If you’re like me, your school lunch game starts strong. But slowly it loses its shine until you’re packing the same foods every week. And then come the groans and disapproving looks from your children. Don’t beat yourself up, though. Trying to provide something special five days a week for several months is tough! I can’t promise you a smooth school year ahead, unfortunately. But I can give you some ideas to help make prepping and packing school lunch a little easier.
School lunch blueprint
Here’s my simple formula:
- Sandwich, salad, or other “main”
- Serving of fruit or vegetables
- “Crunchy snack”
- Guiding Stars earning juice box or an 8-ounce seltzer (or water bottle)
Using this blueprint, it’s easy to craft “all-star” lunches (and get fewer eye rolls). I also like this straightforward method because it streamlines planning and preparing.
Deconstructed dinner = constructed lunch
In past posts, I’ve described deconstructed dinners. This strategy allows you to assemble the pieces of a balanced meal without actually making dinner. It’s a weeknight timesaver I couldn’t live without, and a key to unlocking easy lunches. The night before, the components of our deconstructed dinner are available on my counter. Then I simply assemble lunches using the same building blocks. This leads to satisfying salads, chilled grain or pasta bowls, and unique sandwiches.
Guiding Stars snacks
Folks are often surprised to see that chips and other bagged snacks earn Guiding Stars. But remember, Guiding Stars ratings are designed to help you make good choices within the category. To earn stars, snack foods are generally made with vegetable oils and less salt and/or other attributes to limit for good health. Combined with a balanced lunch, these snacks are likely just what your children are looking for to complete their meal. It’s also helpful when children recognize them as “school snacks” to encourage other choices when they’re home.
Raise the bar
If you prefer bars to round out a meal, there are several Guiding Stars earning products to choose from. For smaller children, I recommend choosing a “mini” option. You can also make your own if you have the time. This enables you to select the ingredients, control the portion size, and likely save money too. Choose a day to prepare, slice, and freeze the bars, then defrost overnight as you need them. Do your children typically eat more than once while at school? If so, homemade bars can also be a satisfying snack on their own.
Sure, you can pack some sliced vegetables. As part of a simple lunch, your children may eat them (especially if they’re hungry!). However, if you want to be sure your kids eat their veggies, make them an essential part of the meal. Fill mini bell peppers with chicken salad or vegetarian edamame salad. Scoop out the seeds of small cucumbers to create “boats.” Include thinly sliced veggies on a sandwich or in a traditional wrap—so simple! Or skip the bread altogether and replace it with bibb lettuce.
Not your mother’s PB&J
Do your children ask for a PB&J or lunch meat sandwich every day? If so, you can still make small changes to boost the nutritional value. Start with whole grain bread, pita bread, or a wrap. Then think about small shifts you can make. For example, this PB&J passes on the jelly, but adds a serving of fruit instead. Trying to make a simple lunch meat sandwich more healthy? Add sliced avocado, or replace mayo with Guiding Stars earning hummus.
Guiding Stars beverages
Many children consume beverages with added sugar, artificial colors, and other attributes we’re trying to limit or avoid. However, there are Guiding Stars earning drinks that offer “good, better, and best” nutritional value for our kids. These options ensure you’re giving your children beverages that are lower in sugar and made with 100% fruit juice. Include one in their lunch box along with a water bottle to sip from throughout the day.