When I found out I would need to pack my daughter’s lunch for her new daycare, my first thought was, “Uhhh…say what now?” She was one. I don’t even remember if she had teeth. OK, she had a few but definitely not a mouthful. How was I going to pull together quick, healthy lunches that she would actually eat? I needed ideas. I needed inspiration. Fast.
A little history. I hate packing lunches. There was a time, before our daughter was born, when my husband and I tried to be responsible and listen to our financial advisor. We swore off going out to eat for lunch and planned for me to pack our lunches for work instead. It. Was. Hell. I remember waking up in the morning and just instantly regretting the stupid, stupid decision to be responsible. I even started to resent my husband’s need to eat lunch at all while I decided lunch wasn’t really that important to me and would just go without.
Here are a few things I need in the morning: coffee, quiet time, breathing room, and a hot shower. Things I don’t need: having to follow a recipe or plan and put together thoughtful, nutritious, balanced lunches that my husband and I could enjoy on our lunch breaks. Needless to say, we fell off the bring-lunch-from-home wagon pretty quickly.
Fast forward to the present. I had to pack my daughter’s lunch for daycare and I could not phone it in. Other people would be paying attention this time. Her school even had a separate printout dedicated to the art of packing my child’s lunch. She needed a protein, a veggie and/or fruit, and a grain for every meal. I was a new mom with something to prove. And where do new moms go when they need inspiration? Pinterest.
My Pinterest app used to be full of beautiful outfits I would never wear, complicated nail art I would never get and crazy expensive office merch I would never buy. Now, I have boards for entertaining a toddler during rainy days and clothes that hide tummies. But my most dedicated board is none other than easy lunch ideas for kids; specifically, school lunch ideas for the magical invention that is the bento box. Now, because of Pinterest, a trusty purchase and very simple planning, I don’t dread packing lunch. I actually aspire to make lunches for my daughter that I am jealous of and want to eat myself. Below are a few tips that will make packing your kid’s lunch an easy joy instead of a dreaded task.
Step one. BUY A BENTO BOX (basically a super practical lunch box). I am a visual person. I also love organizing things into neat little compartments. Yes, this is not great when trying to deal with large emotional breakthroughs, or so says my therapist, but it is great when trying to plan a meal. There are tons of options online, especially on Amazon. Just search “kids bento box” and peruse the endless options. What you are looking for is a hard container with three to four individual compartments that will hold child-sized portions for a balanced meal. It helps to get one that comes with a soft cover with a handle for ease while traveling.
Step two. BRAINSTORM. Make a general list of what you want to include in the lunch. I follow what my daughter’s daycare laid out — a protein (whether a hard-boiled egg or chicken salad or even Greek yogurt or peanut butter), a fresh fruit / veggie, and a grain. Then, take a minute to jot down all the proteins, fresh fruit, veggies, and grains (yes, a toritlla counts!) your child enjoys. This is also when starting a Pinterest board for kid lunch ideas comes into play. There are countless ideas and combinations that will inspire you. Cucumber and grapes and tomatoes; brie, crackers and hummus or peanut butter and carrots; and avocado and yogurt? Yes please! It also helps to see the lunches laid out before they go into the lunchbox. Everything is so simple, yet beautiful and vibrant.
Step three. RELAX. Remember, you do not have to throw together elaborate meals or a gourmet salad or sandwich on fancy bread every day to impress … who? Your kid who eats floor pretzels? You just need to make sure they have a yummy, balanced meal that includes food they will actually eat. And that is the beauty of the bento box. It is not meant to hold crazy, complicated sandwiches or Instagram-worthy overnight oats. It’s designed for whole foods that go well together in an easy school lunch.
Meaning, wait for it, you don’t actually have to make anything. You can even do simple prep work to make things even easier for you in the morning, like cut up chicken, fruits, veggies and cheese (or even a cheese stick) the night before. When I realized I didn’t have to do any actual “cooking” to make healthy lunches, a whole new lunch world opened up for me. I actually enjoyed putting together my child’s lunch in the mornings. And, yes, I was even a little jealous.
Need some good lunch ideas for kids? Here are a few sample healthy lunches (some of which have no bread, for all you mamas who have gluten free kids!) I often make these — no recipe necessary — to guarantee my daughter's lunchbox will come home empty:
1) Fresh mozzarella (cut into slices or bite-size pieces)
Squeezie with fruits and veggies
2) Carving board turkey
Veggie sticks (carrots and cucumber) with hummus
3) Cut up chicken
4) Squeezie with Greek yogurt
Peanut butter crackers
Slices of avocado
Happy pinning. Happy packing.
Kate Mason is a certified life coach, specializing in the beautiful mess that is motherhood. You can check out her specialized coaching program, MOTHERLOADED, and get more information about Kate at KateMasonCoaching.com.
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