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5 Tips for Packing Simple, Healthy School Lunches that Your Child Will Love

ple tips to help you confidently build nutritious, balanced, school friendly lunches your kids will enjoy.
5 Tips for Packing Simple, Healthy School Lunches that Your Child Will Love.

Can you believe it's already back to school? Where did the summer go? A part of me is definitely ready for the kids to go back to school so that we can have more routine and structure, sports and activities to go to, and all the feel-goods that autumn brings. But another part of me will miss the time we spent together this summer with everyone being home more, and also not being tied to such rigid (and often hectic) schedules.

And my head is spinning - there is so much to do before that first school bell rings!

Now that my kids are a little bit older (I have two now in elementary school), I am on a mission to become more organized so that we do have less stress and even 10-15 more minutes of free time in the day to take some time to decompress and just be present in the moment together.

And as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and mom of three, for me, that means starting with lunches! My school district doesn't have cafeterias, so, I will be packing lunches through Middle School. As a working mom, I've been doing the lunchbox grind since my first child was a baby in daycare. So, I know firsthand that the weekly grind of planning and packing school lunches gets tiring! I often find myself wondering: What do I pack? Will my child eat it? Is my child getting enough nutrition? Is it healthy enough? Will the teacher wonder why a Registered Dietitian is sending her son (a selective eater) in with [oreos AND fruit gummies]?

I made it my summer project to revamp my School Lunch Action Plan, which has been renamed to Ultimate School Lunch Planner: your complete blueprint for packing easy, healthy lunches every single school day!

I created it with my clients and audience in-mind, but I also created it for myself!

In this blog post, we will explore five strategies for successful back-to-school lunch prep. Using a template - like my Ultimate School Lunch Planner - is strategy #4, so be sure to download it (for free!) in addition to exploring the strategies (that work!) below.

What strategies work well for you? Is there anything new you plan to try this school year? Let me know in the comments or tag #fromthestartnutrition on social media!

I hope everyone has a happy and healthy first few weeks of school, and wish you lasting success all year long!

1. Involve Your Child

No matter your children's age, they can help at some level with meal prep and lunch packing. My kiddos especially love helping me to pick out their snacks and chop their fruit and veggies.

Kids love to participate in food prep. Whether it's cutting up ingredients, packing sections of their bento lunch boxes or stirring muffin batter, giving them some responsibilities will help your child to eat their meals if they’ve had a role in their creation! Research has shown that kids are also more likely to try new foods - even fruits and vegetables - if they’ve helped to prepare them.

2. Plan and Prep ahead

It is hard for any of us to make the best decisions when we’re tired or frazzled. Having a plan A and even a plan B helps to keep meals running smoothly, no matter how the day unfolds.

Using a meal plan as a guide, like my Customizable Family Meal Planner, can be REALLY helpful. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every meal on a meal plan but it can help to get started with preparing healthy meals the whole family can enjoy.

Wondering where to start? Select three dinners and a few snacks for each week of the month. Stick with it until you have a repertoire of at least 10 dinner meals you can put into rotation - this can take up to 4-6 weeks. Dinners such as soups, stews, and roasted proteins make excellent lunch box appearances when paired with non-prep items such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, and crackers.

It can be really helpful to have meals that you can depend on to be quick and delicious, without needing too much brain power. For example, Taco Tuesdays! Use the crockpot to cook your favorite taco filling and dinner will be mostly ready when you and your crew get home hungry. A few other ideas are breakfast for dinner, pizza Fridays and getting a rotisserie chicken on Mondays.

A few of my family favorite throw together recipes are:

Quick and Easy Sloppy Joes by The Kitchn

Kid Friendly Beef Bolognese

Sweet Potato and Chicken Soup

Plus, you can leverage dinner as lunch is to scale your recipes to ensure you have enough for lunch the next day. Also, pack lunches in the evening to avoid adding burden to your already busy morning schedule.

My favorite dinner leftover combinations for lunchboxes include:

● Shredded chicken tacos with salsa and prepared guacamole

● Vegetable chili with cheese and crackers

● Beef stew with rice

● Tofu or other protein kabobs with yogurt sauce

● Broccoli Cheddar soup with whole grain toast wedges

3. Batch your work

We talk about batching work with tasks at the office, but what about in the kitchen? Same time-saving principle applies!

For example, if your kiddos love smoothies for breakfast, batch your smoothie packs in cups or bags in the freezer so that breakfast is as simple as dumping the ingredients into the blender and adding their favorite milk or juice to blend.

Or - if your child loves having crunchy red bell pepper sticks in their lunch, don’t cut up a new pepper each and every night. Once or twice a week, cut up bell peppers (or have your kiddo do it!) and store them in baggies that are ready to toss into the lunch box. Or store all of the sliced peppers in a container so that packing their bento lunch box is that much faster.

And if you know that you’re cooking two different dinners that call for chopped onions and celery, chop up enough veggies for both dinners. You’ll be thankful for less chopping when the time comes to cook the second recipe!

4. Use a Template

How else can we reduce your mental load? Follow a template whenever you can!

Download my FREE Ultimate School Lunch Planner. This simple 5-step guide is your complete blueprint for packing easy, healthy lunches every single school day!

While not necessary to use, Bento Boxes are a great tool for packing lunches - and many kids enjoy using them. If you follow me on social media, you know that my family loves using bento boxes. These are our current favorites:

One trick I find helpful is to assign a food group to each section. Such as: whole grains go on the left, fruits below, a protein on the right, and so on. Discuss what “counts” for each section of their lunch and brainstorm choices that fit into each category. From there, your child can pack their lunch with less input from you. My Ultimate School Lunch Planner contains all you need to know about using food groups to build a healthy lunch box!

5. Give Yourself Grace

Oftentimes we simply need to change our expectations. Choosing progress over perfection is the key to success, especially when it comes to food and nutrition. When your circumstances change, so too does your patience and bandwidth. This is completely normal! This school year, remember to be gentle with yourself. If you have more activities to attend and more to-dos each day, it is reasonable to look for ways to simplify and delegate. You do not have to do everything yourself, or create meals in the same way as when you have more time. You can have a happy and healthy family, even with a few shortcuts, and even with a few (or many) not-so-perfect lunchboxes.

Key takeaways:

Change always comes with a bit of stress, and back-to-school is full of changes! Be patient with yourself and your family as you establish new routines. Consider what steps you need to take to ensure that you’re eating the meals that help you to thrive. Plan ahead and don’t forget to make that plan B!

Be sure to download my FREE Ultimate School Lunch Planner. This simple 5-step guide will help you confidently build nutritious, balanced, school friendly lunches that your kids will love!

I created this simple 5-step guide to streamline the ins-and-outs of what makes a healthy school lunch, and how to put that knowledge into action. I keep this guide in my kitchen and pull it out whenever I need reminders and inspiration! Adapt the ideas in this guide based on your child's unique nutritional needs and food preferences, as well as your school's food requirements. Enjoy!


Thanks for Visiting My Blog!

Hi! I’m Beth Conlon, PhD, MS, RDN

I'm so glad you stopped by my blog! I'm on a mission to help children, adolescents, and adults overcome feeding and/or eating issues so that they can achieve good nutrition, reclaim mealtimes, and develop a positive relationship with food and body.

If you want to learn more about my 1:1 and group services, or consulting opportunities (including writing, speaking, and research), get in touch! Contact | Welcome to FTSN!

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