Thinking Inside the Box: Ideas for packing healthy school lunches

My son, the Big Kid, stars second grade this year, which means I’m staring down another year of packing lunches for him that a) he will eat and b) will not make him yearn for the cafeteria’s tray lunches.

When he started kindergarten, I bought a couple of Laptop Lunchboxes and dedicated myself to packing a healthful lunch every single day because I had been reading way too much about the shoddy nutrition standards that inform today’s school lunches (and this was before the whole pink slime thing!); my research was inspired by Fed Up With Lunch, a blog that helped start a national conversation about the slop kids are fed at school by encouraging parents and educators to think critically about the quality of the food provided to children in school cafeterias and the messages we receive in the media about mass-produced food. (Seriously, who among us can eat a bunch of carbs and processed meats and cheeses at lunch and then go be focused and productive for the rest of the day?)

A lunch I packed for myself recently, with hummus, trail mix, rice crackers, veggie sticks, and cherries.

Over the course of that first year of kindergarten, I photographed my son’s lunches every morning and posted them to the Laptop Lunches flickr pool, where nearly 1500 members share their lunchbox ideas. It’s a great source of inspiration in the face of the challenge of packing balanced, healthy meals for a growing kid five days a week.

To that end, another enormously helpful source of ideas and inspiration is Wendelonia, a mom whose two lucky sons receive incredibly creative and nutritious lunches every single day. She has assembled a comprehensive list of lunch box ideas that you can download, print, and affix to the side of your fridge to guide you through your morning lunchbox ritual.Advertisement
A good rule of thumb when assembling a kid’s lunchbox (or your own, for that matter) is to remember the rainbow. Try to get as many different colors of food into the lunch as possible. For example, in my son’s lunchbox, one container will hold red grapes, another will hold green peas, the lidded container will hold yellow Annie’s mac and cheese, and the entree container will hold a couple of white boiled eggs. This approach ensures that your child is getting lots of vitamins and minerals from (mostly) clean, whole foods.

An attempt to replicate a Lunchable for the BK, with turkey and havarti, organic Ritz knockoffs, pickle slices, and applesauce.

Packing creative and healthy lunches can be easy and rewarding, especially when the lunchbox comes home empty (and think of food that comes home as feedback from your child that you might want to try something else more appealing). Don’t be intimidated by the folks who post pictures of intricate lunchbox tableaux depicting the Angry Birds at the Last Supper (trust me, they’re out there, and I admire their dedication and apparent wealth of free time). The main objective is to send your kids to school with healthy, nutritious food that they will look forward to eating, rather than longing for the slabs of plasticine pizza and synthetic cheese-sauce-drenched broccoli. Good luck and happy packing!

Written by Melanie Haupt

Catherine Prystup
About Catherine Prystup 2157 Articles
Catherine Prystup founded LiveMom.com out of a desire to build a better community for Austin-area moms. She has three children, ages seventeen, eight and three years old.

1 Comment on Thinking Inside the Box: Ideas for packing healthy school lunches

  1. Our biggest challenge is getting enough variety in there without breaking school rules. No nuts, plus nothing produced in anything short of sporting a label that says it’s from a nut-free facility. Further, since my daughter’s school rents space from a Synagogue, all pork products are strictly off-limits, which means no ham, no leftover pork chops (her preschool favourite), no bacon, nothing with any of those ingredients. And then on high holy days, no leavened bread.

    So with all peanut butters out, so many snacks off the list, and a significant source of meat disallowed, it’s infuriating when the teachers then nag us to put more protein in there. Gah, how many boiled eggs is a kid expected to tolerate before she gets sick of them? She’s not fond of deli chicken and also got sick of roast beef last year.

    We’ve got a laptop lunch too and I’ve been through their lists but it’s really hard to find healthy, high-protein stuff that’s allowed at the school, especially a few months in when the same stuff starts to get boring.

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