Does the thought of packing yet another uneaten lunch make you want to just send your child to school with no lunch (yes, some moms do that – yikes!) or just give the Lunch Lady your money and have processed chicken nuggets and hot dogs be the crux of your child’s daily intake? Stop! Don’t give in! There is a better way.
Speaking as a mom (and nutritionist) who has had her share of painstakingly calculated packed lunches returned untouched, (yes, it happens to the best of us) I have these Grade A ideas for fixing your lunch packing woes for good.
Breakfast for lunch. Does your child love pancakes? Sure! Of course, what child doesn’t? Make a stack of pancakes on the weekend and send a few to school with a little vial of pure maple syrup. They’ll think they are the luckiest kid in the café and you can check carbs off the list for meal components. Supercharge your pancakes with a few tablespoons of chia seed, ground flax seed and/or veggie purees (pumpkin pie puree works well) to give your child valuable fats, fiber and minerals. Other breakfast favourites like eggs, homemade muffins, smoothies, hot cereal (keep it warm and comforting in a Thermos), French toast or fruit salad and yogurt can also fill the void at lunch time.
Healthier versions of the junky stuff. Applegate Farms makes a nitrite free, 100% grass fed beef, uncured hot dog. What a lifesaver! Cut the dog into some whole grain or gluten free pasta, toss in some peas, carrots, corn or other favorite veggie, drizzle with olive oil – done! Also nothing wrong with mini burgers with ketchup and dill pickle. Go for a 100% whole grain bun and, like with the hot dog, try to find a burger that is grass-fed beef for better nutrition from a cow that lived a happier life. Mac n Cheese is also do-able with Annie’s whole grain organic spin on a childhood favourite. Round out the meal with your child’s favourite fruit and/or veggie.
Think small (portions). Children, especially those under 6, like small food that’s easy to hold. They also want the satisfaction of finishing and feel overwhelmed if you pack too much. Keep it simple. Make a hummus sandwich, or ham and cheese, or tahini and honey, and cut it into 4 small triangles or sticks. Make a few cheese and fruit skewers using toothpicks. Adult appetizers like mini quiches and mini spanakopita (spinach and feta in phyllo pastry) are perfect for little tummies. Don’t worry about not packing enough. Pack just a few of your child’s favorite nutritious foods. Doesn’t matter if it’s just a clementine, a few baby carrots and a few cubes of ham. The goal is to have them eat it all and ask for more!
Get their input. Pack lunch together. You’ve heard it said before but have you done it? It can be a very revealing activity. You may find out that Johnny doesn’t eat his sandwich because it gets all soggy; He prefers it deconstructed. Try not to pressure them into saying that they will eat whatever they help pack. Instead stay positive, thank them for helping and emphasize how delicious and fun their lunch looks and leave it at that.
Liquid lunch. Soup. Invest in a really good Thermos that your child likes. Get into the habit for making a pot of soup for the whole family every weekend to include in week day meals. Turn it into a fun ritual, like “let’s see how good we can make this smell!” or “let’s try this yummy looking recipe!”. Ask your child if they prefer a pureed soup, a chunky soup or even a broth (bone broth is very nourishing and tasty!). Also get their input on whether they want to eat it with a spoon or a straw.