“Pack” to School (or work)

My daughter likes school lunches but she also likes packing. Honestly, I start the year out great: she usually packs 3-4 times per week and buys school lunches 1-2 times. By the end of the year I’ve hit a road block and she buys lunch every day because I’m just over it! Told you I’d be honest.

She has gotten into situations where she hasn’t eaten enough fiber and that’s not good for her gut health. When she packs, she eats enough fiber. When she buys school lunch I’m not so sure…? It’s really nothing against school lunch, she can pick and choose what she wants to eat and I can’t guarantee it’s full of fiber! Packing lunches for my kiddo is fairly easy because she does eat a moderate variety of foods. Some kiddos are easy to pack for, while others aren’t. Whichever box your child fits into, I think you’ll find some ideas in this blog. You may even be able to get ideas for your own lunch at work!

First, you need the key items: a lunch box that can keep things cold, an ice pack, containers and/or baggies, and a piece of paper.

  1. The lunchbox to keep things cold along with the ice pack will keep you and your child’s lunch safe from harmful bacteria that grow when it gets warmer.
  2. If you are packing warm items, consider a thermal lined container that will keep it hot and also safe from harmful bacteria.
  3. Containers are great for things like salads, pasta salad, and even things like sandwiches, fruits, and snack items because they are reusable. I love the environment and being responsible but we also use baggies because…life!
  4. Was the piece of paper weird? Probably but here’s the catch: your child, spouse, you yourself needs some encouragement and what better way to add it than half way through their day at a meal?! If your child is younger and can’t read, just a simple picture of a heart or a smiley face will do. In elementary school a nice “I love you”, “Kindness is cool”, or “God loves you” is amazing! In high school, quotes of encouragement “Be the best you, you can be”, “Look out for the friend that’s hurting”, “I am so proud of who you are becoming”, “I loved watching you play baseball yesterday”, etc. I’ll put more encouraging quotes at the end of this because I think it is super important to use words of affirmation with your children/spouse/yourself!
My kiddos help with food prep! This is my 7 year old daughter cutting cucumbers.

Second you need an idea of what a good lunch layout looks like. I mentioned fiber was an important piece to my daughters lunch…it should be a huge piece to everyones lunch! Fiber keeps your bowels healthy which in turn helps to keep your entire body healthy!

  1. Protein: protein comes from both plants and animals. We mostly think of them coming from animals like chicken, turkey, ham, cheese, and tuna BUT they can also come from plants like peanut butter, almond butter, beans, peas, lentils, and nuts.
  2. Energy: energy comes from things with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates help to feed every.single.cell in our bodies! Foods like fruits, grains (whole wheat bread, rice, corn), beans, and starchy vegetables like potatoes will give your kiddos the energy they need to finish out their day strong!
  3. Veggies: there’s really no scientific reason that I put veggies here except for the fact that it helps them get in more fiber and keeps them fuller longer so they aren’t coming home SUPER RAVENOUS! Things like carrots, celery, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, salads, etc all have a load of fiber AND nutrients for their and your overall health.

Third you need to actually pack it! I like to pack my daughter’s lunch in the morning BUT I will do prep-work the night before. I know many parents who pack their kiddos lunch the night before because the mornings are chaotic. If I worked a full time job I probably would put in the grunt work the night before because…chaos BUT because I stay at home now, I just throw it together in the morning. There’s no right or wrong but I will tell you that if you are feeling overwhelmed in the mornings PLEASE pack lunches the night before. Do whatever you can to lighten the load of the morning rush 🙂

Fourth the “what to pack” is probably the most important! OK Dietitian Lady, just tell me what some good ideas are for packing. I’m on it! Honestly (again), as I sat here reading through one of the dietitian bloggers’ lunch ideas I realize how hard it is to follow their lunches. I mean…you’ve got to make grain free granola bars and chia seed pudding. I’m not that kind of girl!!!!! Here’s a list of 20 EASY AND FEASIBLE ideas to pack your kiddos and yourself! There will be asterisk* after some and I will provide the simple recipe to that.

