One of the biggest complaints about packed lunches is the lack of variety. Yes, some kids are picky and want a PB & J five days a week, but most will tire of the same meal. By mixing it up, you’ll help to ensure that the lunch is actually eaten rather than tossed.
Here’s how I make a better packed lunch in 4 easy steps:
1. Start with protein
Adding protein helps tummies feel full longer. Any of these are good options:
- Hard boiled or deviled eggs
- Cheese cubes
- Lunch meats (in a sandwich or rolled slices)
- Greek Yogurt
- Nuts (whole pieces or butters)
- Chicken strips
2. Pick Produce
Ideally, a packed lunch will contain both fruit and veggies for maximum nutrition. Incorporating produce is important for vitamins and fiber—something most kids lack—but only choose the ones you know they’ll like.
- Carrot/celery sticks
- Cut-up veggies like broccoli, peppers, etc. (Include dip on the side for best results!)
- Dried fruit (raisins and apricots are most popular in my family)
- Salad (not liked universally, but if your kids eat it, by all means, pack it)
3. Energizing Carbs
White bread doesn’t fill them up or add anything but empty calories to their diet. Anything with whole grains is a better choice.
- Multi-grain crackers
- 100% whole wheat bread, wraps, or tortillas
- Rice cakes
- Brown Rice
4. Healthy Fats
Including a healthy fat is not only safe, but preferred. Just make sure to practice moderation.
- Guacamole or avocado slices
- Olive oil
Pay attention to the size of food as well. Kids love anything mini and I try to make nibblers that don’t require utensils.
- Tomato & Cheese Stacks (Layer thin slices of tomato and cheese with mayo in between)
- Apple Stacks (Cut an apple horizontally into 4 pieces. Layer peanut butter between the stacks and reassemble)
- Cucumber Rolls (Peel a cuke, then slice super thin. Spread with hummus and roll up like sushi)
- Turkey Stacks (Cubes or slices of meat sandwiched between crackers instead of bread)
- Waffle Stacker (Toast frozen waffles and cool completely. Add yogurt and sliced berries, stack with another plain waffle on top)
I know some moms will protest that their kids only want drink boxes and Lunchables and will refuse all of the above. If a child is especially resistant to healthy foods, I don’t think it’s wrong to add a treat as an incentive. A Hershey’s kiss, a mini cookie, or a tiny bag of chips helps, and if they won’t eat their broccoli any other way, be realistic and choose your battles. I am for 80% healthy, 20% junky stuff, which is very doable.