Now that the kiddies are old enough for school a few days a week, a couple of my mom friends and I are enjoying a little break. And by “break,” I mean using the time to run errands, work, or one of the million things that need to get done and are much easier to complete when a toddler isn’t whining for a cracker or making her Barbie doll go potty in the toilet. The adult toilet. Nope, never happened. Not our house.
But one thing that comes along with this whole preschool gig is packing lunch, which I never thought would be the least bit tricky. Or stressful. But sometimes it kind of is.
It’s a fine balance of making sure you’re sending nutritious items with your Little, while keeping in mind what they’ll realistically eat. Because we all know a hungry kid is less likely to pay attention and be able to learn, and is approximately one-thousand times more like to be a complete monster upon pick-up. Then you’re feeding them a full meal at three in the afternoon, and then they won’t eat dinner. And be starving at bedtime. It’s a cycle, my friends, and we must break it.
A few weeks into the school year, I finally feel like I’ve nailed a pattern in my packing. If I present it an easy way, and offer familiar choices, her lunch box is more often than not returned mostly empty. Don’t worry, this isn’t the spot where you’ll be finding sandwiches in the shape of a fire truck or Elmo’s face outlined in the hummus. #Ain’tNobodyGotTimeForThat
Rolled up ham, cucumber rounds, chopped green beans, leftover tomato and mozzarella couscous, quartered grapes
Crib Picks Top Five Lunch Box Packing Tips:
Divide and Conquer:
We all know toddlers love everything separated out. And honestly, so do I sometimes. Whether you’ve invested in a lunch box that has sections, or are using Tupperware, this is an easy thing to do. My favorite way to do this? Buy an inexpensive pack of silicone muffin liners. They fit into almost everything since they are soft and have some give, and are a great way of providing your kids with designated pods to pick from.
Keep It Simple:
Too much too soon for adults is difficult. So for kids? Overwhelming! If your child is just starting school, they have a ton of new experiences going on. Meaning, you don’t need to contribute to them feeling unsettled by offering too many new or elaborate food choices. Packing things like cut up fresh fruit and veg are great, but don’t feel bad about throwing in something easy and familiar like a cheese stick or Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies. Know your kid loves cucumber, cheese, and pear? Awesome. Try packing those three familiar items, and throw in something a little more unknown like rolled up turkey or a little bean dip with crackers. With only one newer food to explore, they’re more likely to feel less pressure.
Although I make time to cook dinner a few times a week, there is no chance that I would feel I had enough time to make school lunch starting from scratch. A big time saver for me is simply making a larger amount of whatever dinner is, and packing some of the leftovers. Or baking off a tray of muffins, freezing them, and individually popping them out when needed. Don’t really cook? No problem! A simple pot of whole grain pasta is a great thing to keep on hand throughout the week. Mix with some jarred sauce and parm, or a little pesto (without pine nuts!) for the bulk of your child’s meal. Or if your child likes meat (unlike my own), buy an already-cooked rotisserie chicken, cut some up, and throw it in with the pasta. Put some thawed frozen peas next to it, and a piece of fruit, and you’re done!
We heard this all the time when our “Littles” were, well, little. “Don’t worry about their solid foods, it all evens out,” the pediatrician would remind me. But I think as they get older, this is harder to remember. As adults, we may indulge at a special dinner one night, and make up for it the next day by deciding to eat a bit healthier. Though children certainly don’t have that sort of outlook yet, I strongly believe it is best to think about what they consume throughout the day, rather than an isolated meal. Kids grow, taste buds mature, and one day we won’t be counting the carrot sticks they ate but the seconds ticking past curfew.
One From Each:
As parents, it is our job to offer our children healthy options. And as growing minds of their own, it is their job to decide what to eat. I have found that I feel like I’ve done my part as long as I’ve offered one from each of the following categories: veg, fruit, protein, carb.
A great way to keep things organized is to have a few different fruits and veg on hand, as well as some shelf-stable items (BPA-free canned beans, applesauce, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, No-sugar-added jarred sauce, flaked coconut, dried banana chips). In our house, we try hard to take advantage of the farmer’s markets still going on. Buying cucumber, bell peppers, and tomato means I can pick and choose what veg I pack for her. If I couldn’t make it to the market, I’ll open a bag of frozen peas. Fresh fall fruit is fantastic, but pre-sliced fruit is a wonderful option and always available in all grocery stores. Not to mention it makes for some super easy last minute lunch box fillers. And BPA-free cans of organic beans are inexpensive, readily available, and last forever. Buy a pack of cheese sticks and some nitrate/nitrite-free deli meat, and you’re set for the week.
Sunbutter sandwich, quartered grapes, thawed frozen peas, shredded unsweetened coconut
Here are a few ideas to choose from:
Protein: Leftover meatballs or chunks of chicken, nitrite/nitrate-free turkey and ham, cheese sticks, yogurt, sun-butter sandwich, black beans, garbanzo beans, tahini-free hummus (Trader Joe’s has one, or you can easily make your own from a can of garbanzo beans).
Veg: Bell pepper sticks, cucumber rounds, halved cherry tomatoes, thawed frozen peas.
Fruit: Apple slices, pear sticks, applesauce, chunks of peach, blueberries, quartered grapes, unsweetened flaked coconut (make sure this abides by your school’s nut-free policy), dried banana chips.
Carb: Crackers, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, Cheerios, bread, pasta, leftover rice, quinoa, or couscous.
Cheese stick, leftover black beans, leftover cilantro rice, whole wheat homemade goldfish crackers, chopped tomato
Like these ideas and want to see more? Start following The Crib here to get up-to-date recipes and ideas for parents and their children all year long!