This year I am trying to make the boys’ lunches more interesting and fun while maintaining a degree of health and nutrition. I absolutely love all the great bento lunch ideas I see all over the net, and even though my kids are (almost) 12 and 16, they can still appreciate and tote gourmet lunches in school without feeling like a little kid.
My lunch ideas are not all that original so I’m sure you’ve seen a million other blogs posting lunch box ideas. But I will say this- if you haven’t gotten on the bento wagon yet all it takes is a little bit of prep time and you can do it. Here are a few tips for preparing and packing awesome lunches for anyone in your family.
1) Cook extra at dinner and use leftovers for lunch. This could mean extra rice or potatoes or pasta, which you could make salads from, or extra meat. I like to cook extra chicken to make chicken salad with.
2) Get the kids involved. Number One is easy to please so I just ask him what he’s in the mood for (I don’t always pack the same thing for the boys), but for Number Two it’s best if he’s got an interest in what’s coming in his lunch box. Some things I know he’ll like, other things I know he’ll like more if he helps prepare it. I also ask him ahead of time what he’d like the next day (if there are options. If not I just go by the meal plan.)
3. Skip “kid” foods. There is no such thing when looking at your grocers options in terms of nutrition. I’m talking about Lunchables (you can easily make your own), Crustables, and pudding cups, etc. These conveniences are the absolute worst things you could be feeding your kids. Give them real food. They will eat it.
4. Pick your battles. If your child says he/she didn’t like something you packed, trust them and move on. I love the idea of my kid happily munching away on bell pepper sticks at lunch, but I know that’s not going to happen. It’s better to save the veggie battle for dinner time when you can be there to model good eating habits and encouragement.
5. You might get “But he gets lunches like….” complaining. Just stick with your plan, use the great lunchbox ideas that are everywhere, and get your kid(s) involved. You’ll see the struggle wane soon enough when your child realizes that other kids want what he’s got.
6. Menu plan. If you work outside the home this may seem like extra work for you, and I agree. But in the event you are planning your dinners already (as you should be. Trust me, your life will get so much easier!) it really won’t take too much extra time to plan a few extra things. This could include baking a batch of muffins or breakfast cookies while you’re already in the kitchen preparing a meal, or perhaps just taking a little time over the weekend to prepare and freeze some things. Other things like wraps, veggies, fruit, chips, and trail mix can be pre-bagged for the week ahead so they’re all ready to go.
Ready for the pizza sushi? I adapted this idea found in a Rachael Ray magazine, as well as many of the tips above. It’s a fun lunch for the kiddos and super easy to prepare. Below is also a few options for mixing and matching simple roll-ups and dips.
6 inch tortillas
marinara or pizza sauce
Other options: Mozzarella cheese, roasted red pepper, olives, etc.
Assembly is pretty basic. Just spread the desired amount of cream cheese onto the tortilla (you can even mix a bit of ranch mix into the cream cheese!) and top with pepperoni slices and anything else you’d like. Roll it up and slice into even sizes. Pack it up in your lunch box with a smaller container of dipping sauce on the side.
Other roll-up options: Really, you can take any kind of sandwich concept and put into a roll-up- though I usually leave out the condiments because I’ll put a dipper on the side. You see it all the time now with all the wrap options offered in restaurants. For example, Number One isn’t going to want pizza sushi in his lunch so he gets a more manly wrap with hummus, lettuce, roast beef, turkey meat, and two kinds of cheeses. Also I use a larger tortilla for those kinds of sammies. Number Two likes all kinds of roll-ups so I can take any kind of meat and cheese combo and simply roll it up, and either leave it whole or cut into sushi-style pieces. He likes the smaller pieces best so he can dip them into ranch, honey mustard, salsa, pizza sauce, etc.
I especially love the all natural-nitrate free bologna from Trader Joe’s.
Lunch box sides: One of Two’s favorite things to snack on are carrot sticks dipped in peanut butter. Now you can buy easy to pack peanut butter to go cups. They are single serving size and perfect for lunches. Even better now is an all natural option. So to round out a healthy lunch I like to add carrots or snap peas, grapes, blueberries, or some other fruit or veggie I know he likes and maybe add a dip if there’s one that’ll go with it well. Dips include hummus, ranch, peanut butter, or chocolate flavored peanut butter (those are available in single size too). Other sides can simply be a pickle or some olives. Whatever you like- there are no limits.
Additional dip options are salsa, ketchup, soy sauce, BBQ sauce, pizza sauce, or any kind of dressing.
Another option are salads such as pasta or potato. Number Two has a thermos and likes to have macaroni and cheese sometimes. I buy Annie’s organic microwaveable single serving mac & cheese and just whip it up real quick and put it in the thermos. Lunch is ready in three minutes!
Lastly are the “chips” and “desserts”. This doesn’t mean I include something from every category in every lunch. It really just depends on what I’m packing for that day. But these are some other things I will put in their lunches because sometimes you really want the crunch of a chip. I don’t buy regular chips because personally I think they’re junk, but I do buy and eat pita chips (Stacy’s naked chips are awesome and go great with my hummus!), corn tortilla chips, pretzels, pretzel chips, Veggie Smart chips and straws, and popcorn chips. Also making your own crackers is super easy (I’ll be posting a recipe soon), and it’s way better alternative to buying prepackaged crackers that are full of chemicals.
I know it was a long post- I hope you read through it all and enjoyed it anyway. Stay tuned for my healthy, energy-packed trail mix! It’s a perfect addition for any lunch box, picnic, or snack 🙂
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