I know this may be coming a little late in the school year, but it took me 7 months to figure this out and I can’t hold back any more – I have cracked the school lunch code! And by that I mean, I’ve figured out how to make school lunches that are both healthy and actually get eaten by my kids.
To be honest, my kids are REALLY HUNGRY and will eat most anything I put in their lunchbox. So that makes it easier. But the point is that I’ve got it figured out and you can do it too.
The key is to use food groups to both vary what the kids have for lunch every day and to make your life easier by adding consistency to the shopping and planning lists. Sounds weird right? It’s not.
First choose five main dishes. Here is a list of what I typically pick from:
- Mac & Cheese
- Mini sandwiches
- Pasta with Parmesan cheese
- Pizza Lunchables
Now choose either a fruit or a vegetable:
- Baby carrots
- Sliced apples
- Strawberries or blueberries
- Fruit Cocktail
- Pears (canned)
- Mandarin oranges
- Steamed broccoli
- (Add in whatever other veggies your kids like or are in season.)
Now, choose two snacks or side dishes for each day. You’ll need a bigger list of available items to choose from here:
- Ritz crackers
- Potato chips
- Granola bars
- Graham crackers
- Chips & salsa
- Lance crackers
- Wheat thins
- K Bars or Cliff bars
Finally, add in a dessert item – something they really like:
- Swiss cake rolls
Now that you have your food groups listed out, each morning you will choose from each category to put the lunches together. It creates an unlimited number of combinations, and it’s adjustable to whatever you have in the house. You can certainly repeat things during the week, if there is a favorite snack.
Every day when I make lunch, I cross off the items that I included, so that I won’t use them again.
Of course some weeks we have to repeat items, but usually the girls don’t mind. I ask them questions every week or so about what they liked/didn’t like to make sure I’m giving them things they want to eat. And if I see something come home a couple of times without it being eaten, I definitely ask about that. But usually it’s because they didn’t have time to finish all their food.
I mentioned earlier that my kids are VERY HUNGRY. If you have the same problem – either because you have boys, or student athletes, or just hungry kids – my recommendation is to give them both a fruit AND a vegetable. That way they’re getting more food, but not more junk food or dessert. And on days when they’ll have to stay after school for a meeting or practice, throwing in some extra cookies or fruit snacks is a good idea, too.
The added bonus to this system is that it’s easier to shop for lunch supplies. I just transfer the items I’m out of to my grocery list every week. And you can stock up on certain items when they’re on sale.
I’d love to hear how you plan your meals, so let me know what you do and what your kids’ favorite school lunches are! I’ll also be posting some blogs about the lunches I pack, so you can see how it comes together.