Packing Enjoyable School Lunches


Let’s start with a clear agreement here, packing school lunches is stressful! How could it not be? As noted in my previous blog you are dealing with an age group who have just learned to assert their independence through food. You have School Boards where some of childrens’ favourite proteins; peanut butter and tuna fish are banned. There is no refrigeration of the lunches in most schools and you have to compete with the paid lunch programs or pre-packed supermarket lunch snack packs which are really just junk food in disguise. If you’re not stressed given all of these factors then I want to be you. Things do get easier eventually as children will get to the stage of packing their own lunches and at that point you can set some ground rules around including fruit and vegetables, but leave most of the decision-making up to them. Until you get to that stage here are a few ideas.


Keeping Lunches Cold:    There are a lot of cute ice packs on the market in all different shapes and sizes. Put one in a Zip-top freezer bag before you add it to the lunch bag. When the ice pack thaws it will sweat and the sealed bag will stop it from wetting up the rest of the lunch. Keeping juice, milk cartons and yogurt cups in the freezer is another good alternative to the ice pack. They will thaw out throughout the day and provide a cold beverage/snack and a cooler lunch. Put them in a sealed bag too.


Keeping Lunches Hot:     Pasta in sauce, chicken fried rice and cream of tomato soup have all beenamong  my daughter’s favourite leftovers to put in a thermos for lunch the next day. We find the thermos’ that hold about 2 cups to be best and be prepared to try a different brand because we found foods tasted different at lunch time depending on the inside lining of the thermos. Metal and glass seemed to work better than the plastic lined ones.

Lunch 2Sandwiches:     These have a reputation for being boring which has always surprised me because the variations are limitless.

  • Breads: Sliced whole wheat, whole wheat that looks like white bread, sourdough, raisin bread, corn bread and rye bread
  • Buns: Bagels in all flavours, onion buns, crusty rolls, submarine buns and small dinner rolls. A couple of small sandwiches made on dinner rolls will go over well with younger children they seem to like the kid-sized look.
  • Wraps: Pita bread, flour tortillas, corn tortillas, Naan and Roti
  • Fillings:  Roast chicken sliced up, sliced turkey, sliced ham or roast beef  will all go over well if the child likes meats. Tuna and salmon if they will eat fish.
  • Fillings:  Cream cheese and avocado slices, peanut butter and jelly (if allowed), hummus and roast vegetables, cheese (shredded/sliced) and tomato for the vegetarian or vegetarian stage because many children go through a period when they do not want meats or poultry.
  • Toppings and Flavourings:  Mayonnaise, Mustard, Salsa, Chutneys, Relishes, Pesto and Ketchup (yes even Ketchup) can all add a burst of flavour to a sandwich along with the usual lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles. Keep a jar of caramelized onions in the fridge, it’s easy to make and gives whole new flavour to sandwiches, I will place a recipe under “featured recipes”

Lunch 3Thinking Outside the Sandwich Box:     If your child starts to complain about the sandwiches becoming boring try a deconstructed sandwich packed in a sealed container.

  • Line a box with a lettuce leaf, put a small bunch of grapes in the corner, and throw in a few portions of cheese, BabyBel, cheddar portions or brie portions. We found a brand called Coeur de Lion which is a mini ball of brie that is delicious. Add baby carrots or broccoli flowerets. Add a portion pack of salad dressing or put in a small container of dressing you have at home. Wrap a small buttered dinner roll and put into the lunch bag.
  • Or line the box with lettuce, cut a small avocado in half, leave it in the skin and squeeze some lime or lemon juice on top. Fill the rest of the box with vegetarian sushi, homemade or store brought and add a small container of salsa. Include a little bag of crackers, any brand your child likes.
  • A scoop of tuna, salmon or egg salad also works on a bed of lettuce with carrot, celery or apple sticks and cherry tomatoes. Try to always include a bag of crackers or a roll and whenever possible mustard, salsa or dressings.

Beverages:   Whatever the lunch is made up of include a beverage. Milk, juice, chocolate milk or water, frozen as mentioned above and try as long as you can to make it milk. From milk or yogurt children get calcium and vitamin D and far too many are missing out on these nutrients which help form strong bones and teeth.

And finally include a ‘treat’; we use cookies, muffins, puddings, iced cakes, those granola bars that are really just chocolate bars or candy. Don’t agonize about adding these less than nutritious foods, if it will help them to eat most of what is in the lunch bag and make the meal more enjoyable it’s well worth it. After all here is the dirty little secret of lunches…..….there is no guarantee it won’t end up in the garbage or traded for a bag of chips and some French fries from a friend’s lunch, so if the ‘treat’ increases your odds pick your battles!  For lots of good lunch ideas simply type in  “packed lunches” in an online search, your head will spin with ideas, lunch need never be boring.Lunch 1

Published by maisievanriel

Welcome to my website. My name is Maisie Vanriel and I am a Registered Dietitian. I am a graduate of The University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Food and Nutritional Science and a Diploma in Food Safety from the Guelph Food Technology Centre. I realized a few years ago that some of the best times I have had in my career as a Dietitian have been those times when I was writing. For many years I was part of the Editorial Advisory Board of Diabetes Dialogue Magazine (The Canadian Diabetes Association) which afforded me the opportunity to write articles and editorials on diabetes. I contributed to the first Ontario Healthy Eating Manual and recently reviewed the lesson plans in the updated version launched this March 2012. In May of 2011, I won the Toronto Star’s MoneyVille section Next Blogger’s contest beating out 265 other contestants for the chance to write on nutrition and sensible shopping. My winning Blog was entitled: 5 things your grocery store won’t tell you. Writing is one of my favourite ways of communicating and like cooking it relaxes me; so in some ways your allowing me to communicate with you will contribute to my health and I hope in return I can contribute to your health and wellbeing. The inspiration for this website is my grandmother who lived 97 years and enjoyed excellent health for almost all of those 97 years. She believed in healing power of herbs, a plant-based diet and in paying attention to the type of fuel (food) that she put in her body. So my postings will be less about the constant stream of research and studies around what and how to eat and more about reminding us that we have always known how to eat. We just need to get back in tune with our bodies and focus on providing it with the best possible fuel, quality foods.

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