As a parent, there’s nothing worse than spending all evening packing what you believe to be an amazing school lunch only to get it returned home the next day with nothing but the cookies eaten. If this is becoming the rule rather than the exception in your household, you’re not alone. Packing the perfect school lunch is a fine art, and without first mastering it, you’re destined to be disappointed. But don’t despair and stock up on those $2.00 Lunchables yet, because we’re here to help. If you want your parenting dream of having a totally empty lunchbox returned home to you become a reality, then follow these tips.
Get on the Bento Box bandwagon
If you’ve ever looked to Pinterest for school lunch inspiration, you’ve undoubtedly come across the “bento box.” These nifty all-in-one lunch box containers divide up a whole meal into organized, separate compartments. What’s the point? Well, on top of being good for the environment and encouraging portion control, bento boxes mean that kids only have to open one container to get at their whole lunch rather than several separate ones. And when the minutes on the clock whiz by during lunchtime, this could make all the difference in getting them to finish the whole thing. Plus, they just make lunches look so much better!
Let them do the assembling
If you want to get those lunch boxes returned home empty, you gotta start going DIY-style. As J.M. Hirsch, author of Beating the Lunch Box Blues: Fresh Ideas for Lunches on the Go!, says “Lunchables aren’t popular because they taste good. Kids like them because they like building their own lunches.” So instead of packing a finished product, give your little tinkerer their very own meal kit. Pack a few tortillas, slices of turkey, chopped veggies, shredded cheese and let them do the rest. Or give them some mini pitas, tomato sauce, sliced pepperoni, and mozzarella for a build-your-own pizza. You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it makes when you let them have a little bit more control.
Give them some eye-candy
We’re not the only ones who like seeing our food presented nicely. Kids eat with their eyes more than anything, so it’s crucial that your packed lunches make the grade in the appearance department. Get creative by whipping out the cookie cutters and cutting fruit and sandwiches into different shapes. Or go kabob-style by spearing food onto sticks. And don’t forget about colour! One study at Cornell University found that children are more attracted to plates of food that include six different colours.
If you’re feeling particularly inspired, why not try to unify the lunch under a theme? Think along the lines of animals, movies, books, holidays, seasons – the options are endless!
Keep it simple, keep it quick
During lunchtime, kids have other things on their mind besides food. As teacher Paul Finkelstein writes, “lunchtime is a social time for kids and food is not the focus. Their goal is to eat quickly, then get outside to play.” Try to avoid foods that require more effort to eat such as fruit with peels, intricately-packaged snacks, and whole sandwiches. Instead, slice, cut, and peel all their food in advance so they can be easily munched. “Make it easy to eat; otherwise, you’ll see it left untouched when you empty their lunch bag at home,” Finkelstein says.
Don’t forget the treat
As much as you’d like your child to be satisfied with a hearty sandwich, a fruit salad, and a handful of almonds, the truth is, children love sweets. There’s just no getting around it. You can however use this to your advantage by including a small “treat” that has actual substance to it. Think zucchini muffins, nutty banana bread, or even a protein-rich creamy chocolate smoothie. And if you do decide to pack them a more traditional dessert, be mindful of the size and the quantity. Former Yahoo! Parenting Editor Charlene Prince says, “they don’t need 15 miniature cookies; just give them one because they’ll eat the 15 over the sandwich.” That way, if they decide to eat the treat before the rest of the meal (because let’s face it, that’s what kids do) they’ll still have room for the good, nutritious stuff.
Now that you know the ins and outs of making an irresistible school lunch, check out these kid-friendly recipes to get you inspired to start prepping!
The subtle art of making a school lunch kids will actually eat
OODLES OF NOODLESHow pretty is this Bento-inspired box of goodies? Simply grab some carrots and strawberries and cut them up into pretty shapes. Throw in some blueberries and other veggies (we're liking the colourful cucumber and radish slices) for good measure. The star of this lunch though? The beautiful zucchini noodles. You might think the veggie noddles won't be touched, but trust us, the homemade pesto that coats it all, will win them over.
RECIPE: Chicken pesto zucchini noodlesPhoto courtesy of snixykitchen
BUILD YOUR OWN SANDWICHThis twist on the plain old sandwich, just might get kids back on board with this classic school lunch. Kids can get in on the fun by building their sandwich kabob themselves. All you need are sliced lettuce leaves, small pieces of sliced bread, cheese, cherry tomatoes, any sort of meat and some small skewers for the kid's to pierce the food with. Fun, right?
