Building and Packing a Healthy School Lunch (ages 3-10)


Hey Parents! So you’ve had a little break from packing your kids’ school lunches… but admit it, you’ve kind of missed it, right? Yes? Just a little? Well… I’ll confess that I’m actually quite excited about getting into the school lunch packing routine again even though I’ve packed 3,510 (no joke!) school lunches for my kids over the years… and one of my kids isn’t even in kindergarten yet! So much lunch-packing fun still ahead over here chez Reilly.

In Episode 9 of the Delish and Healthyish Podcast, Corinne and I give our tips for packing healthy school lunches for younger kids. You can listen here:

Next week in Episode 10, we’ll tackle lunches for big kids and grown-ups. But first! Here are our tips for younger kid lunches summarized:

1. Bake something with your kids that shows up in their lunch. They’re more likely to eat it, love it, and brag about it. Stay tuned for our 3-Step Weekend Prep E-Guide for a scrumptious apple muffin recipe which fits perfectly into a healthy kid lunch.

2. Build lunches from the 5 categories: fruit, veggie, protein, carby-snack-granola bar-type thing, and dessert. Make a list of which foods fit into each category, paste the list on your kitchen wall, and let your kids choose or even make their own lunches with the 5 magical components. Here are some examples:

* Unsweetened applesauce (pre-packaged) + cherry tomatoes + PB&J half sandwich + mini chocolate cupcake (don’t forget the applesauce spoon!)

* Blueberries + baby carrots + hummus + crackers + 2 brownie bites

* Grapes + fresh green beans + Larabar mini + edamame beans + apple muffin

* Watermelon chunks + bell pepper slices + Kite Hill Greek yogurt + individual bag of Skinny Pop + small handful chocolate chips

3. Use containers that have multiple compartments with 1 lid and use silicone muffin cups to further divide the big sections. Avoid lots of little Tupperware in various sizes — tops get lost, they don’t stack well, and who has time to wash all those little pieces every night?! Here are our favorite containers:

Bento Lunch Box by Lucentee: 3 compartments; pack of 7 with different colored lids for $16; Beware that they are NOT leak proof, so only use packaged items or solid items in these. Medium-sized compartment fits an individual applesauce container. Size is 9” x 6” x 2” total.

Easy Lunch Boxes 4-compartment snack box: Meant for snacks, but perfect for preschool lunches. Pack of 4 containers for $13. Size is 6” x 6” x 2” total. Again not leak-proof, so contain yogurt or applesauce within the compartments or toss those in separately.

* Hot lunch 10-ounce Thermos. Use this when it’s cold out and you want to send something warm like lentil soup, veggie chili, mac and cheese, pasta or smart dogs. Then, toss additional lunch items in ziplocks or a smaller container.

4. Mass produce as much as possible on the weekends or Monday night. You can pre-chop veggies, make mini muffins or little cookies, portion out hummus into condiment containers, or my favorite mass production activity which is a 4-loaf-of-bread sandwich making undertaking and freezing them in half-sandwich portions. Use snack-size ziplocks and make a zillion peanut butter, sunflower seed butter, Don’t Go Nuts chocolate soybean spread, and cream cheese half sandwiches to freeze. Pull them out the morning of or night before–they only take about an hour to thaw out.

5. Send a sweet note in their lunchbox. If you don’t have time to write something, check out these cute notes to keep on hand.

And our best tip yet… get those lunches packed at night! This will free you up in the morning for a walk, or even just save you from screaming “WAIT!! I haven’t packed your lunch yet!!” Tune in next week for more tips for middle school, high school, and adult lunches.

In colorful lunches and of course BPA-free plastic,

Jen & Corinne

Product Review: Almond Milk with Added Protein

Ran into this Almond Plus single-serve almond milk by So Delicious at Whole Foods the other day and couldn’t resist the spontaneous purchase. Most non-dairy milks–except soymilk and to some degree oat milk–are devoid of protein, making them simply a great calcium and Vitamin D source, but a less-balanced addition to a meal. Ta da! So Delicious Inc. rocks the boat! Their new “Almond Plus” comes in Unsweetened (40 calories, 1 g carbohydrate, 5 g protein/ cup), Original (70 calories, 8 g carbs, 5 g protein), and Vanilla (70 calories, 8 g carbs, 5 g protein). Get it in the half-gallon or get the single-serve vanilla for lunches. The Vanilla is as you would expect: SO Delicious. And for the carb-conscious, it’s lower carb than skim milk and tastes like a milkshake. Magic! And btw, it has pea protein. That can only be good.

Look for it at your local Whole Foods Market or health food store. Bottom’s up!

Back to School: Bag Lunches for a Dietitian’s Kindergartner

Photo by: Ramesh NG

I have *just about* survived Week #1 of Kindergarten! My daughter is in an all-day Spanish immersion school, so not only are the all-day routines and riding the bus completely new experiences, but the whole day is in Spanish. And that’s not even the biggest deal! Eating lunch in a school cafeteria is a totally brand spankin’ new event.

Of course as the nutrition controller of the household, buying lunch at school isn’t an option despite the constant begging… “Just one day could I try the cheesy sticks, mini pizza, or milk in a cute pink carton? Pleeeeeze?”  So it took some creativity and dessert! to make the bagged lunches exciting, tasty, and healthy. Here’s what appeared in my daughter’s lunch bag this week:

Half a hummus and basil sandwich on whole wheat bread

1 large carrot, peeled (she prefers 1 large carrot to carrot sticks, not my idea!)
8 raspberries
6 crackers
2 chocolate-filled Oreo-type cookies

What still remained in the lunch bag after school: the carrot (“I didn’t see it”), crackers, and cookies. Those items became the afterschool snack. 

Half a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread (no jam, her preference)

Apple Carrot Crusher (from TJ’s, basically applesauce with carrots in this fun squeezy tube)
8 raspberries
5 slices orange bell pepper
6 crackers
2 chocolate-filled Oreo-type cookies

What still remained in the lunch bag after school: the raspberries (“I couldn’t open the container, and no one was around to help me”), crackers, and cookies. Those items were again the afterschool snack. “Mommy, you don’t need to put crackers in my lunch anymore.” Ok, I won’t!

3 Spinach & Sweet Potato “Quiches” (eggless, made in a mini-cupcake pan, recipe coming soon!)

10 Beef-Less Strips (TJ’s, made from wheat gluten)
10 cucumber slices
Apple Carrot Crusher 
2 chocolate-filled Oreo-type cookies

What still remained in the lunch bag after school: 2 of the “quiches,” 3 cucumber slices, and cookies. Those items were again the afterschool snack.

1 Smart Dog in a whole wheat bun (wrapped in foil, no condiments, her choice)

Apple Carrot Crusher 
4 cherry tomatoes, 4 basil leaves
2 Medjool dates
2 chocolate-filled Oreo-type cookies

What still remained in the lunch bag after school: dates and cookies. Afterschool snacktime!

Half a chocolate peanut butter sandwich (sounds terribly unhealthy, but it’s just peanuts + a few dark choc chips ground together fresh at Whole Foods) on whole wheat bread

6 red pepper slices
10 Kalamata olives
1 chocolate chip cookie

Not sure what will return home today, but I suspect a couple red pepper slices and the cookie. 

You may think the daily dessert isn’t ideal, but growing up in a “Dessert-Only-Once-A-Year” household, I firmly believe that a small dessert after a nutrient-rich meal teaches healthy eating habits and moderation. Agree or disagree? For more healthy lunchbox ideas, take a gander at The Lunchbox Bunch: A team dedicated to healthy lunches!