By Guest Blogger, Lisa Witherspoon
It’s about 8:30 pm on any given school night and I am, once again, in the kitchen having a face-off with three empty lunchboxes. Sound familiar?? Packing kids’ lunches is a very basic task that, during the school year, becomes a major source of frustration for me. You see, I have three very picky eaters – a vegetarian third grader, a picky kindergartner, and a SUPER picky preschooler who attends a completely nut-free preschool. Sheesh!! I get a headache just thinking about it!
One of the most important things is planning. I pack lunches the night before school. (Except for thermoses or things that have to be heated.) This saves a lot of time amidst the chaos of the morning rush. Also, I sit down on Sunday afternoons to plan out my family’s dinner menu for the coming week and make out a grocery list. Last year, I added making a weekly lunchbox menu to that task. It helps in two ways: first, I don’t have to think too much at night when I am already pretty brain dead! I just read the menu I have already written out. Also, I add lunchbox items to the grocery list so I am certain (well, pretty certain) to have everything I need.
Another strategy that helps me is to break down the menu into important components. I usually try to include a protein (meat or dairy item), a fruit or veggie item, a grain (bread, crackers, etc.), sometimes a dessert, and, of course, a drink. This strategy has to be flexible – a peanut butter sandwich is both a protein and a grain, but not a complete lunch by itself – but, it is a good place to start.
I have also learned to think outside the “lunch” box (pun intended!). For example, how about giving kids breakfast for lunch? Why not give them a bagel with cream cheese instead of a sandwich or a thermos full of cold milk and a baggie of cereal to pour in? You can even give them a muffin or French Toast sticks. If it is healthy for breakfast, it is healthy for lunch, right?? It also makes it fun for the children.
Make it a wrap. Almost, anything that can be a regular sandwich, can also be wrapped up in a tortilla. Try flavored tortillas, too!
Try dips. Kids usually like to dip things, so find some recipes for yummy dips to pack in their lunchboxes. Even something as simple as salsa, marinara, or ranch dressing can give flare to a boring lunchbox menu.
Invest in good containers. You can get a good thermos for around $15.00. They can be used to keep soup or Spaghetti O’s hot as well as to keep pasta salad or milk cold. Some small, reusable plastic containers will also save money in the long run.
Go cruising! Cruise around the internet to find fun lunchbox recipes that YOUR children will like. I have found recipes for pizza muffins, tortilla spirals, and other things that I still use.
Share! Are you packing for more than one kid?? Bake a frozen pizza the night before and put a couple slices in each child’s lunchbox. You could do the same with a batch of muffins, chicken nuggets, or some fun pasta shapes with tomato sauce.
Give yourself a break! There is nothing wrong with giving kids “convenience” items once in a while. Lunchables, Uncrustables, and Lance Crackers are always good things to keep on hand for those days when you just don’t have the time or the energy. (We’ve all been there!)
Finally, don’t get so creative that you forget the old standbys. A peanut butter sandwich never goes out of style! (Or turkey, or bologna & cheese, - you get the picture.)
I hope you will find these suggestions helpful as you face-off with the lunchboxes in your kitchen this school year! I am sure there are lots of other creative parents out there who have some great ideas to add, so please share!