DIY School Lunch: Help Kids Pack Healthy Meals

I’m gonna be honest with you and admit that I dislike packing lunches every morning. It’s one of my most-loathed chores. This year, my boys are old enough to take on the task themselves (in fact, I am not making this up, they are right this minute packing their own snacks up into a backpack for a trip outside to play.)

I have a three-part plan to help streamline the transition from mom-packed lunches to kid-packed lunches.

Help Kids Pack Their Own Lunches:

1. Provide appropriate lunch packaging. I’m taking a trip to the dollar store for reusable containers such as sandwich boxes, small lidded containers for sauces and dips, and disposable packages like printed baggies (I am a huge sucker for cute baggies.) I might even hit up the Japanese dollar store for some adorable bento supplies like these:

2. Prepare a lunch supplies station. In my kitchen, I will designate a cupboard and a fridge drawer with lunch-appropriate options so my boys can easily make healthy lunch choices. Once a week, I can pre-package items like a single-serve veggies, fruit, or whole-grain crackers. I’ll also keep the fridge stocked with healthy beverages like fruit/veggie juice from my juicer (in small containers) or organic milk boxes.

3. Print a lunch-packing chart to make it easy. I’ve detailed below with ideas for each part of a healthy lunch. The boys can choose one item from each list for their lunch every day. I’ll print this list and put it up in the cupboard where I keep the lunch supplies.

What Goes Into a Healthy Lunch:

Taking cues from this back-to-school resource with 50 Lunch Ideas by Horizon Organic, I came up with a list of healthy lunch ideas that use foods that our family usually has on hand.

Choose one: Whole Grains

Choose one for your lunch: whole grains

This whole grain choice can be a standalone item (like air-popped popcorn), or an item that is designed to go with another food group (like a sandwich or wrap).

Items on this list include (but aren’t limited to): air-popped popcorn, whole wheat sandwich, whole wheat bagel, whole grain pita chips, whole wheat crackers, whole wheat tortilla, whole grain dry cereal.

Choose one: Dairy

Choose one: dairy

Not all the items on this list are strictly dairy, but they are all in the dairy group, and provide a source of calcium. Choices include: organic milk boxes, cheese slices
string cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, fortified soy milk.

These items can be paired with other groups as well, such as adding cheese to a sandwich or quesadilla, or making a yogurt parfait.

Choose one: Protein

Choose one: protein

Items on this list include: hard-boiled egg, rotisserie chicken, mini meatballs, salmon or tuna salad, nut butters, hummus, or refried beans. It’s best to choose less-processed meats and proteins. I love 100% natural peanut butter, and hummus is a family favorite as well.

Some less-traditional but super fun lunch proteins include: colored hardboiled eggs, mini sliders (sub ground turkey for a lean option), tiny sub sandwiches, veggie burgers, cooked lentils or beans.

Choose one: Veggies

Choose one: Veggies for your school lunch

Some kids don’t eat their veggies, I know it can be a challenge. In our family, we have two voracious veggie eaters, and one reluctant one (who often “doesn’t have time” to finish the carrots in his lunch box). Maybe if they pack their own lunches, they’ll be more likely to eat the veggie option!

Not all these suggestions will work for every family, but these are what will work for ours: baby carrots or snap peas, cucumber coins or mini cucumbers, steamed edamame, lettuce leaves, celery sticks, mini peppers, cauliflower, broccoli or seaweed. Yep, my boys love seaweed. That’s a slam dunk for all three of them. No, you don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it!

Here are some ideas for making vegetables more exciting to kids: carrots & ranch, celery & peanut butter (“ants on a log”), add spinach to smoothies (this works especially well with purple berry smoothies – you can’t taste or see the spinach), veggie kebabs (food’s more fun when it’s served on a stick!), add sprouts or greens to sandwiches, make kale or spinach chips in the oven, add grated vegetables to homemade muffins, or add diced veg to soups, cut into cute shapes (find tiny cute cutters at the Japanese dollar store), cut into bite sizes, lightly steam tougher veggies, cut with a spiral cutter.

See, so many ways to make veggies fun for kids!

Choose one: Fruit

Choose one fruit for your lunchbox

Fruit might be easier for some kids than veggies are. If your child refuses to eat vegetables, don’t skip the fruit! Fruit provides fiber, vitamins and minerals. And, as I am fond of saying to my kids, “Fruit is nature’s candy.”

Lunchbox-friendly fruit choices: apple slices, applesauce, berries, banana, fruit kabob, dried fruit. Ideas for spicing up fruit options: add raisins to celery & peanut butter, add bananas to a peanut butter sandwich, add cinnamon to apple slices.

Choose one: Beverage

choose one beverage

If your kids are like mine, they need more than one beverage in the day – we make sure to send a water bottle with them so they can rehydrate throughout the day. When my boys pack their lunch, they can refill their daily water bottle, and pick another beverage such as: organic milk boxes, 100% fruit/veggie juice, veggie juice (canned or homemade).

If your child isn’t into these beverage ideas, try squeezing orange, lemon, or lime juice into water to make it tasty (and add vitamins!), send a chocolate milk straw to drink plain milk with (adds only 27 calories), or even let them help you make fresh fruit/veggie juice the night before.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas for packing healthy lunches this school year. I’m excited to see if my system works and if my boys are able to successfully pack healthy lunches.

What do you think? Will you encourage your kids to pack their own lunches this year?

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon Organic. The opinions and text are all mine.