Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. chips. Banana. Juice pouch.
Sounds like a pretty standard school lunch, yes? It also sounds like a pretty boring school lunch. Sure, it might be accepted the first week of school - but, soon enough, your child wil grow tired of that and the dreaded lunch trade off will begin.The peanut butter you so lovingly spread, the banana you carefully picked for having just the right mix of yellow and green - it'll be traded in a flash for a Hostess cupcake and a pudding cup.
Instead of packing the same old, same old, here are some tried and true tips and tricks to packing a school lunch that will be the envy of all at the table - and inspire some trading requests!
- Ask your child for input - This should be your first step, but it's most often overlooked. Ask your child what he thinks would make a great lunch. Once you get past the "Chocolate cupcakes and Doritos!" segment of the conversation, you will certainly find a few chunks of wisdom. My own kids have requested chicken legs, pasta salad, hummus and red pepper strips.
- Make a list - Give your child the opportunity to make a list of lunch choices, no matter how far fetched or "out there". Promise to use that list when you pack lunches. Or, better yet -
- Pass the power - There's absolutely no law that says a parent has to pack a child's lunch. My own children pack their lunches the night before and put them into the fridge. Giving your child the power often brings some amazing choices and creativity. Set a boundary - our family rule is that each lunch needs a protein, a carb and a fruit or veg along with water.
- Remove the bread - Sandwiches are easy, but think outside the box. Meat and cheese roll ups, tortilla strips and hummus, yogurt and mini muffins are all fabulous choices. Salads are nutritious and can have many different flavors. Mini bagels are a huge hit in my house.
- Don't forget food safety - Just because it's a packed lunch doesn't mean it's immune from bacterias. Follow good food safety guidelines - keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If you are packing a hot food, fill the thermos with hot water and cap it for a few minutes. This allows the thermos to heat up and helps to retain the heat of the food when it's placed inside. Tuck ice packs into the lunch box and use more than one. Freeze juice or milk boxes or water bottles and yogurt tubes - they will defrost by lunch and help to keep the lunch safe.
- Sweet treats always help - but they don't have to be junk food diet crushers. My own kids have been super pleased to find banana bread mini muffins ( I will often bake them with colorful paper muffin liners, and characters are especially popular) that have a chocolate chip in the middle. The ubiquitous no bake peanut butter oatmeal cookies - the ones that you make on the stove top and spoon out onto wax paper to harden - are especially popular and I don't mind if they pack those. I've even made them with soy butter for my peanut allergic kid.
- Know that it's one meal - Lunch doesn't need to be a battle, and it's not the only opportunity you have to introduce your child to new foods. If your child only wants American cheese on a bagel with applesauce for months at a time, and you know it's a meal she will eat - go ahead and pack that meal. Getting a meal into your child is the goal.
What are your guidelines to packing a terrific, "trade free" lunch for your child?