by Laura Reid, Dietitian
It is that busy time of year again, back to school for kids (big and small) and teachers too! Packing lunches can be stressful or fun, depending on how you approach it.
There are lots of pictures and ideas for lunch ideas for little ones, and they are very cute and fancy…but they are out of my league (and time commitment)! If you don’t have time to worry about cut-out shapes and forming food into a sculpture, don’t stress yourself! The most important thing is finding foods your child will eat, and finding things that are quick and easy to eat in the short time available for lunch. Lunch at my daughter’s school is about 15 minutes. That’s it. So our priority is not that her meal looks like a teddy bear, but that it is in small, easy bites and pieces that are easy for her to grab and go. You or your child may not be in elementary school like my daughter, but I am sure time is still an issue! My words of advice are to brainstorm a list of foods that are options for lunch, including snacks, drinks and the main focus of the meal. Involve everyone in making the list of foods, and be sure to do so before you hit the grocery store. If you are looking to save money, buy items in larger portions (rather than individual sizes) and portion out into containers (for example, buy a large container of apple sauce or yogurt and portion it into the container when you are packing the lunch (the night before to save time). Try to include choices from different food groups to not only help meet their nutrition needs, but also to add variety. One trick I use is to have four compartments or small containers in the lunch box to remind me to include a fruit, a vegetable, a grain and protein (usually put together), and something fun.
For the main focus of the meal, change it up from day to day: hot items on one day by using a thermos for leftovers (my daughter’s picks include soup, chili, and pasta) or items that should be kept cold on other days (like wraps, salads, mini pizzas or sandwiches). Just be sure to use an ice pack!
One final tip: include a small bottle of hand sanitizer or a wet wipe in the lunch box for cleaning hands before eating.