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Get Real Resolution: Back to School Lunches

By Beth Bader | October 01, 2014
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September’s Real Food Resolution Challenge is “Pack Your Own!”

The school year starts every year just about the same time. You’d think by now I’d be more prepared for it! Nope. I’ve already forgotten back-to-school night, meet-and-greet night, school picture order, and activity registrations. It’s the second week of school.

My kid has already forgotten her lunch once, lost her lunch box once, and run her lunch account into a zero balance. She may have forgotten it on purpose. We moms get into lunch box ruts. It’s hard to be creative every single day and remember all that PTO stuff, too. We need help. Which is why September’s Real Food Resolution Challenge is “Pack Your Own!”

There are some rules and tips to this, but the goal is for the whole family to help with lunch box planning and packing for one month. Ready to rock the brown bag special? Let’s get packing.

1. Decide on the menus. There are some great lunch box recipes online and offline both. The idea here is to find recipes that everyone likes, that can be made ahead, and that work well for lunch boxes; that is, they can hold in a box with an ice pack and still be edible come noontime.


2. Keep a list of the recipes your family chooses. Each week select from the recipes, and plan the lunch menus together.


3. Prep a variety of fruits and veggies over the weekend to have ready-to-pack on weeknights. Peel and cut carrots, blanch and shock fresh green beans, cut red pepper strips, wash some berries or grapes. Keep the items in ready to pack containers in your fridge. Let kids choose from the prepped veggies and fruits to pack their own. The ready-to-eat healthy foods make for easy, healthy snack options, too.


4. Make-ahead mains keep things easy. Hard-boiled eggs, wraps, or cubed turkey and cheese chunks on toothpick skewers are some good ideas. You can also have soups, chili or spaghetti ready to heat and put in a thermos if your family gets bored with exclusively cold meals. These items keep for a few days in the fridge and can be ready to pack nightly.


5. With the items prepped and agreed upon, have the kids — not parents — pack lunches each night after dinner. Every lunch box needs to have a fruit, a vegetable, a whole grain, and a lean protein. Making kids pack meals themselves, or with help, is a great way to help them think about a balanced meal.


6. Vote on the menu weekly. Add seasonal items like applesauce in fall or fresh greens in spring. Try to change up at least a few items each month.


7. Think out-of-the-box, literally. Try to avoid the processed food trap disguised as convenience foods. With a little prep time and planning, healthy foods can be just as easy.

At the end of the month, what recipes worked? Did the shared effort make for better lunches and less waste? What tips saved time? What didn’t work? Let us know! We’ll be sharing some more favorite lunch box recipes for the month on The Cleaner Plate Club’s Facebook page.

Lunch Box Strategies

Use the right containers. Get the right containers, and packing lunches will be easier. Consider investing in a bento-style lunch box, with many small containers that fit together neatly. Sending hot lunches? Be sure to use microwave-safe containers or a good stainless steel thermos.

Plan for leftovers. Sometimes, a healthy lunch is as easy as setting aside a small amount of the previous night’s dinner. Make sure you set some aside before you sit down to the dinner table, so that it doesn’t all disappear.

Think small. Kids, especially younger children, love bite-size foods like mini-muffins and tiny sandwiches. Often children will eat the little version of something even though they might turn up their noses at the adult-size portion. And, they may be more likely to eat fruits and vegetables that have been pre-sliced.

Make it fun. For young children, consider making healthful sandwiches, and using a cookie cutter to turn them into stars, hearts, or other favorite shapes. Or include a toothpick to make eating grapes and cheese and meat cubes more fun.

Keep it colorful. Not only are children more attracted to fruits and vegetables of many colors, this colorful variety also ensures a wide range of healthful foods.

Let them pack it. Children are more likely to eat foods that they packed themselves. Offer a range of healthful choices, and then let them pack it themselves, providing helpful suggestions as they go.

Keep it safe. By the time your child eats lunch, it will have sat around for several hours. Keep hot foods hot with a thermos, and cold foods cold with ice packs.

Be realistic. You’ll be packing lunches daily for 200 days of the year. If you’re too ambitious, you’ll quickly burn out. It doesn’t have to be gourmet, simple and healthful is fine.

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