Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What to Pack for Lunch

What to pack for lunch? There are so many options. You really could pack anything as long as it:
1. Doesn’t need to be heated up
2. Can be eaten in 15 minutes or less (the average time most kids have to actually eat, rather than socialize. Less, in the case of my yappy daughter)
3. Won’t make your kids’ friends gag (and thus make your kid too embarrassed to eat said food. This works in reverse for my six year old. If it would make his friends gag – he’ll be even more likely to eat it!)

Most kids would rather snack than eat a real meal, so pulling together a collection of healthy snacks works great. Try to think outside the box. A packed lunch doesn’t have to include a sandwich to be healthy. Besides, most kids skip the sandwich anyway. Mix it up and keep them guessing. If you’re the anal creative sort you could write up a menu at the beginning of the week and let your kids choose their lunches. Make lists of acceptable appetizers, entrees, side dishes, and desserts and let them place their order. Saves you from having to think each morning.

Here is an assortment of ideas to get you started:

Bagel with cream cheese and jelly. (I’ve discovered a wonderful bagel recipe – I’ll post it this week. It’ll save you lots of money if your kids are bagel-eaters.)
Cheese and crackers (cheese sticks or “square” cheese in the wrapper or cut up your own. Just be sure if the cheese isn’t wrapped to pack it separate from the crackers or it will make the crackers soggy –ew!)
Nuts (cashews, pistachios, almonds all go over well with my kids. There’s lots of good stuff in nuts and the bonus is you only need a few to get powerful benefits)
Dried fruit (craisins, raisins, dried apricots, dried cherries – like nuts you don’t need many to get some good nutrients.)
Ham and cheese rolled up with a toothpick (put a toothpick through any food and kids will eat it, just to have the toothpick for sword fighting. You can also decorate the roll up with a pickle or an olive.)
Veggies and dip (I just ordered a crinkle cutter so that I can make the veggies look even more appetizing. I’m sure you know by now that kids will eat anything with dip. Just be sure to pack your own healthy dip and avoid the saturated fat laden, heavily processed dressings and dips available in convenient little packs. Don’t sacrifice your kids’ health for convenience! You can buy organic prepared ranch dressing or make your own easily with a mix like Simply Organic and pack them in re-usable extra small plastic containers.)
Yogurt and pretzels. (These can be packed separately or intentionally together to be used as a dip. Stoneyfield farm makes kid size organic yogurts and Trader Joes brand kid yogurt is also delicious. I avoid most other brands because they have so many artificial flavors and colors and tons of preservatives.)
Peanut Butter and apples or grapes or the old standby “ants on a log” (peanut butter on a celery stick with raisins dotting the peanut butter. That one might be hard to keep in good condition by lunchtime. My kids love dipping apples or grapes in peanut butter – tastes like a PB&J minus the bread. Just fill an extra small plastic container with a few tablespoons of peanut butter and send along lots of things to dip in it.)
Wheat crackers with cream cheese (since this is my daughter’s favorite I had to include it. She loves little cracker sandwiches with cream cheese inside.)
Peanut Butter crackers
Peanut Butter and Honey sandwich (just go easy on the honey or it will saturate the bread and ruin the sandwich)
Humus and pita chips (I’m putting this in because I know some people might be able to get their kids to eat this. I don’t pack it because of the killer garlic breath that ensues. I don’t want people avoiding my kid all afternoon)
Cheese or cheese & chicken or cheese & bean Quesadilla (first make sure your kid will eat one cold)
Anything in a wrap (if you wrap anything in a healthy soft tortilla and secure it with a toothpick you have a good shot. Remember the draw of the toothpick. Fill the tortilla with PB&J, ham and cheese, cream cheese and cucumber, be creative)
Powermix (nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, carob chips, even cereal, add what your child likes and then throw in a few new things)

Adding extras like yogurt, fruit, homemade cookies, and snack crackers can round out your lunch. One thing I’ve discovered about packing the extras is that you need to keep them separate from after school snacks. Make the things that appear in their lunch box special by saving for just that purpose. My kids can’t survive with out Cheezits or Goldfish. Nevermind that there are a plethora of organic cheese cracker brands out there. They tell me that none of them measure up. So, being the wimp that I am, this is one place that I cave. They often get a small snack of cheezits or goldfish in their lunches. But they can’t come home from school and eat the rest of the box.

Bottom line is try to get some protein and fiber and a little fat in to your kids at lunchtime. If you’re doing well you also get in some fruits and vegetables. I know that if I pack lots of snack crackers and a couple big cookies, no matter if those foods are organic or not, my kids won’t eat the rest of their lunch. They’ll leave the good stuff. It takes awhile, but you can figure out what the balance of healthy foods and not-so-healthy foods needs to be to ensure that your kid gets the nutrients he needs to get through the afternoon.

I’d love to hear more ideas for packing lunches. If you’re still reading this, you’re probably thinking, “She didn’t mention……… and my kids love that.” So mention it! I need some new ideas!

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