The key is in the preparation! We’ve heard this before, today, I’m going to share some tips to help bring your best intentions a reality when it comes to lunches that are mundane no more, that everyone will actually enjoy!
The first step is get organized! For those with families, ask your kids to give you lunch food options they would like. Have each person write out a list. On this list, they are to put suggestions for lunch: fruits, veggies, protein/sandwiches/wraps and snacks. In this way, you’re giving them a say in what they want and let’s face it, they will eat their lunch if it’s foods they like rather than something you’re defaulting to. You’re busy, they’re busy, let’s keep it simple. This works. Plus, you can refer to the list(s) throughout the year so it simplifies it for you. In addition, it makes grocery shopping easier and streamlines the whole “what do you want for lunch?” process. If you don’t ask kids what they want and don’t have a system in place, lunch will come back uneaten or traded away. Either way, you’ve lost control of what they are eating or worse yet, it comes back untouched.
Conversely, you’re giving them the power of what fruits and veggies to eat. You then post the lists on a cork board or ask one of your kids to re-write the lists by child’s name on to a white board. They can even use different colored markers for the different categories (fruits, veggies, sandwich/protein & treats). Or you could just put the list right onto your phone, however, It can actually be quite a fun learning task for them to get involved and make it a bit of a “project” if you will by writing it out plus a great tool for you. This system can help to put lunches together that everyone is happy with. If you do have your kid(s) write up the list on a board, you can then take an image of the lists for grocery time.
So now you have the groceries home and it’s time to organize them. Try to use re-usable containers as much as possible as it’s better for the environment. For example a combination of BPA free plastic containers and stainless steel containers. I also like thermoses as they can keep our food hot and cold for several hours which is great. Do I hear leftovers anyone? What about soups, chillis?? One of the biggest trends this year for lunches are Bento boxes which are amazing as they have dividers in them. Now this might not sound like something new, however, I encourage you to not dismiss this. Having a visual of the whole meal, makes the food very appealing for kids and adults. You can see exactly what you have just like if it was on a plate so food doesn’t get lost or forgotten in the bottom of the lunch bag which can happen if it’s in a separate containers. Your child for example may have chosen chicken fingers, sliced cucumbers, grapes (remember to that grapes freeze well), crackers and dried seaweed (which kids tend to really love by the way as it’s cool looking – a thin green sheet – what is used to make sushi rolls). It should include some sort form of treat like a healthy fruit gummy or a couple squares of dark chocolate! Maybe for your picky eater who doesn’t like fruit, they will eat cut up fruit bars. The ones without all the extra sugar added that is, the plain fruit strips or bars. Some of the bars (Sun Rype) now have snuck in veggies! They won’t even know there’s spinach or spirulina packed in with the dried cherries and strawberry flavour for example. Some of these bars have seeds or other plant-based or whey protein added. Have your kids try some of the various flavours and see which ones they like, so again you are empowering them.
Having lunch lists as above is great for parents and kids. In a perfect world, everyone will help make their own lunches so I encourage you to get the kids to help and if things are more organized, it can help speed up the lunch making process (often the reason parents opt to just make the lunches themselves). Regardless, everyone can see what’s going in the containers so nothing gets lost and all the bases are covered with the various food groups. It’s not a default to pop and a pop tart or sandwich and an apple that gets uneaten!
In addition to the reusable lunch containers, they have things like foldable reusable utensils so again it’s better for the environment (than the throw aways) and they are really cute too. Something new, I just came across that I thought was great…reusable squeezable containers for liquids like yogurts or smoothies. A lot of kids like those squeezable yogurt tubes however they’re not the healthiest with all the extra sugar and sometimes food coloring’s too (not to mention the fact they add more waste for the landfills). They’re also not such a good option for those with lactose intolerance. Well, now you get reusable squeezy bottles. The brand name is Sage Spoonfuls which you can get online or at stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond and Home Sense. These squeezee containers are not only reusable, they’re dishwasher safe as well! You can fill these with protein smoothies or non-dairy yogurt that you’ve made yourself. Even for a treat, try coconut chocolate non-dairy yogurt (I know some parents whose kids love this)! They make a great breakfast to go as you’re driving them to school for example or for them to eat conveniently for breakfast and of course for their lunches too.
Another suggestion is using containers that have two compartments or more you can fill it with crackers and vegetables and protein-based dips you’ve made yourself or healthier store bought versions (read labels look for low sodium & high protein) like hummus and Greek yogurt so you can be sure your kids are getting enough protein.
Now an idea for older kids and adults – Mason Jars. If you haven’t discovered these already for lunches, this could be a game changer!! They come in all shapes and sizes and can make a great lunch “bowl”. You put all your food groups in the jar – your veggies, your protein, you’re healthy carbs (quinoa, sweet potato or brown rice) and you just layer them all up. Bonus, they are visually very appealing! Always include a leafy greens in the mix and remember to pack this near the top or middle. Put your dressing at the bottom of the jar, next stack the harder vegetables like cut up carrots, bell peppers, broccoli and cauliflower to avoid everything from getting soggy. Add your cut up chicken, chick peas, tomatoes and cucumber etc. When you get to work, shake everything up and eat right out of the jar or if you’re like me empty it out into a bowl or put on to a plate which I find is easier to eat (than out of the jar).
You may also want to further organize and simplify the prepping of lunch project by designating specific bins in the fridge for all the lunch items. Take it a step further by cutting items up and be ready to be able to put everything in your lunch boxes or Mason jars.
Voila! No more boring brown bag lunches that return home half-eaten!