  1. PBJ sandwiches on whole wheat bread with carrot sticks and ranch dip
  2. Turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread with cucumbers and hummus
  3. Pasta salad with cheese cubes and veggies (broccoli, cucumbers, and tomatoes)
  4. Whole grain crackers (think Triscuits or Wheat Thins), ham and cheese chunks with pepper sticks (add a dip to make it fun)
  5. Garden salad with Greek yogurt on the side and cheerios
  6. MYO pizzas! Whole grain English muffin, pizza sauce, and shredded mozzarella with celery and ranch dip
  7. Ham sandwich on whole wheat bread with creamed cucumber salad*
  8. Tortilla chips and hummus and/or salsa to dip with a few cheese cubes
  9. Tuna salad on whole wheat bread with celery
  10. Apple slices and celery with peanut butter
  11. Three bean salad (green beans, wax beans, black or kidney beans) add some string cheese to that for a pop of protein
  12. BLT sandwich with turkey bacon on whole grain bread with carrot sticks
  13. Bento box lunch: hard boiled egg, blueberries, whole grain crackers, pepper sticks
  14. Bento box lunch: cubes of turkey lunch meat, cheese cubes, whole grain crackers, carrot sticks
  15. Bento box lunch: cottage cheese, strawberries, whole wheat tortillas, salsa
  16. Chicken salad sandwich on whole grain bread with sliced cucumbers
  17. Sushi PBJ: whole grain tortilla with peanut butter and jelly sliced up and broccoli on the side
  18. Greek style tziki* made with plain Greek yogurt, whole grain pita bread, and cucumber slices
  19. Hummus roll-up: your favorite hummus filled with spinach, shredded carrots, tomatoes, etc on a whole grain wrap
  20. Taco salad: leftover taco meat on a salad with tortilla chips
Guac toast is another great lunch idea! Add some protein in there like Greek yogurt on the side and perfecto!

Throw in some side dishes too! Here are some great ones to keep in mind:

  • Greek yogurt
  • Dressing to dip veggies
  • Fruit at any time
  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Water, 100% fruit juice, milk

Do not beat yourself up if lunches are simple! Simple is sometimes the best! Make sure it is cost effective too! The goal of my blog is that anyone can read it and follow through. If you get your food from food banks, you can make most of these (you’ll be surprised at what you can get at your local food pantry). If you use SNAP, you can make all of these. If your food budget is tight, you can make all of these. If you keep the reins on . your food budget, you can make all of these. If your food budget is unlimited, you can make all of these!

Here are some inspirational quote ideas for your kiddos, your spouse, yourself:

  • Draw something! A heart, a smily face, you hugging your child, an inside joke that only you and your kiddo would get
  • “I love you”
  • “I love your face”
  • “You make my heart smile”
  • “Have a great day”
  • “Be the best you, you can be”
  • “Be kind to everyone”
  • “You are smart”
  • “You are kind”
  • “You are a great friend”
  • “You are a blessing to your teachers”
  • “God loves you”
  • “God is with you today”
  • “Smile”
  • “I’m so proud of the boy/girl you are becoming”
  • “I loved watching you play (insert sport or instrument) yesterday/this week/whenever”
  • “Thank you for helping me this morning”
  • “I appreciate how kind you are to your siblings”
  • “Life is so much better with you in it”
  • “You make life fun”
  • “Three things: I love you, you make me so proud, please wear deodorant” (haha)
  • “Find someone who is hurting today and give them a smile and this piece of candy”
  • “I can’t wait until you come home today”
  • “I can’t wait to watch/hear you play/sing…”
  • “I was so proud when you…”
  • Here are some scriptures for school and work: Micah 6:8, Romans 15:13, Psalm 20:4, 1 Samuel 16:7, Joshua 1:9, 1 Timothy 4:12, Proverbs 3:5-6, Hebrews 12:1-2, Colossians 1:17, Matthew 11:28, Philippians 4:6-7, Isaiah 30:21, Philippians 4:13, Proverbs 13:20, Colossians 3:23-24, James 1:5, Jeremiah 29:11, Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:8

Make packing a lunch part of your routine! It’ll not only save you money (from buying lunch every day) but also improve your overall health if you are eating nutrient rich foods!

