Back to school is almost upon us, which means many more kid-free hours during the day (amen!) but it also means a bit more of a hectic morning routine, especially if you’re in charge of packing lunches. There’s nothing worse than rolling out of bed and scrambling to pack your kids’ lunch, only to find out that a) your fridge is empty or b) your kid refuses to eat anything you have to offer. As if you don’t have enough to think about during those crucial morning moments. While you might assume that throwing some snacks and a sandwich in a bag is a fairly simple task, it’s a lot harder than it seems. You have picky kids to please. And nutrition recommendations. And judge-y parents who will surely shame you for sending anything with artificial coloring. And did we mention picky kids?
Packing a balanced, delicious and appealing school lunch is an art form. And ideally, if that masterpiece could be pulled together in under 5 minutes, that would be excellent.
Luckily, we have gathered some of the best, most well balanced, delicious, good-for-you and impossible-to-mess up school lunches around. They’re easy to make, inexpensive to stock up on, adorable, fresh and dare we say it — your kids will love them. So as you gear up for the first day of school and you start to prepare your school lunch meal plans, consider these tips, tricks and tasty treats which are sure to make your child the most envied kid at the lunch table.
5Invest in a Cute and Functional Lunch Box
Once upon time lunch boxes were boring and basic: a tin box with some design on the outside that reflected a favorite superhero or TV character or color. That was then. Now lunch boxes are fancy and functional. They have compartments. They are made of flexible material. They are easy to clean. They are cute and colorful and make packing balanced lunches oh-so-simple. Even your kids will appreciate these lunch boxes. They have sections for fruit, sandwiches, snacks, utensils and even a space for drinks (we’ll touch on the juice debate below). And while it might seem unnecessary, trust us that it is worth every penny to invest in a good, functional lunch box. It will help you with portion control and it will help to keep different foods separate (we all have that kid who throws a fit when flavors mix).
We love this flexible, durable and functional lunch box from LL Bean. It doesn’t hurt that it’s made of incredibly strong, nearly damage-proof material (it’s the same tough material used for the backpacks and other luggage). And it also doesn’t hurt that it comes in a range of fun patterns and colors.
If you’re more into portioning out your kids’ means, this OmieBox bento-style lunch box is a game-changer. It allows you to put small amounts of various different dishes, snacks, and essentials into one lunch box, without mixing or mashing things up together. Plus it has different temperature zones so pasta stays warm while fruit stays chilled. Kids will love that they can get a little bit of everything and parents will love that it’s easy to pack and even easier to clean.
And for the best of both worlds, this Yumbox bento lunch container has 6 sections, is cute and kid-friendly, and the best part, it’s leak-proof! So your dips and sauces won’t spill or mix with your sandwich, and the removable tray makes it easy to clean when your kids come home.
To Juice or not to Juice
We’ll keep this one simple. Say no to juice. Water is always a healthier choice, and while juice may taste good (aka it’s sugary) it’s loaded with empty calories and excessive amounts of sugar that your kids won’t even realize they are consuming. In fact, researchers of a pilot program in New York City found that giving students water with school lunches significantly reduced childhood obesity.
Research shows that consumption of sugary drinks such as juice or soda has led to an increased risk of obesity in the United States and that the more sugary drinks kids have, the more they crave that sugar and the less nutritious food they will consume. “The key here is to reduce the need, dependency, and intenseness of sweet on the taste buds. Like adults, once they go without it for a long enough time, they lose the desire to have it,” said Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, a licensed, registered dietitian who manages the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
When possible, skip the juice or soda, and instead send water with your child’s lunch. And if they refuse to drink plain water, get creative and add a little flavor by infusing the water with fresh fruit (think watermelon, strawberries, pineapple, etc.) and pack it into a spill-proof water bottle.