Last Updated on June 28, 2022 by Rebecca Huff
Packing a healthy lunch 101
People ask me about my children's lunches frequently. What do I pack, where do I get it, what do I pack it in. Here's a quick run down of my set up.
In my kitchen I have one cabinet area over a section of counter space that I have designated as my lunch supply area. In my cabinet I keep
- the lunch-boxes
- sandwich bags (I use paper)
- little notes
- a pen to write on the notes
- miscellaneous containers for packing lunches
- spears for ka-bobs
- washi tape for wrapping things or notes
- Camelbak BPA free water bottles for each student (this particular spill-free bottle is required by my kids school, if only I had back all the ones my son has lost…)
I make sure to keep the section of counter space under these cabinets clutter free so that I don't have to clear a workspace. I do keep a basket of fruit there, as you can see in the photo below, but I still have plenty of space to open the lid and compile the lunch.
When I do my weekly shopping I try to make sure I have 5 days worth of a fruit that is packable, 5 days of a healthy carb, and 5 days of a main course. Sometimes I bulk prepare things like chicken-meatballs, or pb&j sandwich “uncrustables” that I can keep in the freezer
in case I run out in case someone eats the food I planned to pack.
I try to keep a box of healthy snacks (usually from Costco) in my pantry. Sometimes I plan it out when I plan my weekly menu, sometimes I wing it (not recommended). If I wing it, I try to picture the lunch box in my head and go through produce picking up five fruit items, etc. until I have my lunchbox stuff, then I proceed with the rest of my grocery shopping. Not ideal to go without a plan, but this works in a pinch, and let's face it, we've all ended up at the supermarket without a list at least once in our lives, right?
At 6 a.m. I line the lunch-boxes up on the counter top ready to pack, assembly line style. Then as I am preparing breakfast, I am also packing the lunches simultaneously. It's not hard once you get used to it. I've got the fridge open to get the eggs, may as well go ahead and pull out the grapes and wash them at the same time. Usually I am able to cook oatmeal or eggs, or toast, or whatever while I am putting the lunches together.
Normally, I am completely finished by 6:30 and we all sit down to eat breakfast together. I don't do cereal, so yes, it is always something cooked, or either plain yogurt with fruit and honey. Eating breakfast takes about 20 minutes and we have 20 minutes left to get dressed and ready to head out the door. (Backpacks should already be ready to go from the afternoon routine, so no one has to waste time grabbing papers, etc.)
Trying to make the lunchbox as healthy as possible while still packing something I know my children will actually eat is my goal. Sometimes this means cutting the crusts off the bread for one of my children, or adding cucumbers to one box, but carrots to the other. It always means knowing what your child will eat.
I recommend only sending foods you know your child will eat, save the introduction of new foods, veggie-pushing and the like for meals they eat at home with your supervision. This will insure that your hard earned money you spend on groceries doesn't go in the school garbage can. (By the way if your child doesn't like to eat veggies, you can always sneak them in with the help of Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious.
In the lunchbox above I have added an organic whole wheat Nutzo (will do a post on why I don't use peanut butter later) sandwich with a touch of honey added, some grapes, a Kashi bar, and a few Nut Exactly as a treat.
Notes are fun! I don't always add a note, but when I do, they usually mention it to me after school. It's nice for them to know that I am thinking of them while they are at school, and if they happen to be having a rough morning, it can make a bad day turn around! At Christmas I printed off jokes and added a few each day, that really made them popular with the lunch crowd! Nothing like a little humor to get you through the school day!
I have actually done gluten free, dairy free, nut free, you name it. I also have back up lunch boxes under the counter, just in case someone leaves theirs at school or someone forgets to start the dishwasher. It's worth mentioning that part of my after school routine includes the children emptying their own lunch-boxes and making sure they are in the dishwasher to be cleaned overnight and ready for the next morning.
Hopefully, this will answer some questions about lunches for kids. If you have any other questions or comments about packing lunches leave it in the section below! Happy packing!
Find my Youtube lunch series here. Check out my other posts on lunches!