When we were preparing to begin this year with public school, I really wanted a great plan for our children’s lunches. As simple as it sounds, I wondered how I could make sure our children have enough nutrition in that little bag? How can I make sure they’ll eat it and not give it away or throw it away? How can I provide great quality and shop in bulk while saving money? Here’s what I learned…
- Have a weekly menu
- A food plan & lunch ideas
Have a weekly menu
Having a menu for the week with 5 lunches to rotate through is more than sufficient for kids. They really do not need all new foods for every day of the entire month. With a weekly plan you don’t have to re-invent the wheel every single week coming up with a whole different list of ideas. And you can shop in bulk for lunch food items which can save a lot of money. And, once you have your plan I encourage you to stick with it for at least a month, or long enough for you to be a be able to use up those bulk food packages.
Mom’s time is valuable. *smile* And children’s character needs shaping. For example all people need to learn contentment, patience, gratitude, and appreciation. A weekly plan can help with this and is sufficient and yummy.
Here is a great book I recommend, Simplicity Parenting, which supports and validates the concept that children do not need excessive amounts of choices and variety simultaneously. They need simplicity. And they need to learn to be content with a little variety, and gain appreciation for the good food they are provided without being too picky.
A food plan & lunch ideas
When considering your daily plan it’s good to include a protein item, a whole grain carb, and a fruit or veggie. I choose to leave veggies for home so that I’m sure they’ll eat them *wink*. I also save sugar treats for home as well. If I give them sugar in their lunch at school they will eat that first (human nature) and then not feel inclined to eat the rest. This of course will not help them feel or be their best: strong, happy, creative, energetic, and well-behaved.
You can try to alternate the menu through out the week to avoid children getting too tired of an item. For example peanut butter Monday and Thursday, with other types of foods on the alternate days. Even if it’s a favorite food item, they may tire of it if you give it every day.
Here is a sample protein idea list for you.
- Peanut butter and jelly (or honey, or sliced banana) sandwiches on whole wheat bread
- Summer sausage and cheese sliced, with appropriate crackers
- Peanut butter with sliced apples for dipping (and a plastic spoon to scoop out the last bit if they run out of apples)
- Deli meat sandwiches, or just plain meat as a finger food (variety in the type of meat)
- Greek yogurt with granola to sprinkle on it
- Peanuts or trail mix
- String cheese or sliced cheese
I also get some variety in by rotating the type of crackers I choose. I don’t buy more than 1 or 2 types of crackers at a time, and I rotate which ones I buy. Children do not need to have many boxes of crackers on hand all the time which fill up and clutter your pantry. We have 9 children but I do not purchase and store a type of cracker for every person’s preference all of the time. Instead I can rotate which ones I purchase and the children can learn to be patient in waiting for their individual favorite to be available. *smile*
Here are some Carbohydrate ideas:
- Wheat Thins crackers (whole wheat)
- Triscuits crackers (whole grain)
- Pretzels (once-in-a-while, being white flour)
- Aussie Bites from Costco (whole grain mini-muffins, sweet and soft)
- 1/2 of a whole wheat tortilla (we love the Mission brand “Carb Balance” for taste and chewiness)
- Chips (once-a-week maybe because they’re not exactly healthy, and they’re expensive)
For fruit I choose to pack apples mostly because our kids love them, and they last in the refrigerator easily for a week. But for variety I pack other fruits as well using screw-top Rubbermaid containers to avoid the fruit getting squashed. Items such as grapes, satsumas, banana, pear, watermelon, cantaloupe, etc. Since fruit only lasts about a week in the refrigerator, I can easily purchase a new one each week.
If you shop in bulk I do encourage you to hand-package into lunch portions. If you purchase the convenient pre-packaged individual servings of chips, crackers, cookies, etc. you will pay 2-4 times as much for the same food. No joke. But you can purchase large bags of chips or crackers from Costco and package that into Ziplock baggies, or better yet assign a child or two to package them for you. *smile* Ours actually clamor for this job and have to take turns. You can buy 32 ounce containers of Greek yogurt (best nutrition for yogurt type) and put it into small, plastic, screw-top Rubbermaid containers (so the lids don’t pop off in their lunch bag).
I also encourage you to stick with the children’s already normal foods for them. You can go to Pinterest and find all kinds of amazing, creative, beautiful lunch ideas. I did this at first, and after becoming totally overwhelmed *laugh* I realized that our kids wouldn’t even like those fancy ideas really. We just don’t eat like that. Normal-to-them foods will be enjoyed, appreciated, and most importantly – eaten. *wink*
If certain children need a morning snack for their class then you can pack an extra bag of a carb choice. This will give them a boost of energy, while not filling them up so much that they’re not ready to eat lunch. If they have trail mix for snack for example, they’re not likely to feel hungry at lunch time and yet will not make it through the whole day without their lunch having been eaten. So – carbs for snack.
Now a little organization for these lunches! *cheer!* My favorite. *laugh*
I choose to buy cute and durable lunch bags for our children. I want them to smile when they see their bag, look forward to eating what’s inside, and feel loved that mom bought it for them. And enjoy their bag so much that they’re not inclined to leave it behind. *smirk* And, I write their name with black permanent pen on the outside of the bags as well. This way when they do leave it behind one day – unavoidable I think – at least they can find it more easily, and know that it is their own and not some one else’s look alike.
The same can apply to water bottles. Cute or fun, and definitely durable. Makes them smile, functions hopefully without leaking everywhere, and less likely to be left behind. I also never buy ones with straws, but only flip-tops. Straws and bite pieces get lost and broken constantly from my experience. Anyway, names on them as well with black permanent pen will help ensure that they keep or find their own bottle again. And at home when I have duplicate styles I can tell who’s is who’s and make sure everyone has one every day.
If possible, it can be a great help to mom in the mornings to have one older child or teen be assigned to packing the lunches each morning. It’s so good for children to learn to be contributors to their family. To learn to serve, and develop some appreciation for services done for them. Older children may be up earlier than younger ones and therefore an be ready for the day earlier; and so ready to help serve.
I like to keep a post-it note on the kitchen cupboard with our current weekly meal plan listed so that the lunch-packer does not have to even try to recall it. Simple. Nice. No mistakes. And also a note about which children need morning snack packed, to make sure every one has what they need.
When children arrive home from school they are expected to bring their lunch bag from their backpacks to the kitchen counter. Here an older sibling has daily the job of unpacking them. This involves putting away uneaten food, putting any Rubbermaid containers into the sink to be washed, wiping out the bag with a paper towel if necessary, and setting the emptied water bottles out to dry (to prevent bacteria or mold growing in them eventually).
When we have a plan in place for things we save time, energy, and money. *smile* Time, not planning excessive amounts of variety into our children’s menu, and sharing the work load; energy, shopping for and storing excessive amounts of food, and trying to do everything yourself; and money, not using up what is already purchased or purchasing pre-packaged foods unnecessarily. So for school lunches we shoot for normal. Simple. And yummy. *smile* Good.
Blessings on your babe’s lunches,