We’re back to school after a very short summer. Excitement is in the air, crayons still have tips, kids are squeaking down the halls in their new shoes on the freshly waxed floors, and colorful lunch boxes line the cubbies.
What’s in those lunch boxes? You don’t even want to know. As a teacher, I see it all from nutritionless sandwiches to prepackaged Lunchables. Just yesterday, I watched a five-year-old inhale a white bread sandwich stuffed with peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and chocolate-covered pretzels. And then I had to teach him for the rest of the afternoon.
Then there are the lunchboxes filled with nothing but processed snacks. When a box contains Doritos, goldfish, a fruit rollup, and a pack of Oreo cookies, what am I supposed to encourage the kids to eat?
I am not an expert on packing kids’ lunches, as I do not have children of my own, but after teaching elementary school for almost 20 years, I have learned a thing or two about getting kids to do what I want. The Husband calls it manipulation. I call it finding a way to give everyone what they want (especially the teacher). Here are three tips that help me everyday as a school teacher, and they can help you in preparing healthy lunches for your kids.
Give kids options.
Let kids be kids.
1. Give your kids options by packing many small, healthy snacks.
If your child opens a lunch box to find one large salad or leftover casserole from last night’s dinner, chances are it will return home barely touched, and your child will graze from the lunches of his tablemates. But if the lunchbox is filled with 5-6 healthy options, you’ll probably be happy if he actually ate 3 or 4 of them. Give kids options within your parameters.
2. Be sneaky. Disguise healthy foods.
Your child does not want to be known as the class health food nut; he wants to look normal. So pack food that looks normal. Normal-looking does not have to mean devoid of nutrients. If your child has a food allergy, then he already struggles with not feeling normal in the school cafeteria. Come and eat lunch with your child, and see what the other kids are eating. Then get creative and find a way to replicate those hot items, but sneak in healthier ingredients. Here are some substitution ideas:
While children are opening packages of Doritos and potato chips, your child can be dipping homemade corn chips into dairy-free nacho cheese created by Lexie of Lexie’s Kitchen. And how much more fun would it be to eat these chips if your child helped to make them? Try my simple recipe, and simply season them with salt, or come up with your own spicy seasoning that will taste even better than Doritos laden with Red 40.
Muffins are a great way to disguise nutrients. Sneak in some applesauce, zucchini, shredded carrots, or fruit into a favorite muffin. Here are some great muffin recipes by some of my favorite bloggers:
- Easy Oatmeal Muffins – Use this simple muffin recipe from Maggie of She Let Them Eat Cake as your base. Then let the sneakiness begin.
- Cherry Chocolate Chip Muffins – Kim of Cook It Allergy Free uses almond flour, which provides much needed protein for your child’s school day.
- Strawberry Almond Muffins – Sweetened with applesauce and honey, Kelly of The Spunky Coconut makes these delicious muffins grain-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free.
If you’re going to put a snack bar in your child’s lunch, make sure you read the ingredients. Look for wholesome, organic ingredients.
Or you can make your own snack bars! Try these:
- Pizza Lunchable? Cut an Udi’s Gluten Free Pizza Crust into quarters and zip one up in a baggy. Include a small container of organic pizza sauce, another of shredded cheese or Daiya (dairy-free), and another with a few toppings. Your child can assemble his own gluten-free pizza with ingredients selected by you.
- Cracker Stacker Lunchable? Pack mini-containers of gluten-free crackers, spreadable nut cheese, and cucumber slices.
- Create your own! How about a corn tortilla, black bean spread, Daiya cheese, and shredded sweet red peppers?
Make sure you pack cookies, yes, cookies! Make them part of a healthy meal. If a child feels deprived of treats he is going to find those treats somewhere. Wouldn’t you rather know that your child’s treats are made with wholesome ingredients that you choose? While other kids are munching on Chips Ahoy and Oreos, your child could be eating these:
- Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies by Elana of Elana’s Pantry – gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free
- Almost Elvis Cookies by Deanna of The Mommy Bowl – vegan, grain-free
- Quinoa Brownies by Maggie of She Let Them Eat Cake – gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free
And here are some great containers to help you package your child’s lunch:
- Eco Lunch Box
- Kids Konserve Butterfly Go Wild Waste- Free Lunch Kit
- Smart Planet Collapsible Lunch Box
Please share your healthy school lunch tips in the comment section below. I’d love to hear them!
Have a wonderful, healthy school year!