When I was a kid, I had the choice take my weekly allowance and spend it on buying lunch at school or save it and make my own lunch at home using all the healthy ingredients with which my dietitian mother stocked our kitchen. I always had my eye on a new troll doll so, naturally, I chose to save my money. Who needs a mediocre slice of lukewarm, square pizza when you can have an 8-inch troll doll dressed like a surgeon?
Sometimes it was a bummer to be the leftover-toting 7-year-old while my friends all enjoyed their fun Lunchables, but I never got sick, I never once got sent to the principal’s office for bad behavior, and I excelled in school.
Clearly, my healthy lunches – and healthy eating habits overall – were a boon to my childhood. That, coupled with the fact that American middle school students who eat school lunches are much more likely to become overweight or obese, setting them up for a host of chronic health issues, means sending my kids to school with a healthy, home-packed lunch is a non-negotiable. Here are my top 5 tips for ensuring they head off to school packing lunches that will keep them healthy and happy…
1. Invest in a bento-style lunchbox.
There are so many great options for bento lunchboxes these days. I use one that has four divided compartments, eliminating the need for tons of little plastic baggies, making proper portioning a breeze, and allowing me to save money at the grocery store by buying the large cartons of yogurt or hummus or jars of nut butter, rather than the more expensive, individually-packaged options. Score!
2. Prep on Sundays.
When you prep things in advance, pulling together a quick, healthy lunch is a cinch. Every Sunday, after grocery shopping, I prep anything that needs prepping – things like rinsing and chopping fruits and veggies, boiling eggs, baking up a batch of healthy muffins for the week, grilling or baking a few extra pieces of chicken when I’m making dinner to use for salads and sandwiches throughout the week. I put it all in see-through containers in the fridge so that it’s all visible and readily accessible come lunch-packing time. Therefore, my boys have zero excuses for not packing a healthy lunch.
3. Empower the little ones.
I like to have the kids make their own lunches. When my 7-year-old makes his own lunch, I always know without a doubt that he will return home with an empty lunch box. Getting to choose what goes into his lunch and the pride associated with doing it himself is a recipe (that pun was fully intended) for a happy little luncher.
4. Set some ground rules.
Yes, I have my kids make their own lunches as often as possible, but that’s not to say there aren’t some ground rules for the packing process. I keep a lunch checklist on the fridge with four categories on it: fruits, veggies, protein, grains. This way, while they’re packing their lunches, they can look up and see which category they might be missing and fill it in.
5. Utilize leftovers.
As far as I’m concerned, leftovers are edible gold. I always try to make a little extra dinner so I’ll have leftovers to repurpose and use for the kids’ lunches. Soups and stews are always a hit, even better the next day. I just reheat in the morning, stick it in a thermos and send them on their way with a hot lunch that required minimal effort.
My pay-off may be a little different now. Instead of troll dolls, healthy, homemade lunches provide me with a sense of pride and peace of mind, knowing I’m giving my babies the best possible head start in life. There is literally no downside to sending your kids off to school with a home-packed lunch. It’s healthier, it’s more affordable, and it teaches them responsibility and imparts basic skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives.