Packing school lunches from home can be a lot of fun, much less expensive and a whole lot healthier than their purchased counterparts. You just have to think outside the lunchbox.
You don't have to rely on the traditional sandwich, prepackaged chips, and sugary snack desserts or the tiny tubs of fruit. With a little imagination, your kids' lunches can be the envy of their classmates.
Here are some hints on making them fun, creative and healthy. And they are quick and easy to prepare.
The first step is to be container-prepared. Go to the local dollar store and purchase an assortment of plastic containers with lids that fit tight. Also look for re-freezable cold packs to keep things cool.
Spend an hour on the weekend preparing veggies and store in quart jars (produce keeps longer in them). Have a jar of celery sticks, baby carrots, broccoli and cauliflower florets, zucchini spears, cucumber slices, and the like.
Many leftovers make great lunches: pasta salad, meatloaf, baked beans, etc.
Pack whole fruits rather than the little tubs of fruit in syrup or juice. Put foil on the stems of bananas to keep them fresh longer. Oranges, pears, apples, grapefruit, grapes, pineapple spears, melon balls are all better options.
Remember your food pyramid and give children two to three daily servings of veggies and fruits.
Popcorn is a nice alternative to chips.
Try to avoid sugary juices. Pack a frozen water bottle, instead. Put it in the lunch box frozen and it will keep things fresh.
Rather than sandwiches, pack a little chicken salad, tuna salad, or egg salad in a container with a fork. Line the container with lettuce leaves. Or, pack the salad into a tomato, pepper, or cabbage leaf. Throw some fruits and veggies into the salads for color and flavor. I love grapes, dried cranberries, pecans, and pineapple in my chicken salad.
Boiled eggs are a great source of protein and only cost about 15 cents per serving.
Nuts, homemade trail mix or granola are a nice addition.
If making sandwiches, switch it up and make them interesting by using wraps, bagels, English muffins, or pita bread. Don't forget the veggies on the sandwiches. Load up with leaf lettuce, field greens, spinach, tomatoes, onions, pickles and banana peppers.
Hummus is a yummy treat to dip veggies in and a good source of protein. It is easy to make.
Make a fruit and cheese tray with chunks of cheese, grapes, and some whole grain crackers.
On cold winter days, a thermos of warm soup or stew really hits the spot. You can also fill that small thermos with spaghetti, fried rice, baked beans and a variety of other warm entrees.
Variety is the spice of life. Throw in some colorful fun foods like olives, baby gherkins, cherry tomatoes, raisins or other dried fruit.
Make up a batch of healthy, whole grain cookies with fruits and nuts. These keep well in the freezer. Place two or three cookies in a snack-sized bag, and toss them in their lunch.
Empower your kids to make their own choices and lunches by giving them a chart to choose from on the refrigerator door. They can choose two-three fruits and veggies, one protein, one bread, one dairy, one sweet snack, or any configuration you want. Then have the options ready to go in the fridge so that they can just grab, pack and go. Or, have them make their sandwiches or lunches the night before as an evening, pre-bedtime chore.
For little ones, you can clean and re-use a cardboard egg carton. Kids love the variety. Line the little cups with foil or plastic wrap, then fill with raisins, nuts, cheese cubes, pretzels, grapes, ham chunks, ranch dressing, hummus, baby carrots, small celery spears, pickles, olives or almonds. Use your imagination. Then, your child opens a colorful container with a variety of finger foods. Let them decorate their carton. It's like a little treasure chest. Just make certain to line the cups fresh each time.
Go crazy with homemade muffins. Use whole grain flour and let them toss in the extras: blueberries, dried cranberries, walnut, pecans, pineapple chunks or diced apples. Don't forget the spices. Cinnamon helps level out blood sugar.
There are lots of Pinterest boards and websites that demonstrate really fun and creative ways to put foods together to make them into animals or sceneries. Become the healthy food Picasso of your home.
Packing lunches from home is generally healthier than purchasing lunch at school or work. You have control over what your kids are eating, they have more choices, and it is usually less expensive. The most important thing is you know what's going into their little bodies.