Jessica Brooks is a pro-trained cook, baker and Toronto-based content creator. When she's not writing about food, she's in the kitchen developing recipes and cooking with her kids.
As kids head back to school, you’re probably thinking about how to pack a lunch they’ll actually eat. We know it can be frustrating. You send them off with a balanced meal to fuel them through the day and it comes home uneaten. (Well, everything except for the treat.)
First of all, don’t beat yourself up. School lunches are the one meal we as parents feel like we have no control over. But you don’t need to take a passive approach. To help you step up your game, we’ve rounded up the six common mistakes you may be making, and how to fix them. So you can spend less time worrying about your family and more time together having fun. Let’s go over the simple changes you can make.
Before you roll your eyes, remember that kids eat first with exactly those … their eyes! Try adding bright colours and fun shapes, and pack it all up in a bento box so they have only one container to open.
This doesn’t take an art degree to do either. All you need is the right tools. Invest in a melon baller, cherry pitter, and a few mini cookie cutters, so you can do things like scoop fruit, cut roasted beets or sandwiches into stars and hearts, and punch the pits out of dark purple olives to pack with carrots for contrasting colour that pops.
Kids generally don’t have a lot of time or patience at lunch, so make things easy for them. Rather than packing smaller cuts of vegetables they must keep reaching for, pack larger veggie pieces instead. Try a whole carrot sliced in two or a couple broccoli florets still attached together. Once it’s actually in their hand, there’s a better chance they’ll eat it. Include a dip on the side and you just may see that vegetable compartment finished for the win.
Packing school lunches doesn’t come with prerequisites, but having catering experience helps. The one takeaway: AVOID SOGGY SANDWICHES. You can do this easily by layering drier things like lettuce and cheese against the bread first, then spreading the condiments on that. It may not be how you’re used to making a sandwich, but it’s the best technique for packing moisture-sucking bread ahead.
If sandwiches keep returning uneaten, it may be time to try new things. Pick up flour tortillas for quesadillas and wraps. Or pack crackers with hummus or even last night’s leftovers. Kid-sized thermoses do a great job of keeping pasta and even pizza (yes, just jam it in!) warm. Changing things up will add an element of surprise, which may be all you need to sell it.
If you’re thinking ahead you’ve probably got a few weeknight meals in the freezer, but lunchbox food should also be in there too. Cookies, banana bread, healthy muffins, and even pancakes can all be made ahead and frozen. But don’t stop there. Get ahead on packable mains like quesadillas and chicken fingers. You can batch-cook all these things, which will save you time in the long run too.
Kids as young as preschoolers can help pack their own lunch. Sure, it’s going to take longer, but if you encourage them to take pride in their work, they’ll likely want to show it off at school. Give them age-appropriate tasks; anything as simple as mixing together jam and yogurt to making a sandwich if you lay out the fillings. Not only will you encourage independence and healthy eating habits, you’ll spend quality time in the kitchen together too.
Now that you know how to fix some common lunch-packing mistakes, let’s get to a recipe to get you going. Try these “Sushi” Sandwich Rolls. To make, roll out a slice of whole grain bread with a rolling pin until it’s super flat, then top it with your family’s favourite fillings. Try deli-sliced ham and cheese, or cream cheese with a cucumber stick set lengthwise at the end closest to you. Then roll up the bread like you would sushi, cut it into three or four rounds, and pack them facing up so your kids can see the colours.