Pack in proper portions of protein, fat, vegetables, fruit and a healthy treat/snack in their lunch box. Ensure lunch and snacks are nutritious to keep them going all day long. 4-8 year old kids need 1250-2000 calories a day. Treat 9-13 year old's needs equal to an adult's. Keeping things ready over the weekend helps packing a lunch easier on weekday mornings.
The Lunch Box Challenge
If you pack a lunch for kids or for yourself (or both), do you ever find yourself staring at your empty cute little lunch containers that were oh-so-much-fun to shop for in August and wonder “What the heck do I put in here today?”.
In our house another week brings another 5 days of 4 of packed lunches a day, and let me tell you, that chore can get old quickly. Thankfully my older two are big enough to take care of making their own lunches, although I still help out by getting some stuff ready in advance. And I’m still responsible for the younger two’s lunches, although they are helping more and more each day.
As cute as some of those Pinterest lunches are, my #1 priority is just getting it done. Preferably before the school bus comes and/or I have to rush out the door to go somewhere. Creativity and variety are great, but my main goal is a healthy school lunch that my kids will eat. If that means the same vegetables every day, I am OK with that.
8 Nutritional Foods Every Lunch Box Must Have
Portion sizes vary by age, size and personal appetite, but make sure you are including enough of each food group to fill kids up and give them the fuel they need to get through the day. Many of the cute little lunches I see online wouldn’t last my 6 year old until noon (never mind the teens!). As a general guideline I pack:
Protein such as leftover meat from dinner, hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs in a thermos, tuna salad, salmon salad, chicken drumsticks, meatballs. Make this a good-sized serving, about the size of your palm for middle school kids.
Healthy fat, such as avocado slices, guacamole, olives, nuts for the older kids.
Usually cold sliced vegetable sticks since that’s what my kids prefer, sometimes dinner leftovers, soup or salad. A minimum of two vegetables, totaling at least a cup.
Healthy dip helps the vegetables go down. I send a lot of hummus, and the kids also like homemade ‘ranch’ dip or tzatziki for the three who eat dairy.
One fresh fruit (or thawed from frozen) or in the winter we sometimes swap that out for applesauce or dried fruit due to cost. Keep in mind that one piece of fruit is usually two servings for smaller kids and is plenty.
A healthy treat, like a naturally sweetened muffin, chia seed pudding or avocado chocolate pudding. I bake once or twice a week, since I feel a little snack that looks like everyone else’s goes a long towards making a real food lunch ‘normal’ (which, sadly, it is not).
An Extra like organic corn chips, a few rice crackers, a small bit of gluten free oatmeal in a thermos or other less-than-ideal snack is perfectly fine on occasion for ‘filling in the corners’ and convenience, in my opinion. Even if they’re not nutritionally dense they are not harmful in the context of a balanced diet. I make those extras gluten free, and organic when I can.
Last but not the least water to drink.
A Quick Check
A quick check that we have protein, fat, vegetables, fruit and a healthy treat/snack ensures their lunch is balanced, and my double check is a quick inventory that they have enough for a good sized lunch and two snacks (our school is still on a lunch and two snacks a day schedule, although most in our area are ‘balanced day’). Keep in mind that a 9-13 year old needs as many calories a day as a small adult, and even 4-8 year old need 1250-2000 calories a day. The food they eat at school is usually over a third of that, since it is lunch plus snacks, and breakfast tends to be a smaller meal. Make sure they have lots of nutrient dense food to keep them going all day long.
I find it really helpful to get some things ready on Sunday, such as washing and slicing vegetables, mixing tuna or salmon salad, hard boiling eggs, making a soup or chilli that the kids can take in a thermos, and doing a little baking. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to get ready on the weekend, and it really helps make packing a lunch much easier on busy weekday mornings.