It’s my favorite time of year — the weather is cooling, the leaves are changing, the kids are going back to school!
Don’t get me wrong: I love my kids. We've had a fantastic summer together but I’m guessing I’m not the only parent who’s a bit relieved to hear the school bell chime.
This school year in particular brings big changes. After more than a year of remote and hybrid learning, we are looking at packing lunches again.
This year, we'll continue our family tradition of having the kids make their own lunches. In our house, we have three guidelines for lunch box success.
- Taste the rainbow: Not the candy commercial. Our goal is to make every lunch as colorful as possible. This betters our chances of having a variety of foods, which means a variety of nutrients and flavors.
- Mini-me it: My kids would rather have a lot of smaller items than be stuck with one big thing (that they may not like, and therefore not eat). We’ll keep lunch food bite-size and plentiful, which means less time cutting, ripping or biting, when they’d rather be playing with friends.
- Balancing act: Our lunches will be packed with as many fruits, vegetables and whole grains as possible, but these are kids and kids like treats. They don’t need to know that those treats are coconut chips, chocolate-covered nuts and fruit leathers.
We’re also keeping an eye on what we’re eating. On our fridge is a small chalkboard where we list our food “categories.” We add or subtract grocery items from each category to keep things fresh and interesting. We try to add one new thing every month. For our kids, each lunch should include:
- Protein: This ensures the kids have enough long-lasting energy to see them through the day. Includes cheese, hard-boiled eggs, deli slices, yogurt sticks and homemade trail mix.
- Grains: This doesn’t have to be sliced bread. Think pretzels, popcorn, whole-grain dry cereal, multigrain chips and crackers.
- Fruits: The more colorful, the better. We always make sure to cut everything into bite-size pieces, so the kids don’t waste precious playtime segmenting an orange, biting an apple or peeling a banana. If the fruit is especially sticky, I include a toothpick as a utensil.
- Veggies: Our lunch boxes have a spot to hold the kids’ favorite dips, which go perfectly with sliced veggies like cucumbers, jicama or bell peppers. One of my kids will eat only edamame and olives, but we count it.
- Treats: Yes, sometimes they get a piece of candy or a homemade cookie from a weekend baking project. But more often than not, their special “treat” is something relatively healthy in disguise.
By working as a team to make school lunches, the kids feel empowered to make healthy choices. They’re more likely to eat what they themselves pack. Not to mention, we all move a little quicker in the morning.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2017, and updated in August 2021.