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.
- 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”
- 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.