When I think back to my school days and my lunchbox, I dread it! I recall tuna sandwiches with soggy bread, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, again, on soggy bread. I, also, remember a bag of Frito corn chips – which I hated, but my brother loved – and a can of “fruit cup”. If I was lucky, a Snack Pack pudding. It took years for me to even enjoy lunch again, and for that matter sandwiches.
With school starting soon, or possibly already has, it’s time to think how to make our children’s lunches and snacks healthful and fun!
With two children of my own, I understand how difficult it is to feed children and feed them well. I try very hard and sometimes feel like I am fighting a losing battle. Then, I read another article about how we are raising inactive children and filling them with prepackaged goodies that could possibly be linked to future health issues.
Yes, I am a food writer. Yes, I love to cook. But like you, I have very little time on my hands. With children, a husband, pets, household obligations and my career, yes, I too find it completely impossible to create healthy meals purely on fresh ingredients. As much as I hate it, I simply do not have the time.
So, I try to keep their diets varied, so they don’t get bored. I try to make their food simple, so I can get sleep at night. I try to keep it healthy too.
The first thing to consider when packing lunches is a suitable carrying container. You may think I am crazy when I say this, but the Zojirushi Thermal Japanese Bento is my favorite. It is expensive, but it keeps hot foods hot and cold food cold. It containes four containers, which makes adding a variety easy. The bowls are microwaveable. It comes in a great carrying case, and includes chopsticks (as this is a Japanese lunchbox). I bought a set of camping utensils for $2.99 at Target to use instead.
Another thing to consider when making lunches or snacks for children is presentation! Kids love foods that look like fun! The Japanese are a great example of this! Cooking Cute showed me how to make my lunches more appetizing for my son last year. I used the vegetable cutters and made shapes out of carrots, cucumbers, apple pieces, bell peppers or any other larger vegetable. Served with a suitable dipping sauce, it’s a great way to encourage eating fruits and vegetables by making it fun to eat! I have served mine on cute little colorful toothpicks (available at party supply stores or Oriental Trading Company). I, also, bought the hard-boiled egg molds and sent him to school with an egg that looked like a fish! You can do the same with rice by using sticky rice and placing it in a rice mold! I bought my equipment on eBay! You can also buy those markers for decorating cookies. They are found in the baking section of the grocery store. I have used mine to draw pictures on my son’s apples. As a major Star Wars fan, I was amazed at how well I could actually draw when a mother decides that she will draw General Grievous’ face on an apple! Use cookie cutters to make shapes out of sandwiches.
Another thing to remember is that children get bored too, so venture into packing breakfast for lunch, or perhaps leftover dinner. Remember, it is more important for the children to eat and eat healthy than to give that child a traditional lunch.
Portion sizes are another idea to remember. These days, schools do not give our children a long time to eat, so pack smaller portions and a variety. Your child is more apt to eat half of a sandwich as opposed to a whole one.
For a drink, I tend to like to send bottled water. If you child is not into fruits and vegetables, getting them used to juices may be helpful for you to add nutrition to their lives. I feel the same about milk and soy milk. If they are not eating a lot of protein recently, then I will add that to their lunch.
Lunch and Snack Ideas
Crudites: fresh vegetables served with a salad dressing (we use a vinaigrette, but ranch dressing is very popular).
Cut up fruit with a yogurt dip – add some orange juice to the yogurt to make have a more orange flavor.
Cheese and crackers – try different cheeses and different crackers.
Edamame – steamed soy beans with sea salt.
Hummus with homemade pita chips.
Homemade chips with salsa. (Though chips are not healthful, the salsa is. So, I find this useful when I want them to eat more vegetables.)
Mini-containers filled with dried fruit, nuts, seeds and olives; or make your own trail mix.
Use a cupcake pan and line with pastry and make mini-quiches (eggs, cheese, vegetables).
Try other cuisines for inspiration! Like pierogies, mini-calzones, empanadas, samosas, dumplings, pasties or spanakopita. Try similar recipes and adapt them to your child’s tastes. For example, my son does not like quesadillas, but when I turned it into a pizzadilla, he loved them!
I use the Rice Krispy Treat recipe, but use Cheerios, dried fruit, nuts and cinnamon.
Try wraps, burritos or falafels instead of sandwiches. You can use different types of wraps too. For younger children, this is a perfect way to play to their love of colors!
Check out my friend, Lori’s advice for vegan children. I will vouch for her. These ideas work well and my omnivorous kids love her cooking!
If you have any ideas to share with readers, please do so here!