While not all kids and families will be returning to school this fall, some are. If your daily tasks include packing school lunch, you know it can get tiring to come up with ideas your kids will eat every day, while keeping it interesting, safe, and nutritious. Like any other meal you plan and prep for, school lunch must fit into a balanced day. There are a few common pitfalls many of us fall into when considering what our kids need packed in their lunch bag. Let’s avoid them together.
Pitfall #1: Snack Attack
Think about how you feed your child at home. Do you give them three snacks with their meal? If you don’t do it at home, you shouldn’t feel like you need to for their school lunch either. If your main meal is filling enough (read: offers some satisfying nutrition), all those snacks aren’t needed.
Pitfall #2: Just in Case
Right along with packing too many snacks are the “just in case” foods that get added to the lunch bag. I get it! We parents worry that our kids will be hungry. It’s unlikely that they will go hungry, but they will probably eat whatever you pack them, which means that they are more likely to overeat if you pack a “fall back meal.”
Pitfall #3: Got Veggies?
There are a few reasons we want to make sure we include veggies with lunch. Fresh veggies earn 2-3 Guiding Stars (which means they have, respectively, better and best nutritional value) and should make up about half of our plate. They’re so good for us, loaded with filling fiber (one of the nutrients that earns points for foods in the Guiding Stars algorithm), and readily round out a meal. Also, let’s be honest, some dinners don’t quite go the way we thought they would go (read: quick and at times imbalanced).
Pitfall #4: Mismatched Meal
If your child enjoys diced cheese and dried fruit more than a turkey sandwich, pass on the sandwich. Winning lunches match a child’s typical eating pattern. A mismatched meal can turn kids off, limit their intake, and lead to wasted food. Use bento boxes, small containers, sandwich wraps, and whatever else you need to make school lunch match their “at home” eating style. Check out the recipes in our “Kid Friendly” category for ideas for presenting foods in ways that appeal to many kids.
Pitfall #5: Unbalanced Day
Think about the whole day when planning the mid-day meal to create a perfectly balanced menu. For example, if breakfast was a bagel, and dinner will be pasta, a large bready sandwich isn’t the best lunch option. Likewise, when dinner will be pizza, a lunch loaded with veggies and lean protein is best.