When you send your child off for the school day with a lunch box, you want to be sure she will actually eat the food you have packed. A filling and healthy lunch is extremely important to maintain your child’s mood, emotional state and attention. Between the expensive, and often unhealthy, choices provided by the school and various restrictions on food due to allergies, it can be a challenge to pack a meal your child will actually eat. Here are several things to keep in mind when planning lunch box food.
1. Embrace Variety
While young children occasionally have “food jags” where they eat the same thing for several days, most kids enjoy variety. This is especially true for older kids with more diverse tastes. Try to plan different items for each day of the week, including a mix of flavor palates.
2. Balance Savory and Sweet
A great way to get your kids to eat a balanced diet is to give lots of variety. Try to include several savory options as well as yogurt or fruit for some sweetness. Some children love “sweet” vegetables like cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas.
3. Think Beyond the Sandwich
While a sandwich, a side and fruit can work well for some days, it’s good to plan other meals as well. For example, a cold noodle salad or tortilla roll-up is a nice change from the typical combo of bread, meat and cheese. Some children may enjoy hummus with a pita and vegetables for dipping.
4. Include Protein and Starch
It’s important to make sure each meal includes both protein and carbohydrates to help your child feel full and have enough energy for the afternoon. If possible, include complex carbs from whole grains or brown rice rather than simple carbs from overly refined grains.
5. Don’t Forget the Veggies
It’s vital that kids get enough of the right nutrients and most children don’t eat anywhere near the number of vegetables recommended by nutrition experts. Even vegetables dipped in ranch dressing or covered in cheese sauce are better than no vegetables at all. Your children may learn to love vegetables with enough chances to try them.
6. Use a Divided Lunch Box
Bento-style lunch boxes are extremely popular for good reason. All the small compartments make it easy to pack a variety of food choices without risk of food mixing or touching (a disaster according to many kids). Some lunch boxes even have room for a sealed liquids container for soup, juice or salad dressing.
7. Use Small Portions
Another key to packing a variety of options is only including small amounts of each food. Many children, especially when they are young, only eat a few bites of any single food before moving on to something else. Packing a lunch consistent with this tendency reduces food waste.
8. Avoid Allergies
Depending on your school’s lunch policy, you may have to avoid common allergens in your child’s lunch even if he isn’t personally allergic. Gluten, eggs and nuts are commonly restricted. Finding gluten-free foods and egg-free vegan options makes it easy to stay within the guidelines. Hampton Creek offers egg-free mayo, salad dressing and even cookie dough.
9. Use a Thermos
A thermos is an incredibly useful addition to your child’s lunchbox. It allows you to pack hot food such as soup, mac and cheese, spaghetti or even scrambled eggs. It will also keep cold foods such as smoothies or cheese perfectly chilled.
10. Don’t Forget Dessert
It’s always nice to have a little pick-me-up in the middle of the day, especially for young children new to the school environment. A small treat such as a chocolate kiss or mini cupcake can make your child feel special and encouraged for the rest of the day. You can even add a little note for an extra touch.
It can take a while to find the right choices for your child’s lunch box that are easy to pack, nutritious and things that your child will actually eat. Packing small portions of a variety of different foods can work well, and it makes it easier to create a balanced lunch of protein and complex carbs. A Bento lunch box works well for many kids, especially if it has room for a thermos. Choose vegan or gluten-free foods to make sure you stay within your school’s allergy restrictions. Including a little treat or note can help your child feel encouraged.