As we near the end of summer, it’s time to get ready for another school year.  Days ago we were prepping for camp and packing swim bags, sports gear and camp junk. What many of us enjoy during the summer months is the freedom from packing lunches. Of course, if you’re like me with too many little ones, there is no break yet. But, for most of you out there, I have heard some relief – no more lunches for summer.

Not your typical lunch recommendation - hey, it was summer at Fenway!

Not your typical lunch recommendation - hey, it was summer at Fenway!

But as the school year approaches, once again is the time to ask the aged old question, what am I going to pack for lunch? Who says finding what to bag up for lunch is easy. It can get stressful. Well, maybe not that stressful – but it sure can be frustrating. To come up with new ideas and selections while limiting the same old picks isn’t always easy. Now most of us become creatures of habit (young and old) and don’t stray too far from the norm (eating the same breakfast day in and day out) but we do want some variety here and there. Making lunch healthy, taste great, and something to look forward to is fun for kids …..Adults too!

What can I pack my kids for lunch that they will eat? Not that easy to answer – tough even with my own kids. There is the option to buy school lunch, but many of us choose to send it from home. Whether you brown bag it, use a lunch box or tote it, it’s all about packing what they will eat. What do they like? What will they eat? How do they like there food served? Some basic questions that might help make the process of picking out lunch foods smoother. Perfect example is my son….. I packed a whole apple two days in a row for lunch (he loves them) but it kept coming back. I asked… ‘You don’t like apples?’ He told me that he liked them but didn’t eat it. The next day (determined to try again) I asked if he wanted me to cut it up. He said yes and he ate it that day. Sometimes it is the little things – like the way food is presented that works.

So let’s think out of the box. Keep these things in mind when packing that next lunch:

  1. Pack a Rainbow of Colors (studies show color increases consumption)
  2. Pick different Shapes or make shapes (cookie cutters for sandwiches, cool kitchen tools)
  3. Variety (the more the merrier)
  4. Cut Food up (kids eat more often when in bit size pieces)
  5. Pick a item from each Food Group (easy way to get the foods you need: veggie, fruit, grain,  protein, dairy)
  6. Let them help you pack (trust me, they will tell you if they don’t like the food – then you know they like what is packed)
  7. Portion it all out (portioned servings; keeps serving sizes in check)
  8. Go Green (pack in reusable containers; steel water bottles; etc.)
  9. Sneak in a small Treat (they will love you for it; bit size chocolate or cookie does the trick)

Now on to the big stuff you really want to know – what to pack. Pick a few items or combine and send them packing:

  1. Whole fruit, fruit cups and applesauce (in natural juice)
  2. Cut up carrots or any vegetable with side of dressing
  3. Peanut butter with some raisins or cut up apples
  4. Cheese sticks (low fat) or cut up cheese slices (do it yourself)
  5. Yogurt cups or yogurt on-the-go items (trick: freeze to keep them even colder)
  6. Cottage cheese cups (already portioned out)
  7. Sandwiches on whole grain bread, tortillas, pita pockets – tuna, egg salad, deli meat, pb&j (great sandwich cutters out there in shapes – just bought dinosaurs and hearts at Ross!)
  8. Think Meatless (Hummus or cheese on a tortilla; almond or apple butter on crackers)
  9. Bagels, waffles, pancakes (they aren’t just for breakfast)
  10. Roll ups – deli meat with cheese in the middle (alternative to a sandwich and kids love them)
  11. Chicken finger strips – cut up left over chicken (at dinner, make a few extra pieces and use next day)
  12. Pretzels, whole wheat crackers, rice cakes (we call them popcorn cakes), or baked tortilla chips
  13. Dried cereal/fruit mix (make your own -whole grain cereal mixed with dried fruit)
  14. Snack bars – avoid the hydrogenated oils
  15. Low fat pudding (yummy)
  16. Pizza slices – leftovers are great to pack (we all have eaten cold pizza at some point!)
  17. Homemade Lunchables – cut up chicken or roll up deli meat; add crackers; cut up cheese; and a piece of fruit and a bit size piece of dark chocolate!
  18. Water, water, water!

Final tip or suggestion – throw a note or message in the bag…….when it is made with love, it makes all the difference. The smile on their face is priceless!