I have been packing healthy lunches for kids since my strapping second grader was a toddling little preschooler. Back then, his day was a half-day, and group snack was provided, so all I had to pack was lunch itself. He liked peanut butter and jelly then, and there were no allergies at his school, so every day I packed a PBJ, fruit, veggies, and pretzels.
I used cookie cutters to cut his sandwich into fun shapes: a pine tree, a snowman, a star. Then another mom told me her daughter (a budding marine biologist even at age four) wanted her sandwich cut into shapes, too: a norwhale, if I recall correctly, or was it some kind of shark? which her father painstakingly cut by hand. (Sorry, Michelle!)
Packing lunches hasn’t stopped. The younger boy started preschool. The older one went off to kindergarten, at a nut-free school. No peanut butter? No problem! (And no, my kids will not eat soybutter or sunflower butter no matter what brand or what kind of jam, banana, or fluff I put with it.)
Turkey sandwiches it was. And fruit, veggies, crunchy stuff. And snacks, now. All nut-free (which simply required some extra-close label-reading on the granola bars, if I wasn’t making my own).
But the younger boy doesn’t like sandwiches. So packing his lunch was a little more challenging: turkey roll-ups (until he decided he didn’t like turkey), ham roll-ups (ditto), cheese and crackers (ditto on the cheese). I’d send him with pasta and tomato sauce, pasta and parmesan, mac and cheese in an insulated food jar (which in my day we called a “Thermos”). Cut-up chicken (nope), cheese sticks (nope), hummus and veggies and a spoon (fine for a while), chicken nuggets (at his request).
If you have a sandwich-hater, you still have a lot of options when it comes to packing healthy lunches for kids. Here’s my formula:
- main thing: sandwich, cheese and crackers, lunch meat roll-ups, nut butter or sunflower butter rolled up in tortilla, cream cheese and turkey and veggies rolled up in a tortilla and cut into pinwheels, pasta, rice and beans, leftovers, pizza
- fruit: whole or cut up (I find sliced apples results in less waste than a whole one, frankly); include a toothpick if your kid can handle it and a fork if your child is younger
- veggies: carrot sticks or baby carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, snow peas or sugar snap peas, a small chunk of corn on the cob (hit or miss around here, but your kids might like it)
- crunchy: pretzels, tortilla chips, crackers, goldfish
- snack: yogurt tubes or squeezes, hummus and a spoon, applesauce, granola bars, almonds (if your school allows nuts)
Did I get summers off from lunch-packing? Oh, you’re sweet to ask. Well, until this year I did (except when we headed out on adventures for the day). This summer, with camps and such, it was nonstop lunch packing except for a few blessed weeks.
The younger boy has been excited to start a new school this fall. “Mama, if they have a cafeteria, I do not want you to pack my lunch. I want to buy lunch at school!” he announced. I swooned. Then I realized that even though our school lunch menu looks decent, I still want some control over what he eats, to be honest, so he doesn’t fill up on chocolate milk and chicken nuggets.
We’ll see what happens.
Anyway, even though it is not my favorite evening activity, I still take some satisfaction from packing healthy, yummy lunches for my kids (this summer with two snacks, also).
I realize Ben’s lunch, above, looks a little low-protein that day, though it does have hummus and the YoKids yogurt tube. He’d asked for avocado in his lunch.
I freeze the YoKids yogurt tubes and the YoKids Squeeze! (which are a little more substantial and which Max selected), to help keep their lunches cold. They thaw by snack time (I think — actually, the bigger ones might not thaw in time for morning snack!).
Stonyfield gave me coupons to try the yogurt tubes, the YoKids Squeeze! pouches, YoKids yogurts, OhMyYog (a layered yogurt with a cream top), and the Stonyfield Greek & Chia yogurts (haven’t tried those yet!).
I pack my own lunch nearly every day, too, and also snacks…including this last little yogurt I knew the boys might not eat.
Happy school year, and happy packing healthy lunches — for your kids OR for you!
Disclosure: I am a Stonyfield ambassador and am provided with their products. All opinions are my own.