The skinny on how to overcome common lunch-packing challenges
by Brandy McDevitt, Registered Dietitian
As parents know all too well, the return to school signals a return to the kitchen. You’re baaack—to the routine of packing lunches for the kids. Whether you consider it homework for adults or a humdrum chore, there’s no question preparing healthy lunches-to-go can be fraught with challenges. These suggestions will help you troubleshoot some of the most common ones.
Challenge #1: No time to make healthy lunches
- Plan ahead as much as possible. Use a regular rotation to save time. For instance, Monday is leftovers in a thermos day, Tuesday is wraps day and Wednesday is tuna sandwich day.
- On the weekends, stock your kitchen with lunchtime staples such as yogurt, cheese, cut up fruit and veggies, raisins, applesauce, healthy baked muffins and granola bars. This will make the weekday packing easier.
- Make lunches or parts of lunches the night before, especially while you are making supper and already have the kitchen dirty.
- Cook in quantity when you have time, and freeze individual portions. Use ice-cube trays for soups, sauces and cooked meats so that you can pop out individual servings in the morning and put them into a thermos.
Challenge #2: My child wants to eat the same thing every day
- Try to keep one part of the meal similar and change up another one each day to expand the food choices. For instance, if your child is stuck on white bread, make the sandwich with one slice of white and one slice of whole grain; or keep the bread the same and change up the filling.
- Make eating fun with food shapes, theme days or fun notes written on a napkin or container. This will keep the kids interested in what’s for lunch.
- Challenge yourself not to get into a rut. Even if your child is not eating the food, keep sending it. Repeated exposure is key to getting kids to try new foods. If you never send it, they will never eat it.
Challenge #3: My child won’t eat what I make
- Get your child involved in making lunch choices. Brainstorm ideas and ask what he/she is interested in taking. Post the list of preferences on the fridge to remind yourself of new ideas.
- Find out why your child is not eating the food. It might not always be about not liking it; perhaps it is not the right temperature or consistency by the time lunch hour arrives.
- Try new items out at home so that your child feels more comfortable with the item away from home.
Challenge #4: I am worried about food safety
- Wash your hands and food before preparing lunches.
- Keep hot food hot using a thermos. First, heat the thermos with boiling water, then drain the water and replace it with hot food.
- Keep cold food cold. Use an insulated lunch bag and mini freezer packs.
- When in doubt, throw it out (or compost it).
Challenge #5: I worry about food allergies in my child’s class
- Be informed about the nature of the food allergies in your child’s classroom.
- Carefully read labels on all packaged foods. Changes to labelling laws have made identifying the top food allergens easier, but it can still be a challenge. When in doubt, do not send it to school.
- Teach your child to be aware of what is in the lunch. For example, wowbutter is a safe alternative to peanut butter.
- Avoid cross contamination; make sure all utensils and preparation areas are cleaned before preparing your child’s lunch.
Challenge #6: My child’s school is asking for litterless lunches
- Check stores such as Readi, Set, Go, Fab Baby Gear, Terra 20, or online retailers such as Fenigo.com for reusable snack bags and environmentally friendly containers. The initial cost is certainly more than that of plastic bags, but over time they actually save money and reduce garbage.
- Avoid plastics #3, #6 and #7 since these contain harmful chemicals. Choose stainless steel or #5 for the safest plastic.
- Portion food into individual, reusable containers instead of purchasing pre-packaged individual food items.