When my daughter was little, I was determined to be supermom at packing nutritious, healthy lunches. Each summer I resolved to plan ahead and make it interesting so nothing would go uneaten. Sadly, this resolution seemed to fall by the wayside when school actually started and life got busier.
If this sounds familiar, part of the problem may be that you’re not really sure how to make healthy, delicious lunches your kids will eat. I’ll share a few common mistakes moms can make when creating lunches.
1. There’s No Variety
One of the easiest ways to ensure good nutrition is to provide a variety of foods. In the fruit and veggie world, different colors mean different nutrients so if you pack blueberries, red pepper slices and a green avocado, you can be sure of an array of vitamins and minerals.
Or try a green salad, carrots, blackberries and grape tomatoes…
…red apples, carrots, red, yellow and orange bell peppers, and cucumbers – you get the idea.
Also be sure to mix it up in terms of food groups including proteins, fruits & vegetables, and whole grains.
Some lunchbox gems are:
- kale chips
- hard-boiled eggs
- grape tomatoes
- sliced apples with almond butter (if there is not a nut restriction)
- cubed chicken
- cubed raw, grass-fed cheese
- sugar snap peas
- avocado & cucumber sushi rolls.
2. There’s no Fun!
With kids, most of it is about presentation. Out there in the real world, your little ones are constantly tempted and enticed by junk food. In order to compete with the flashy packaging and kid-centered marketing, you need to cute things up!
Start with a great lunchbox (like the Laptop Lunchbox or another bento-style) and then use craft supplies, cookie cutters, cloth napkins, flowers, toothpicks, stickers, and a personalized note from mom to make lunch feel interesting, fun, and full of love.
Shapes matter! Buy some cookie cutters and use them for sandwiches, breads and pizzas. Or, even better—buy some fruit cutters for star-shaped apple pieces!
Also, children like things that are bite-sized so cubing things or making them “mini” will make them more appealing. Some good candidates for cubes are:
- Rotisserie chicken
- Melon (with the right hardware, these can also be made into balls)
And there’s always a “mini” possibility when making your own healthy muffins or sandwiches.
3. It Comes with Labels
Unfortunately, the processed foods that come in single-serve, pre-packaged containers are usually the worst foods for your kids. The best foods are the ones that come without labels like veggies, fruits and meats.
Food that’s highly processed and full of ingredients like dyes and sweeteners is far too over-stimulating for children’s brains and bodies. It doesn’t support them in thinking, learning, absorbing information or focusing in school.
It’s true that these days you can find healthy packaged food but it’s more expensive and you have to be really savvy when reading labels.
If you do buy prepackaged food, make sure to check the label and avoid foods where sugar is the first, second or even third ingredient.
And remember that sugar wears many disguises. Obviously look for anything with the word “sugar”, but also avoid:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (the worst!)
- Artificial Sweeteners (aspartame)
Those are just fancy names for processed sugar or chemicals.
4. You Forgot to add a Drink
If you send your little guys to school without a drink, chances are they’ll find one and it might be a soda or another sugary drink.
So here are some yummy, healthy alternatives…
Water…this is the healthiest drink and kids need to drink plenty of pure water throughout the day. If your child doesn’t drink enough water, perhaps you can make it more interesting.
Cut up your child’s favorite fruit and toss it into a pitcher of filtered water. You can also add some herbs. This is a really easy way to get some flavors into water without sugar. It is also refreshing, looks really pretty and can always be a different combination depending on what fresh herbs and fruits you have handy.
Put the pitcher in the fridge and re-fill it a few times as your kids drink the water (just make sure you throw the fruit away after three days or before it starts to gets funky). Some good combos for fruit water are:
- Orange basil
- Lemon balm & peach
- Lavender lemon
- Watermelon mint
5. Not Knowing What Your Kids Will Eat
It’s easier if your kids will eat a variety of foods. If not, it gets a little trickier. Ask them what healthy foods they want to eat for lunch. You may be surprised when you learn some of the foods they will actually eat but you’ve never thought of trying. Make suggestions, brainstorm with them, and pack the healthiest things that you can come up with together. Have them help you choose what to buy for that week so they feel more empowered and at choice. Have them pack their own lunch with foods from your brainstorming session.
Most importantly, do what works best for your individual child. The cut-outs and other cutsy things will only work until they’re a certain age. Older kids might not be caught dead with a lunch like that.
Prepare the lunch in a way you know they’ll be more likely to eat it. If you know he’ll eat the apple only if cut up, then it makes sense to take the time to do that. Put the blueberries in a container she likes. Put his water in the bottle that looks cool. Try to prepare things ahead of time. You can even use leftovers from your child’s favorite dinner the night before.
It’s also important to explain to your kids why you put certain things in their lunches. “These are the foods that will help you feel good”. “This will make you smarter”. This will make you better in sports.”
You can continually adjust what goes into the lunch based on what you see is working. Even if most or all of the healthy lunch comes back uneaten, it’s worth the effort to keep trying. And let go of trying to be the supermom of healthy lunches. No one can live up to that. Just do the best you can.
We know that the lunchtime rush can be a stressful, guilt-inducing time for parents but if you keep these tips in mind when packing lunches, you’ll be sure to improve one of your most important mommy jobs – “Provider of Sustenance”.