Packing quick, easy, balanced and healthy lunches that are also kid-friendly for picky eaters doesn’t need to be a challenge. All it takes is a bit of planning. It’s easy to make lunchtime flavorful, colorful, fun, and something to look forward to with this helpful guide.
Food safety is always number one. Although many items will stay safe at room temperature, some will require an ice pack to stay cool, and a small thermos or insulated jar can help keep warm food safe. Additionally, you may want to check if your child’s school has any peanut or other food restrictions.
Get a lunch box that is easy to pack, makes it easier to eat, and helps keep food more fun and appealing. Consider a leakproof one with divided compartments such as the popular Bento Boxes, some of which can hold a freezer pack and snap-in eating utensils. Silicone muffin liners and small condiment cups can provide additional partitioning and help keep dry foods from getting wet.
You know your child. You may have one who only wants to eat the same foods or one who enjoys variety and loves to find a surprise. Either way, you can easily add a little something out of the ordinary and make it look fun.
Sometimes it is easier to sneak some vegetables in by blending them with fruits, baking them into muffins or quickbreads (think pumpkin or zucchini bread) or desserts such as carrot cake. In addition, it may be as simple as putting them on skewers and providing a condiment to dip them into.
Shop and keep a wide variety of foods, including shelf-stable pantry items for when you don’t have to time to shop. Depending on your child’s preferences, you might consider items such as tuna, canned fruit packed in water, and crackers. Try to switch things up if you have a child who might not want the same plain chopped chicken breast for five days in a row. Prepare different pairings of proteins, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and snacks or treats.
Leftovers from dinner can make future lunches easier and can reduce food waste too. Put aside small portions in the freezer for future lunches including items such as soups or pasta sauces. Leftover chicken, beef or pork can be rolled into tacos or made into sandwiches, or simply dipped into sauces or condiments. Packing fresh fruit or vegetables along with leftovers can make it a whole new meal.
Take inspiration from other countries and cultures. Cuban black beans and rice, Italian pasta or charcuterie, Chinese stir fry, Japanese sushi, Greek hummus and pita, or Thai noodles and peanut sauce with cucumbers. Adapt these ideas to your child’s pickiness. They might not want sushi, but a tortilla filled with cinnamon cream cheese or nut butter and fruit and then sliced may be irresistible.
Not only is protein essential for your child’s health, but it can keep them feeling full and satisfied. Choose from chicken, turkey breast, beef, pork, beans and lentils (including hummus, bean or lentil soup), cheese, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, egg (individual quiche cups, hardboiled, egg sandwich), Fish (tuna salad, salmon), nuts, quinoa, seeds and seed butters, and edamame. There are lots of options.
Along with fresh fruits and vegetables, you can add other carbohydrates. Healthier choices could be whole grain, sprouted, or even gluten-free depending on your child’s needs and preferences. Consider grains such as rice or barley, pasta, crackers or tortilla chips, tortillas or wraps, bread, oatmeal, sweet potato wedges, muffins filled with fruits or vegetables, pancakes, waffles, crepes, pita, or cornbread among many others.
For snacks or treats dried fruits, nuts, seeds, yogurt, whole grain cereal bites, real fruit rolls or gummi snacks, healthier oatmeal or pumpkin cookies, or no bake energy bites are all possible choices.
Of course, adequate hydration is vital for your child’s health and performance so be sure to pack a labeled or personalized refillable water bottle with fresh, clean filtered water. Fruit juice and other sugary drinks including flavored waters and sport drinks are unnecessary and can cause many health problems, such as weight gain, dental decay, bowel issues and even fussy eating. However, there are many ways to jazz up their water by adding a slice or two orange slices or infusing it with other fresh fruit, cucumber, mint among other choices.
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