I started making Penelope’s lunch this summer when she went to preschool summer camp for the month of June. I was excited back then and I am even more excited now that she is back in preschool. I love motherhood and taking care of her in this way. And I love being creative in the kitchen, so coming up with a new lunch box menu is fun for me.
I like having something to plan, create and organize. I like thinking about what I am going to pack for her that is both healthy and interesting. I love the assembly line process of it, just like I do with my slow cooker freezer recipes, and the satisfaction of the end result.
I realize she is still very young and later I may want to stab my eye out with a spork if I see another lunch box, but right now it’s fun. And later when it possibly becomes a chore for me, I will remind myself that each lunch I make for her is full of nourishment and love and worth the hassle.
So here are my best tips so far:
I make her lunches twice a week. On Sunday, I make three lunches and then on Wednesday I make two more.
Each lunch has at least one protein, usually two or three, since one of them is for her morning snack. And a couple of servings of fruit and veggies. And usually one gluten free cracker type thing.
I use a bento box style lunch box and love to make everything look pretty and tidy. The OCD in me, loves this part. And bento boxes are perfect to hold finger foods that are easy for toddlers and kids to eat by themselves. There are a million different Bento Boxes on the market, LapTop Lunches is one of my favorites, they have been around a long time and I actually used to sell them at my yoga studio/eco friendly boutique. I ended up choosing one from Pottery Barn Kids with plastic and stainless steel bento boxes because I am sucker for polka dots and monograms.
Something to make the lunch more enticing and fun is to include dips. Any and all types of dips, not just ketchup. Think almond butter, guacamole, hummus, etc. Penelope is not huge on dips, except guacamole, but most toddlers are all about dips.
I include lots fruits and vegetables. Penelope loves fruit and veggies, thankfully. If she had her way, she would eat fruit all day long. I have to regulate her fruit intake because, after all, fruit is sugar, and although it’s natural, sugar is sugar, so fruit does the same thing to your blood sugar levels as a cookie. All the fruit and veggies I buy are organic and/or locally grown. If you can’t afford to buy real food, check out this post.
For the protein, I mostly use leftovers. Like if we had steak on Sunday night, steak is what she gets in her lunch. Really wrap your head around serving what you cooked for dinner instead of trying to come up with “lunch specific” items. I think this is the biggest thing to make lunch packing easier. Penelope is great at eating things cold or room temperature.
I also send her with a big container of raw milk. I like Life Factory’s glass bottles (with the sippy cup spout) for her lunch box milk. A lot of days she will only drink her milk and maybe one item from her lunch box while she is actually at preschool (side note: she was 2 when she started preschool, was only at school from 9-12p, and I didn’t know she had a dairy intolerance till age 3), and when I pick her up she will eat the rest in the car. So, as long as she is drinking raw milk, I know she is filling up on nutrients to get her through the end of the school day. I never give her juice, but I give her a little fruity kombucha a couple of times a week at home. I am not against juice, but I did my best to not give her any juice before age 2, and then from age 2-4 is was a very special treat-because it is, it’s just sugar, even the low-sugar, organic ones. Now at almost 6, she gets more juice than I would like, but still way less than the average American child.
Go grain free. We are not 100% grain free but we limit our grains as much as possible. Penelope is not fully allergic to grains, but is very sensitive to grains and is allergic to gluten. Thankfully Penelope has never been much of sandwich eater, but if your kid loves a grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich, best option is a homemade gluten-free, sourdough bread or any one where the grains are soaked and sprouted first. If you are buying a sourdough bread, be sure to ask if it was made with a real sourdough starter or if it is just white bread with sourdough flavoring, you want the real deal of course. In a perfect world of course. 🙂
By the way, I am not against things that come in a package for lunch. For breakfast and dinner, Penelope gets a homemade meal so I am not going to be a crazy person about lunchtime. Homemade from scratch is always “best”, but there are plenty of “next best ” or “good” products out there. Some of the packaged food that in the “good” quality are organic, grass fed, nitrate free hot dogs (and peel the skin). Gluten free, wild-caught fish nuggets, organic mozzarella cheese sticks, HappyYogis dried yogurt bites. I also like Lara Bars and Lite Way Organic ProBug Kiefer. I am ok with a little bit of organic, pasteurized dairy, but 90% of her dairy intake is raw (we went dairy free in 2013).
I do not send her to school with a smoothie. I think that in order for aa smoothie to really be nutritious it needs to have a raw egg and fresh yogurt or keifer in it to balance out the sugar. If it is just fruit-based one, with no egg or yogurt, it’s too much sugar and you might as well of sent them to school with a cookie. Her smoothies are an after school snack so I can prepare the egg and yogurt and she can drink it immediately.
Some protein ideas:
sliced beef roast
cubed chicken breast
hard boiled eggs
slices of cheese
meat, leftovers, or slices of turkey, hotdogs, etc.
fried egg or quiche
canned tuna or salmon
homemade chicken or fish nuggets
mini hamburger patties
mixed nuts snack, almonds, pecans, cashews (if your school allows nuts to be brought in)
If you must put in a sweet, try to make it a homemade one like my chocolate covered almonds or my grain free sweet potato chocolate chip cookies (I have been baking up a storm this summer, so I will have some more recipes soon!). I haven’t put a sweet in her lunch yet, but I do give her a homemade sweet at about once or twice a week. And at school, she gets one chocolate chip when she goes on the potty (organic, fair trade, that I bring in-and Thank God her teacher is so cool and accommodating and doesn’t think I am weirdo). Now that she is in Kindergarten, I do give her one, healthy sweet each lunch-as an incintive to try to new foods and finish her lunch and because the day is so long, and they are so active I feel it’s warrented.
Here are some more natural sweet ideas:
Fermented Fruit Leather
Dried fruit (these are very high in sugar so go easy)
raw honey packs (I know the woman who started this company, she is fantastic and her product is awesome)
chocolate mousse made from avocado, cocoa powder, honey, salt and vanilla extract
Homemade, grain free baked good
Here are a couple of other blogs with posts with great lunch ideas:
The Perfect Chocolate Chip (minus her bread recommendations)
Hope this post gave you some tips and guidelines to start working toward healthier lunches. If your kid would balk at some of these options because they are addicted to Tyson chicken fingers or goldfish, then just start with one new item at a time and slowly introduce them to real food. Your best bet is to have them look and touch a new food first, then get them to lick it, then get them to chew it (with persmission to spit it out after a couple of chews), then chew it more, then chew and swallow one bit, then two, and on and on and until a side brocolli or a cup of applesauce is totally normal and acceptable for them.
If you have any questions, please let me know and I am happy to help!