I believe that every mom wants to give her child or children the absolute best she possibly can—doting attention without coddling, reassurance to build confidence (but not entitlement), skills that help them cope, learning that stimulates new brain pathways, a safe space for them to run wild and invent games, and nourishment that not only helps them grow but also thrive. We have the best of intentions, but we also have our days when we feel lucky to tick just one of these boxes… and even days when we have to settle for learning on screens, jumping on beds, and pizza delivery.
Whether you’re a mom who celebrates the end of summer and back to school with all of the chardonnay after the kids go to bed and marks x’s on the calendar (starting 30 days before the first day of school), or a mom who plans after school activities, saves fall recipe dinner posts on Instagram, and watches character bento box recipe videos on Youtube after the kids go to bed—or a mom who falls somewhere in between, we can all agree that packing the kids’ lunches makes us feel better.
And you don’t have to go to extremes like DIY fruit sushi to entice the kids to eat their packed lunches. A little bit of planning paired with cutting ingredients up in pieces that are easy for little hands to grab can make packing nourishing lunches for school an easy habit to form. Check out our tips and recipes below for kid-friendly lunch ideas with clean ingredients.
5 Tips That Make it Easy to Pack Kid-Friendly Lunches
1. Pick the right food container. Most young kids (and even some picky adults) don’t like it when their food touches. Choosing a food vessel with separate compartments and even reusable, dishwasher-safe utensils makes it easy to pack a variety of edibles in the same box. I don’t know about you, but I’m not up for another bout of lunchtime rebellion from my son who’s so bored with the same old sandwiches that he flat-out refuses to eat the ones I pack. We filled up up a Bentgo box for the kid-friendly lunch ideas below to show you how a supercool divided lunch box can inspire creativity.
2. Memorize this kid-friendly lunch blueprint: 1 veggie, 1 fruit, 1 main, 1 snack. This is your template for building balanced meals, and if you’re using a food container with compartments (see tip number 1 above), you’ll be cued visually to pack just the right portion size of each.
3. Know when to take shortcuts. You don’t have to make everything from scratch. In fact, you shouldn’t. This will just make you feel like you need to chug chardonnay. Seek out gluten-free crackers and bread, nitrate- and hormone-free meats, organic cheeses, dressings and sauces made with avocado or olive oil and no added sugar, and fresh organic produce when possible.
4. Reimagine leftovers. Save every little bit of extra protein, veggies, and whatever else leftover from dinner. Craving meatballs? Make a double batch with plain seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic powder) and freeze the second batch. Grilling chicken? Make a couple of extra breasts to slice and freeze in resealable bags. Defrost what’s frozen the night before in the fridge or the morning of in the microwave. Remember, kids don’t need a lot for their main dish if you use the lunch template (see tip number 2 above). Pair the leftovers with something freshly made (such as fresh veggies, steamed and buttered broccoli, gluten-free pasta tossed with olive oil and parmesan cheese, etc.) and you’re halfway home.
5. Be flexible. If you have a kid who refuses meals and survives on snacks, only likes four foods, or will only eat red things at the moment, try to go with the flow. An antipasto-style lunch that consists of caprese skewers, crackers, carrot sticks, and raspberries is pretty decent for a particular tyke. Think about making lunch as fun to eat as you can muster; these easy-effort suggestions can help: food skewered on sticks, sandwiches cut out with star-shaped cookie cutters, fresh veggies and fruit to dip in tasty sauces or plain yogurt sweetened with honey.
3 Kid-Friendly Lunches for School
Menu 1: All-American Box
- Main dish: Turkey Pinwheels
- Veggie: Celery sticks
- Fruit: Grapes and strawberry slices
- Snack: Mini parfait with yogurt, almond slices, strawberries, and gluten-free granola
- Dressing: Primal Kitchen Ranch
To make the Turkey Pinwheels:
- Place one big piece of clean green leaf lettuce on a cutting board or clean surface.
- Add 1 gluten-free tortilla or piece of flatbread of the lettuce. This ingredient is optional; if you want to make this grain-free, simply leave out this step.
- Place 2 pieces of nitrate- and nitrite-free sliced turkey on top of the tortilla, and add a few slices of tomato. Roll the leaf tightly from one end to the other.
- Slice the roll into 4 pieces, and place the pinwheels into the lunch box.
Menu 2: Antipasto Box
- Main dish: Tomato, mozzarella and prosciutto skewers & Jilz gluten-free crackers with cheese and nitrate-free pepperoni
- Veggie: Green leaf lettuce
- Fruit: Strawberries and blueberries & unsweetened organic dried cranberries
- Snack: Coconut Cashew Collagen Fuel Bar
- Dressing: Primal Kitchen Dreamy Italian
Menu 3: Asian Box
- Main dish: Mini meatballs with steamed broccoli
- Veggie: Carrot sticks
- Fruit: Blueberries and raspberries
- Snack: Macadamia nuts
- Dressing: Primal Kitchen Ranch
Mini Meatballs Recipe
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped (or 1/2 an onion, finely chopped)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 eggs, whisked
- Coconut oil, to brown meatballs
- Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes, keeping an eye on the garlic so it doesn’t burn.
- Scrape the shallots, garlic, and olive oil into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground meat, fresh herbs, salt, and both types of pepper.
- Combine the ingredients with your hands. Pour the eggs into the meat and knead the meat well to combine the egg completely.
- Refrigerate the mixture for 15 minutes. This helps the meat absorb the egg and become less wet.
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Use a measuring teaspoon to scoop individual teaspoons of meat in rows on a sheet pan. Once the meat is all measured out, lightly oil your hands and roll and pat/shape each scoop of meat into a tiny meatball.
- Tip: The easiest way to roll the meatball is to place the meat in the palm of one hand and use the three middle fingers of the other hand to roll it. If the meat begins to stick to your hand, wipe your palm clean with a paper towel then start rolling again.
- Heat an oven-proof skillet with a little bit of coconut oil over medium heat.
- Add as many meatballs as will fit in the pan and brown for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.
- Place the skillet in the oven to finish cooking the meatballs, 5 to 7 minutes.
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