Let's face it, we are not going to reinvent the wheel when it comes to kids school lunches. Chances are your kids have their own likes and dislikes and that's the framework you will have to work around. This post isn't a "What" to feed your kids (there are hundreds of lunch ideas floating around on line) this is more of a "How to"! How to give mom and dad a break, how to cut costs, and most importantly how to stop stressing about school lunches.
Plan Ahead - Be PreparedOften lunches are an after thought, moslty because we have made up our minds that making lunch is the worst thing on earth. The fact is planning ahead and being prepared always makes eating healthy meals easier. Before you grocery shop come up with a plan for the week. Will lunches be made from leftover dinners, is your pantry full, do you have a lunch meal plan for the week?
Stock Your Pantry
Always key to any healthy meal be it breakfast lunch or dinner. Have on hand whole grains (whole oats, brown rice, quionoa, bulger etc..) and whole grain flours, whole grain pasta, dried fruit, nuts/seeds, honey, maple syrup, chia seeds, flax seeds, olives, pickles. Make sure to double up so that you are always in a position to make something thats healthy and portable.
Double Up on Dinner
Double up on the amount of protien or side dish you make for dinner. That way you can transform one nights dinner into potentially 2 days of lunch. Extra chicken for chicken salad, wraps etc and extra rice or pasta for a cold salad laden with veggies the kids love.
Learn Some Basic RecipesLearn a few basic recipes that are easy to alter with different flavours or as I like to call them "Add -Ins" . Good examples include a Universal Muffin recipe, (one that can be sweet or savoury), Frittatas and Granola Bars - all recipes that you can use a base and add whatever you have plenty of in your pantry. Search the web on a regular basis for inspiration.
Forget a Cookie Swap - Lunch Box Snack Swap
Form a group of parents who are like minded and want to make some homemade goodies. Four in a group is perfect, each person chooses 1 recipe and makes 4 batches - everyone ends up with 4 different homemade treats (12 muffins, 24 cookies, 1 loave, 12 granola bars etc) the recipes should be ones that freeze well.
"The most important thing a parent can teach their children is how to get along without them"
Truth - children who are involved in food preparation and food choices are more likely to eat what they prepare and try new foods. Getting kids involved in the kitchen is an education on its own and the accompanying benefits include improvment in skills such as decison making, organization, math and language.
From making a grocery list, to shopping, to preparing lunches, kids can be involved in each of these processes. While it may not be feasible every week to take them shopping, include them as much as possible. At the very least have them involved in packing their lunch by choosing age appropriate tasks for them to complete. Before you know it they will be making their own lunch.
Choose age appropriate tasks
- Ages 3-5 - wash produce, place in re-usable containers, build a sandwich/wrap or green salad, measure, pour and stir while baking.
- Ages 6-9 - Choose and read recipes, peel and chop softer vegetables (cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms), use stove under supervision to boil water, make scrambled eggs, cook vegetables or grilled cheese. Make salad dressing. Do the dishes.
- Ages 10-12 - Read and follow some basic recipes using skills learned (muffins, brownies, macaroni and cheese, pasta and sauce etc..)
Going litterless is not only good for the environment but its good for your pocket book! Purchase high quality containers, lunch boxes and bags that will last - not only this year, but for years to come. The great news is that there are so many options on the market that satisfy the needs of every age group. One of my favourite on-line sources for stocking up on fun, colourful and functional litterless lunch options is Raspberry Kids.
- Using reusable containers will cut down on costs associated with food packaging like baggies and plastic wrap.
- Going litterless encourages buying snacks and lunch items in bulk. Opting to buy a large container of yogurts or a whole block of cheese instead of single serves, really does put money back into your pocket.
Don't Sweat it!As parents we always want what is best for our children. We understand that eating a well balanced meal can mean the difference between an attentive child that's ready to learn and one that is having trouble focusing due to low blood sugar. The truth is, unless your child comes home for lunch, you really have little influence over what they actually consume during lunch hour. So don`t sweat it!
- So the kid comes home with a half eaten lunch - Don't Sweat it! You have ample opportunity at breakfast, after school snacks and dinner to have a little more influence over what your kids are eating. If you feel your child is missing out on a certain food group at lunch - perhaps doubling up at snack or dinner time is an option.
- You've seen all the Picasso lunch creations on- line and you may feel pressure to perform. Don't Sweat it! Don't make yourself crazy by cutting out heart shaped sandwiches and making a flower garden out of vegetables. Most of that effort goes down the drain when transporting the lunch. Keep it simple!