RECIPE: Sandwich KabobsPhoto courtesy of simpleasthatblog
ALL OF THE COLOURSLike we said, kids eat with their eyes so why not give 'em some eye-candy to look at? This lunch won't even take very long to prepare. Roasted turkey, coleslaw, strawberries,coconut chips, carrots, cucumbers and dip are on the menu and we'd be lying if we said we weren't tempted to pack this lunch for our grownup selves.
RECIPE: Roasted turkey and colourful slawPhoto courtesy of mamanatural
WRAP IT UPHere's another healthy, colourful and delish lunch option for kids, all wrapped up in a nice compact package. Grab a tortilla, your choice of meat, cheese and veggie and get to wrappin'. Hey, kids can get in on the fun too! Accompany it with some easy to grab fruits and veggies and you're good to go.
RECIPE: Meat, cheese + veggie wrapsPhoto courtesy of simpleasthatblog
PUT SOME BUNS IN THE OVENIf there's one thing we know, kids love pizza. These homemade pizza buns pack a lot of flavour and cover your kid's meat and dairy serving all in one. Bonus: You can make them during the weekend and pop 'em in the freezer for later. Add a little something sweet and salty (marshmallows and pretzels) to sweeten the deal a little more.
RECIPE: Simple pizza bunsPhoto courtesy of simpleasthatblog
FANCY LUNCH FOR A FANCY KIDThis one’s for any parents who have a classy child. You know, the one that always chooses the expensive toys in the toy aisle and has a taste for all things luxury in life. When it comes to impressing these picky (we mean, “selective”) children, you have to crank up the chic level on that lunchbox! And what’s more chic than these dashing individually wrapped French baguettes with a fine selection of antipasti on the side? Bon appétit, ma petite chérie!
RECIPE: Fancy Baguette ParcelsPhoto courtesy of eatsamazing
START MONKEYING AROUNDWouldn't you be happy if you opened up your lunch box to see a grinning monkey staring back at you? It's a cute surprise that's doesn't take too long to make. Win-win, right? The bagel is packed with your choice of filling, while the money's face is just made with cheese. Throw two blueberries on their for eyes and a sliver of red pepper for the smile and we're off.
RECIPE: Monkey bagel bento lunchPhoto courtesy of eatsamazing
GET TO CLUCKINGWe're going to stay with the cutting shapes theme here. Although this particular lunch box was created for Easter, who said you can't drop a few chocolate eggs and (melon) chicks in a lunch box on a regular day? The wraps are filled with a dab of mayo, shredded roast chicken, lettuce and cucumber. Simple and easy.
RECIPE: Chicken and eggs bento lunchPhoto courtesy of eatsamazing
SIMPLE SHAPESLunch sandwiches get a bad rap, but if you cut them into a pretty little shape (like a butterfly), maybe that rap will fly far, far away? Hey, it's worth a shot, right?
RECIPE: Butterfly sandwichPhoto courtesy of simpleasthatblog
DECEITFUL DESSERTSWhile this meal might look pretty "snacky," it's actually packed with a lot of healthy goodness. The trail mix and sliced veggies are obviously healthy, but kids will bite into that scrumptious chocolate muffin without even realizing how healthy it really is. This deceitful dessert is made out of black beans and oats and is high in protein. Pop some chocolate chips in there and your kids won't know what hit 'em.
RECIPE: High protein chocolate black bean muffinsPhoto courtesy of kristineskitchenblog
SIMPLE AND CLEANWhen it comes to lunches, sometimes simple is best. Thinly sliced green apples, two perfectly hard boiled eggs, accompanied by slices of ham, a handful of cheese and crackers all neatly packed in a simple container. How aesthetically pleasing.
RECIPE: Eggs and apples for lunchPhoto courtesy of laurafuentes
MOVIE NIGHTLooking for a genius way to get your child to finish their lunch, including the veggies? Look no further than the Big Screen! Just choose a movie that your kids adore (cartoon movies make for the best choice), and fashion their snacks into their favourite characters! You’ll be amazed at how turning a slice of radish into a minion’s goggle will make the otherwise untouched veggie that much more appetizing to your little one. Despicable Me? More like Delicious Me!
RECIPE: Movie MagicPhoto courtesy of eatsamazing
MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEARIt’s the most wonderful time of the year – for making your child’s lunch, that is! Christmas is such a magical time, so why not use some of that Christmas magic to get that lunchbox returned home empty? Simply wrap a sandwich with a strip of dried red fruit (which also doubles as the treat) and top it off with a belt buckle cut out of cheese to take a ho-hey PB and J to a much jollier level! And for the sides, stick with the Santa suit theme by choosing snacks that are red and white, such as cheese, beets, berries, and grapes.
RECIPE: Holly Jolly SandwichesPhoto courtesy of eatsamazing