Over the past week or so, many parents + friends with new school-aged children have been asking me about my tricks + tips for packing delicious + nutritious school lunches, so I thought I'd gather some of them here + save you the call!
I like to provide my kids with foods that I know they love + will eat, while at the same time keeping the packed lunch as waste-free as possible. At our school, any garbage, unfinished food or peels gets returned home. I appreciate this policy, as it not only cuts down on the number of plastic waste bin bags the school has to use daily, but I get an accurate read on what is working for my children, as well as remain aware of how much is actually being put back into the Earth.
We use a reusable plastic-lined, canvas, zippered lunch box. We currently have one made by Roots Canada, that we scooped up at Costco. I like it because the liner can be easily wiped down, there is an outer velcro pocket for an afterschoolsnack or a good spot to house our Lunch Box Love Notes (more on that later). Inside there's a mesh pocket that can be used for various items...quite possibly an icepack (which this particular lunch box comes with...it also comes with 3 plastic storage containers that we don't use) AND it has a mesh pocket on the outside to hold a water bottle, as well as a sturdy clip for clipping it to a backpack in the case that that's needed.
We use stainless steel containers that I found on Amazon instead of plastic bags or containers. (You can find something similar to them here), and/or a thermos. I tend to pack the main part of the meal (sandwich, pizza, salad, etc.) in the bottom component + the morning fruit snack on top, since these are the biggest containers. Fruits are fun + colourful to pack! I tend to go for ease, like an apple-half, cut horizontally (known around these parts as a "Star Apple" because of the shape the seeds make within the core), rubbed with a halved fresh lemon to prevent browning. Older kids could just be sent with a whole apple in the lunch box! Add a handful of grapes, half a mango or a kiwi with the top cut off + a small spoon for scooping out the fruit. In the small separate container I add the veggie snack, to be eaten alongside the main meal.
My kids generally love fresh, peeled carrot sticks + cucumber wedges, raw green beans + sliced bell peppers. To make my mornings as stress-free as possible, I like to wash all of my fruits + vegetables to save time when packing. I also pre-peel and cut carrots + celery, storing them in a container of filtered water in the fridge for an extra-easy grab. Cauliflower, broccoli, celery or radish are some more amazing options to add into this little crudité container. [This container would also be perfect for dips or yogurt or even applesauce, but I would secure a thick elastic band around it in this case].
For the third snack, I usually opt for a "treat". Something like a dark chocolate topped rice cake, a homemade refined sugar-free muffin or a granola bar (store-bought makes for a pre-packaged wrapped item of waste though). My goal for this year is to find or create a homemade recipe that tastes just as good as the store-bought kind!
Now, I imagine most of you want to know about the MAIN MEAL. This can easily become like the never-ending dilemma of "what's for dinner"...except we need something that's both easy to pack + easy to eat...because we won't be there at school to tidy up messes, help feed or continually encourage eating the whole portion. Though nut butter + jam sandwiches is not the ideal healthy choice, we know they're a fan favourite around here. So, this summer we experimented with a few other combos to broaden our options. Sandwiches are easy to prepare, pack + eat. I have zero resistance cutting off the crusts for my soft-bread-loving kids!
Some of our tried, tested + true sandwiches are:
* nut butter + jam (we love a nut+seed butter spread that we have sourced from Costco) ** you can try substituting sugary jam for fresh berries, bananas or thinly sliced apples!
* cream cheese (or "dream" cheese for our beloved vegan friends) + cucumbers / salami / smoked salmon
* BLT (or a version of). In our home we opt for the BLB (Bacon, Lettuce, Butter)...but that's probably just my girl... A BLA could be great too! A= Avocado. Just make sure to squeeze a little fresh lemon or lime on it to prevent browning just like we do with the apples.
You can get creative with sandwiches, but tomatoes can prove to make bread soggy...If you have a tomato-lover in your home, try sandwiching slices BETWEEN other sturdy ingredients, like lettuce, meat or cheese, so that it doesn't soak the bread.
Or, better yet, use tomatoes in pasta or quinoa salads. We love a Greek orzo salad. Cucumbers, tomatoes and/or red peppers, feta cheese and sliced Kalamata olives paired with orzo pasta, oil + vinegar + a little salt + pepper is an easy, delicious lunch. Quinoa would be a great grain for this as well!
Warm tomato sauce pasta is quick + easy. Switch it up by finding a fun variety of noodles! Or add pesto instead of red sauce. We use a thermos for keeping pasta warm. Tomato sauce cheese pizza is a win and homemade dough is e