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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Pack Up a School Lunch Kids Will Actually Like

By Christina Katz 

Eating family meals together at home is important, but don’t underestimate the importance of the meal you send to school with your child each day. Just like how we sit down and break bread with our family, kids sit down at school and do the same with peers of their choosing—and it’s just as important.

A positive experience eating lunch at school begins with a positive experience opening up that lunch box and finding out what’s inside. The same old peanut butter and jelly, pretzels, and apple may work for the first couple of years, but as a child gets older and develops more sophisticated preferences, you can do better. Work together with your child to create portable, healthy meals. 

Instead of complaints about how friends have better lunches, you’ll start to hear stories about the funny conversations that happened at lunch or who traded what for what. With a little bit of effort, you’ll notice that your child conveys a content, relaxed tone about lunchtime, exactly like the one you strive to create at dinnertime at home. So when it comes time to whip up a great school lunch, keep these simple tips in mind: 

Experiment with nut butters. Why limit your child’s sandwich to just peanut butter when there is also almond butter, cashew butter, and sunflower seed butter? Or consider a healthy brand of chocolate nut butter with whole-wheat pretzels for dipping. 

Expand your sandwich-
making repertoire.
For variety, cut sandwiches into halves, triangles, quarters, or use a cookie cutter to make shapes. Use whole grain rather than white bread. Experiment with whole grain wraps, bagels, pita, flatbread, or naan. 

Send real fruit. Ditch fruit-flavored or artificial fruit snacks. Stock up on small, no-leak containers so you won’t be afraid to chop up ripe fruit and send it to school. For variety, use whatever fruit you have on hand and make a simple fruit salad every Sunday night. 

Chop up veggies. Prepare whatever you have on hand on Sunday, and separate into bags or containers for the week. Include a bit of damp or dry paper towel to keep veggies moist or dry—whichever helps them last. 

Try homemade trail mix for snack time. You can come up with combinations that are customized for each child. Just visit the bulk foods section of your grocery store and create combos for each week. 

Start “Thermos Thursdays.” Send something hot, such as soup, mac n’ cheese, or pasta. Be sure to heat the food up well before pouring it into your child’s thermos. Put the lid on tightly but not so tight your child can’t get it open. 

Send low-fat milk instead of sugary juice. Or let them buy milk at school. If you don’t want to send sugar-loaded juice, try flavored waters. In a pitcher refrigerate water with lemon, lime, berries, or herbs. 

Make homemade cookies or bars. You can make them over the weekend and, if they’re stored properly, they’ll last all week. Freeze, if necessary—they will thaw by lunchtime. If your child is new to the school, include an extra treat to offer to new friends. Remind them to eat veggies to keep the treats coming. 

Offer bonus sweets in moderation. Sneak something fun into their packs on Friday: a tiny bag of jelly beans, a lollipop or two, or a couple of chocolate kisses. 

Once a month, let them get hot lunch. But only once a month. Make a big deal about going over the lunch schedule and picking out a day. Then see which type of lunch they prefer. If you play your lunch-making cards right, hot lunch once a month won’t steal the show.  

Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina Katz knows better than to slack off on shopping for school lunches. If she does, she’ll have to hear about it all the way home from school.