Updated: Jul 31, 2019
Depending on where you live, the first day of school is only a few weeks away. It's an exciting time of year, but we'd be lying if we didn't admit that the transition can feel a little daunting. To help you get ready, we asked Cayden Garzelloni, the talented 'lunch box artist' behind Raising Little Foodies, for her best advice on school lunch prep. If you're looking to save time, please a picky eater, or incorporate healthier ingredients, Cayden has some great ideas -- and mouthwatering photos -- to inspire you.
Give New Life to Leftovers
Wednesday night's leftover spaghetti noodles (because really, who doesn't make way too much pasta?) can be tossed with a little olive oil and parmesan, mixed with a creamy cheese sauce, turned into a chilled pasta salad, or sent with a side of veggie packed marinara. Or, in this case, Sunday morning's pancake breakfast moonlights at lunchtime as almond butter and jelly pancake sandwiches, pancake and sausage 'tacos', and pancake dipping bites.
Go With the Flow
So your child is on a hardcore PB&J kick, only eats red food, or nothing but pasta is acceptable. There are many ways to embrace this eating phase and still offer healthy options! Blend some cauliflower into your mac&cheese sauce, or add finely grated/diced carrots to pasta sauce. Add hemp seeds to sandwiches for an extra boost of protein and omega-3, or add fresh fruit like thinly sliced apples or nectarines. Just keep reminding yourself that this phase won't last forever!
Expand Their Horizons
Eating at school tends to be pressure-free without parents watching, so it's a great chance to add small amounts of foods they may have rejected in the past or are new to them. It can take 15-20 times or more before a child tries something, so don't get discouraged if the newest addition keeps coming home. Just keep exposing it to them in various way (cut into different shapes, cooked different ways, paired with different dips or sauces, etc).
Have a Plan B
Nothing is worse than running around 10 minutes before leaving trying to throw something decently nutritious together, so have already prepped options as a backup plan. There are lots of great foods that can be made ahead of time and frozen, then just heat and go, or let thaw in the lunchbox while at school.
Eat the Rainbow
So many kids are visual eaters that "eat with their eyes". Choose a variety of foods that pop in the lunchbox and catch their attention. Feel free to mix up the crunchy, smooth, and creamy textures, too!
Red - apple slices with cinnamon almond butter
Orange - carrot cake muffin
Yellow - yellow bell pepper strips
Green - sliced green grapes
Blue/Purple - blueberry jam and cream cheese pancake bites
Get Creative With Muffin Tins!
You can make so much more than just muffins (although those are always a great lunch addition). Think mini meatloaves, egg/cheddar/bacon cups, pancake muffins, portable baked spaghetti nests, little lasagnas, etc. All of these are easy to bake in a batch or two and can be frozen for later (remember that part about having a Plan B?)!
Mix It Up!
There's nothing wrong with sticking to a lunch rotation that works for your family. If things start coming home uneaten or your child seems to be getting bored, try switching up the presentation a little. Carrot coins instead of sticks, cucumber cut-outs instead of slices, mini pepper rings instead of bell pepper strips, add new dips, serve the main deconstructed or as a build-your-own. Our family loves to do DIY tacos and homemade lunchables. Sometimes a little change can bring new interest.
Get Your Kids Involved
Take them with you to the store and have them look over and choose their own produce. Involve them in meal prep or putting their lunchbox together and take any suggestions or alterations they might want. The more involved kids are in making their food, the more likely they will actually eat it.
Give Yourself a Break
There will definitely be times when a carefully packed lunch comes home untouched. Maybe they ran out of time to eat, didn't feel well, or wanted extra recess time. Perhaps they simply decided they weren't hungry. There are a ton of possible reasons and none of them are because of you. Our job is simply to prepare and offer nutritious options and theirs is to decide if, when, and how much of it they want to eat. You've done your part and you rock!
Did you know that our new X-Large lunch boxes fit the PlanetBox, OmieBox, and Bentgo brand bento boxes like the ones Cayden uses? Thick insulation and a nifty buckled handle make transporting their lunch even easier. Our standard-sized lunch box is great for younger children and kids in half-day programs. Get yours on Amazon.