The ulimtate school lunch box strategy for busy moms [Updated]
After 5 months of NO school (thanks lockdown) with 4 kids at home, school lunch doesn’t scare me (yet.)
But, I’ve forgotten what goes into a school lunch, and how to prepare easy, nourishing & quick snacks for my kids.
It’s no joke, especially if you have a few children with different likes and dislikes.
Moms panic about school lunches because they
a. Don’t have a strategy
b. Aim for unrealistic ideas
There are amazing ideas on the internet, but a lot of them say things like “bake your own rolled-oats peanut butter bars and freeze”.
Um, not for me. The only baking I do is from a packet. So any lunch box ideas which require making anything different than what I already have in the house is useless to me.
If it can’t be found in my fridge, freezer or in my cupboard, it doesn’t work for me.
a. THE LUNCH BOX STRATEGY
Pack at least one of every food group.
Yup, that’s it. It’s helpful because you have a template of where to start, and can build on it. It’s a loose structure (some days you don’t have a vegetable and everyone survives) and helps create some order when you feel overwhelmed.
If your child has a long day, or is very active you can include a few of one food group.
Starch/ carb : 2 – 3 items
- bread, rolls, bagels, pita
- crackers / pretzels
- baby potatoes
Protein – at least 1 item
- tuna mayonnaise
- cold meat
- cubed yellow cheese
- boiled eggs
- peanut butter
- soya shnitzels
Fruit & Vegetables – 2 or more
If you cut up the veggies/fruit, there’s a 90% chance they will get eaten. If you don’t they will most likely come back untouched, or with one bite taken.
- cucumber slices
- carrot sticks
- baby tomatoes
- salad + dressing
Snack-type item – at least 1
(These are less nutrient-dense options which everyone defines differently. I include them because I want my daughter to feel normal and have no need to hanker (beg, steal, barter) after these foods because they are restricted. I advocate for balance, and if 90% of her lunch-box is nutrient-dense, then 10% of less nutritious food is no problem. There is nothing wrong with providing nutrient-dense options like wholewheat spelt muffins, as long as your child doesn’t feel deprived or “weird”.)
- a small chocolate
- a few sweets
- a piece of cake
b. EASY IDEAS FOR THE BUSIEST MOM
Remember: if it’s not in my fridge or cupboard or leftover from supper the night before, it can’t feature in the lunch-box. I am SO over googling these fancy ideas which I will never do.
1. BREAD/ STARCH
I am lucky that my Ella loves bread-types of food, so this an easy one.
- bread – rye, wholewheat, occasionally white
- pita bread (love these, I freeze them and defrost in the toaster for 30 seconds)
- french toast – my children love taking French toast to school, if I am making for breakfast I make extra. They don’t yet mind if it’s not hot.
- toasting sandwiches is delicious, even if they are eaten later at room temperature
- leftover pizza occasionally
Protein is super important as it adds “staying power” and slows the digestion of the bread/ carbs. Ella adores tuna, so she usually gets tuna mayonnaise + bread-type food every day. Other ideas we have used are boiled eggs and tuna rissoles from the bakery. Leftover chicken schnitzel would work too, but we never have leftovers of that, it gets eaten to the last crumb.
I keep this really simple, and it goes down well. I am lucky that Ella loves vegetables, and if she didn’t I may include less or leave it out altogether (exposure is important but throwing away the same food day after day is silly, so you can offer veggies at home if they are uneaten every single day in the lunch box)
- cucumber slices / sticks / baby cucumbers
- carrot sticks
- cherry tomatoes occasionally (they don’t seem to last well)
- sliced peppers (These don’t seem to keep so well through the day, so I usually leave them out)
- chopped salad if I have leftover or readymade
- half a boiled mielie (if leftover from dinner)
My plan this year is to send along a small container the size of salad dressing you get with takeaway food with a dip for these vegetables like cream cheese, hummus, or tuna mayonaise to add some extra nutrients and staying power.
This is the easiest; as well always have some sort of fruits in the fridge. More often than not I send sliced apples (sometimes with peanut butter to dip), but when I get my act together and have the time and inclination I pack
- orange wedges
- whole grapes
- strawberries (these get mushy sometimes though)
- sliced pineapple
- peach / nectarine
In summary, it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. As long as you pack enough and a variety of food groups, you have done YOUR job.
A few things:
If your child doesn’t eat, it’s not your responsibility. You may, however, want to check why. Maybe there is no time to eat, maybe his friends are pressuring him to come and play. There could be many reasons, but if all is well and your child doesn’t eat much at school, do not make an issue. They will make up for it at dinner and will eat what they need.
As your child gets older, encourage their feedback. What did they like? What didn’t they like? What do their friends get which they may like to eat?
The main goal is nourishment, not exposure. I’m all about exposing kids to all foods. It can take 1000s of times of seeing a food, before trying it and maybe liking it. But if your kid NEVER eats cheese, then don’t put it in the lunchbox, or put a small piece.
So there it is – a lunch box plan which actually works!