Weekday mornings are a major time crunch. Between getting yourself ready for work and the kids off to school, there’s no time to fuss over anything — including lunches. Typically, you hand the kids five bucks for a hot meal or toss a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into a brown bag and hope they don’t trade it for a stack of Oreos.
But with a little pre-planning (and a few helping hands) you can send your little ones off to school with healthy, homemade meals (we swear).
1. Know what constitutes a healthy lunch (that kids will like).
Shopping for healthy lunch items can turn a quick trip to the grocery store into an anxiety-laden excursion. You end up wandering the aisles, questioning your worth as a parent, and leaving with a box of ice cream sandwiches for yourself. The UC Davis Health System breaks down the components of a healthy lunch so you don’t have to:
- Two or three ounces of lean protein like chicken, tuna or hard boiled eggs.
- Heart-healthy oils like peanut butter.
- Plenty of fiber and micronutrients, which can be found in fruits (apple slices, grapes, pears), one-half cup of veggies (cherry tomatoes, broccoli, chick peas), and whole grains (pasta, quinoa).
- Calcium-rich foods like small servings of low-fat cheese or yogurt.
Don’t be afraid to get creative. Packing items like couscous, a thermos full of soup, or even a small side-salad fit the bill.
2. Make a menu (and stick to it).
Take a cue from your child’s school and pre-plan a lunch menu. It eliminates the last-minute dig through the refrigerator and the inevitable argument with your little one over what they want to eat. We admit that planning a month out might be overly ambitious, but coordinating a menu at the beginning of each week is totally doable.
3. Get input.
If you left planning lunches to your children, they’d be chowing down on Doritos and Sour Patch Kids by the handful. That said, it’s still important to get their input (they are the ones eating the finished product). Letting them have a say in the planning process is not only a great way to teach them about healthy eating, but it means that (hopefully) you won’t have to hear, “Ugh, I don’t want this for lunch,” ever again.
3. Limit options.
Thinking about a week’s worth of lunches can be totally overwhelming. Limit your options. Come up with two or three healthy mains and sides you can mix and match in different iterations. It’ll streamline the planning process and trim your grocery bill.
4. Pre-pack finger foods.
Kids love finger foods. Filling their lunches with whole grain crackers, mixed berries, or baby carrots and hummus always scores major parent points. These are also items you can divide up and pre-pack in small plastic containers at the beginning of the week or the even the night before. Pre-packing these options not only means your kids get a lunch that they love, but you gain a few more minutes to nurse your java fix each morning.
5. Get a helping hand.
There’s no steadfast rule that says parents need to fly solo. We’re not saying you should send your kindergartner off to the kitchen sans supervision. But giving little ones the chance to play assistant while you pre-pack their lunch teaches them responsibility. It also lays the groundwork for you to hand over the reigns when they’re older.