The most common complaint regarding school lunch is that the CHILD DOES NOT EAT IT! So many parents pack amazing lunches in the most amazing stainless steel bento lunchbox and find that it comes back uneaten—leading to frustrated parents and hungry, cranky kids. Regarding school lunches, my personal opinion is that you have to find a balance between sending:
Total crap they’ll eat every bite of (Lunchable, Fruit by the Foot, Capri Sun w/ added sugar, Hot Cheetos, Trix yogurt)
Completely admirable 100% healthy lunch that will not be eaten except by a handful of kids with great palates (hard-cooked egg, tuna, broccoli, sugar snap peas, seaweed)
What you send depends on your beliefs, budget and taste buds. Make it desirable enough to entice your child to eat it, without compromising on the necessities (like no fake colors, and at least a couple grams of fiber). Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Turkey or lean ham slices, cheese stick, Triscuits or Wheat Thins, carrot sticks, nectarine
- PB & Jelly sandwich, cucumber slices, watermelon cubes, pretzels
- Cold pizza, apple slices, cut up celery and carrots, Motts Healthy Harvest applesauce
- Yogurt (try Trader Joes, Chobani, Yoplait Simplait, Dannon, or even learn how to make yogurt yourself so you can know exactly what goes in it—just no yogurt with added cookies or fake colors), cut up fruit, sliced carrot coins, crackers
- Yogurt tube (like Chobani Champions)—freeze them and put them in lunchbox that morning, with sliced fruit, deli-sliced turkey, pita bread, SunChips (3 grams fiber per serving!)
- Cold bow-tie pasta salad, watermelon cubes, cucumber slices, homemade oatmeal cookie
- Turkey sandwich or wrap, orange, fig cookies, sugar snap peas
- Whole wheat or plain mini bagel w/ cream cheese, raisins, string cheese, snap peas
- Silk Soymilk or Choc milk, melon cubes, turkey slices, carrots with hummus or ranch dip, Pirate’s Booty
Get the small hot thermos from a Target-type store. In am when preparing lunch, heat water in Pyrex cup for 2 minutes. Pour water into thermos, cover with cap and let stand a few minutes. Then remove cap, pour water out, put hot food in and re-cap. Put in items like:
- Quesadilla pieces
- Leftover pizza
- Turkey burger or gardenburger
– then add fresh fruit, baked chips or pretzels or crackers, veggie if possible
If in a hot climate, small metal water bottle with ice/water (Target has the FUNTainer with fliptop lid).
If sending juice, only 100% juice with no added sugar (ingredients should not say sugar, fruit juice concentrate or corn syrup.
Milk or flavored milk.
Treats and Misc. Info
I think it is fine to add a small treat in the frequency the parents approve of. Some parents like to include a small treat daily, or just on Fridays.
In my opinion, the fruit “Gummies” are a treat, not a fruit. The organic versions like Annie’s are certainly better because they don’t have fake colors, but they are still a treat. They usually have more than 10 ingredients, plus they’re sweetened with fruit juice concentrate. No fruit gummies with fake colors! They’ll get enough of those at birthday parties, sports events etc.
As soon as your child is old enough, let them participate in choosing and helping to make their lunches. You can give them a choice of 2 acceptable items per category. For example, “would you like Triscuits or pita?” “Would you like string cheese or turkey slices.” “Would you like regular yogurt or a yogurt tube.”
Include fresh fruit when possible in lunchbox. If you run out, keep stand-by fruit in the pantry—no sugar added applesauce like Motts Healthy Harvest, raisins, and fruit leather (like Trader Joe’s fruit leather) are great options.
Kids often trade items at lunch. It’s fine to throw in a treat your child likes; there is no reason to pack an ultra-healthy lunch that the child will not eat.
“I hate fruit and vegetables”
Even if your child “does not eat fruits or veggies,” include a bite or two in the lunch when you can. If it isn’t in there, there’s definitely no chance they’ll eat it. Even if it is a piece of watermelon and one slice of a cucumber, or one baby carrot, it is good to try and include it.