Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lunch Box

What's for Lunch, Honey Bunch?

For kids, the importance of a routine is colossal! Particularly for those who are still learning to tell time, it provides footing, it allows them to know what to expect and to anticipate. Routines ground the young, helping them to predict what will happen next.  Despite inevitable opposition, children notice and respond well to an itinerary.

I always try to cue in my daughter of the daily plan, if possible the evening before. If there is an after school activity she is never surprised, she knows the plan.  Over time, I trust that this will help build her foundation -- into becoming solid, confident and secure.

Routines are one of the many reasons it is great to be back to school -- to have structure, a schedule, a sense of time and place for everyone; it takes the guess work out of the week.  I love it!  While not everything goes smoothly, the routine helps our daughter feel that she is in the know.

But, one routine that I struggle with, along with half the parents that I know, is developing sensible, interesting and edible lunches. It is a consistent parental topic at school drop off/pick-up -- "what do you put into your child's lunchbox?"

I feel like I have tried everything, from letting her choose her items to putting fancy gourmand-worthy dishes in her box.  Below are some suggestions (all are nut-free) that have worked in our family, and some are borrowed techniques from other frustrated parents. Remember don't overwhelm children with too many options.  They do better with fewer choices and it can help limit the fussiness and waste.

  •  Soups tend to work well.  But, it is important to consider "fragrance."  While a simple chicken vegetable soup will not likely evoke comments from fellow classmates, anything with curry or even a lentil soup will.   
  • Children love carbs.  Buy some quality cheese tortellini and boil in stock (chicken or vegetable, see previous post for recipe) in the morning before school. Add in peas during the last 2 minutes of cooking.  Put this delicious treat in a small thermos. You can even put some in a larger thermos for your lunch!
  • Another pasta idea:  there are some easy to make boxed Mac and Cheese products that can be prepared in the morning and placed in a thermos.  Amy's (brand) and Back to Nature (brand) have great organic products that our daughter frequently requests. These boxes are fairly inexpensive too!
  • Hard boiled eggs are an excellent source of protein, but not that presentable.  So cut them up with an egg slicer or make them into silly shapes.

The entire PACKiT lunch box is put in the freezer overnight and the contents remain cold for many hours during the school day.  While it is very popular (with millions in sales), I am not a fan.  Frankly, I would rather have a lunch box that keeps food hot!

  • Cut bread into interesting designs for sandwiches.  And mix up the protein -- lately fresh mozzarella has been the cheese of choice in our house.
  • After your children discover they don't like sandwiches any longer, simply deconstruct it by separating the bread from the protein.  This also helps prevent the dreaded soggy bread syndrome. Also, try small pieces of meat, cheese, even beans, separate or mixed.
  • Always include something you know your child enjoys.  Our daughter fancies organic fruit gummies, or a nutritious granola bar.  Stonyfield (brand) makes organic yogurt squeezers -- these always get eaten, and have lasted the test of time. 
  • Create a surprise container.  Everyday, surprise your child with a treat.  Newman's Own (brand) makes sensible snacks.  Also Zen (brand) makes organic pudding made with almond milk.
It's tempting, but don't do it!! There is little value added in putting junk food in the lunch. High calories are not the answer and high sugar will only result in sluggish behavior later in the day.
  • If your child is reading, place a little note into the lunch box.  Make sure this note refers to something in the lunchbox. For example: Guess what I packed in here today?? Enjoy! Love, Daddy!
  • Our daughter has always had a taste for carrots and celery sticks in her lunch. But this does not seem to be the case for most kids.  While raisons alone are a sensible lunch item, grated carrots mixed with raisons are even better.
  • Rice balls -- simple, gluten free and delicious.  Use leftover rice from dinner and shape it into balls.  Kids love them!
  • Pancake roll-ups filled with a favorite fruit also work well.  Use the leftover pancakes that you cooked over the weekend.
  • Sushi Rolls were a huge hit in our house for a while.  Try Cucumber or Avocado Rolls, also smoked salmon with cream cheese was popular-- lots of protein too.
Takenaka makes a perfect container for someone who enjoys sushi...
...it has many compartments and even comes with chop sticks

  • Seaweed snacks worked well in our family, especially since many other kids had them in their lunch box.  Unfortunately, they have worn out their welcome, for now...
  • Children adore rainbows.  Organize the lunch box (and children can help with this) with the different ROY G BIV colors.  You'll be surprised how well this works, especially for pre-schoolers.
  • Jello is an age-old treat!  And now there are some tasty organic varieties.
  • Beverages -- water, water, water.  We switched from juice to water early on by allowing our daughter to pick out her own water bottle.  Now, she insists on using it. But, if possible, try to keep the beverage separate from the lunch box so they don't fill up on it,  or encourage kids to  eat a certain number of bites before taking a drink.

Wouldn't you say it's a fairly nice collection of lunch containers!  We'll try anything!

  • Be sure to include fruit everyday.  Apple or peach slices are standardly well received by most kids, as are blueberries, grapes and strawberries. Avoid bananas,  they tend to be malodorous and can overpower the container (and classroom).  Don't be afraid to venture out with less traditional fruits, such as mango, guava or papaya. 
  • On Fridays, cut up a piece of pizza. It's simple and you know they will eat it!

I would be happy to share some links here on more lunch box ideas, but there don't seem to be that many out there.  So I hope this helped!

Here is an article on the importance of routines:


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