don’t love them, offering them with every lunch gets them used to them and shows them what a balanced meal looks like. This will also create balance between whole food and packaged food items. Yes, you can give your kids packaged foods!
Alright, let’s break it down…
When building lunches, you will need a protein, fat, and high-fiber carbohydrate option.
This is more easily put together when you break it into 5 categories: a main entree, an additional protein, fruit and/or veggie side, a dip, and pantry items.
One of our other Metabolism Makeover Coaches @dietitiancarrie did an AMAZING reel on how she separates and organizes her school lunches. Make sure to check it out here! Save it because it is pure gold!
Okay, let’s get to it!
Choose 1 item from #1-4, and an additional 1-2 items from #5. I have included some links for brands that I like to make it easier, however, you DO NOT need to purchase the same exact brands! There are plenty of other great options – find the ones that best fit your family!
1. Main entrees can include:
- Meat & Cheese tray – Snackin’ Trays
- Protein pancakes – Kodiak mix
- Flatbreads – Stonefire
2. Additional protein can include:
- Cheese sticks – Babybel
- Meat and cheese snacks – BelGioioso Snacking Rolls, P3, Jack Links
- Yogurt – Stonyfield Kids *Tip- freeze these!
- Cottage cheese – Good Culture
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Protein/energy bites
3. Fruits & veggies that work well in lunch boxes include:
*Tip – cut all of these and separate them into baggies or reusable pouches at the beginning of the week! Trust me…this saves more time than you know.
- Apple slices
- Berries (blueberries/raspberries/uncut strawberries)
- Baby carrots
- Raw broccoli
- Mini peppers
- Bell peppers
- Snap peas
4. Dips can include:
- Guacamole – Wholly Guacamole
- Hummus – Hummus singles, Brownie Batter Hummus
- Greek yogurt ranch dip (I use plain greek yogurt and some dry ranch seasoning)
- Ranch dip
- Peanut butter
5. Pantry items:
- Protein bars – Z Bars
- Granola bites – Made Good
- Beef jerky – CHOMPS, Country Archer
- Pirate’s Booty
- That’s It Fruit Bars
- Trail mix – Kar’s
- Sprouted pumpkin seeds
- Fig bars – Nature’s Bakery
- Squeeze packs – GoGo squeeZ happy tummieZ, GoGo squeeZ fruit and veggieZ
- Crackers – Simple Mills, Ritz packs, Annie’s
- Chips – Late July
- Dried fruit
- Olives – Oloves
- Protein shakes – Orgain Kids (these are a lifesaver if your kids have a hard time eating)
Here are some lunch combos that my kids like:
- Mini Ham and Cheese Sandwiches on rolls
Carrots & hummus
2. Protein Pancakes
Greek yogurt with strawberries
3. Bean and cheese burrito
Veggies with guac
4. Peanut Butter & Jelly (our school is not a peanut-free school, but sunbutter is a good option if yours is)
*This sandwich cutter makes them like an uncrustable!
5. Homemade Lunchables
Turkey and salami
Veggies with ranch dip
6. Naan Pizzas – flatbread with whatever toppings (mine love turkey sausage and olives)
Broccoli with ranch
*You can blend veggies into the marinara to add even more nutrients!
7. Pita Bread with Hummus
Cucumbers and carrots with dill dip
Yogurt with berries
I include 1-2 pantry items for snacks!
As parents, it is our job to ensure that our kids are getting the nutrition that they need, but it is also our job to ensure that they have a healthy relationship with food! Try to keep in mind that there is a thin line between creating good habits and creating strict eating rules. I personally don’t demonize any foods. I don’t even really like to use the terms “healthy” vs “junk” food because it starts weird stigmas – any other ’80s and ’90s kids still traumatized by how normal diet culture was growing up?! Instead, I tell them that all foods have a purpose, and some make you feel better than others – it’s all about balance. If you are creating balanced meals for them to have the majority of the time, then there’s no reason to sweat the inevitable times that they are going to have other food items. Allow them to have some freedom!
I hope this has helped! If so, be sure to let me know over on my Instagram page @TheMomminNutritionist.
Want some free grown-up lunch ideas? Grab a 3-day sample meal plan here!
Your MM Coach, Brianna