** Recipes:

  • Creamed cucumber salad: sliced cucumbers, sliced onions (optional), greek yogurt, splash of vinegar, salt. If you like it sweeter, add honey or sugar.
  • Tziki: cucumbers, dill, greek yogurt, lemon juice

Summer Lunchin’

I’m baaaaack! It’s been a while and honestly, I wasn’t inspired enough to give you content that I felt would be worthy of you reading. I took on too much and my brain/heart just wasn’t in it BUT today I felt super inspired because I was trying to wrack my brain about what to give the boys for lunch. Summer is coming and if you have kids who are going to be home or you are going to need to pack them lunches for summer camp, you came to the right place!

I decided to pull together a list of delicious, quick, healthy, and low-cost lunches for you and your kiddos this summer. So what makes a healthy lunch anyway? Welllll I’m so glad you asked! A healthy lunch doesn’t have to be gourmet, take forever to make, or break the bank! It just has to be balanced enough for you and your kiddos to get nourishment and energy that you’ll need to conquer all of the summers most fun moments!

A healthy lunch consists of:
– Protein (for snack/hunger control): turkey lunch meat, peanut butter, beans, peas, cheese, greek yogurt, chicken, tuna, ground beef/chicken/turkey
– Carbohydrates (for energy): whole grain bread, brown rice, potatoes, pasta, pizza crust, corn, beans, peas, lentils, fruit (yep it counts!)
– Veggies (because I said so): carrots, celery, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, veggie soup, tomato soup, snap peas, cauliflower, etc etc etc

From there, get creative! Keeping it low cost is a cinch…seriously, don’t make this too hard on yourself and too time-consuming either! If you use SNAP benefits, these ideas will help your access money stretch! If you get food from your local food bank/pantry keep your eyes peeled for these things! If you’re watching your food budget (like I do) take these tips to heart!

  • Make a meal plan and stick with it. Check your pantry for foods you already have and use them up! Cans of tuna? Tuna salad/casserole this week. Pasta sauce, yep you guessed it! Some kind of pasta dish! From there create a grocery list (if you get food bank items, meal plan around them). ONLY BUY WHAT IS ON YOUR LIST!
  • ROTATE IDEAS! Seriously, don’t reinvent the wheel. Your kiddos (and you) will have your favorite lunches so use them once a week/once every other week. They’ll love you for it and so will your brain 😉 You know that works, they’ll eat it, and it’ll be budget friendly, right?!
  • Because it’s summer, get your fruits and veggies FRESH! They’ll be much cheaper (especially if you plant a garden) and definitely tastier! Check local farmers markets to see if they accept the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (WIC and senior assistance). Many farmers markets also accept access cards. SNAP also covers fruits and vegetables you can plant! You’ll find the SNAP logo on the approved ones.

10 Fun Ideas For Summer Lunchin’

  1. Tomato soup and cheesy flatbread – canned tomato soup will work just fine for this but if you want to make homemade, go for it! I use flatbread or thin pizza crusts…brush with oil, sprinkle with garlic powder/oregano/basil/black pepper, and a small layer of cheese. Bake or broil until cheese is melted! Cut in strips for easy tomato soup dipping!
  2. Tuna salad with crackers and celery – tuna, mayo, and diced pickles are how I like to make my tuna salad. Shoot for a cracker that gives some fiber like wheat thins or triscuits. Serve with a side of celery sticks (these are great to dip into the tuna salad too)!
  3. Garden fresh pasta salad – whole grain or high fiber pasta makes a great base but you can use regular pasta too! Use any veggies you have and add some cubed cheese for protein. My favorite dressing is an Italian style (I make it homemade) but use whatever you like.
  4. Grilled chicken salad with black beans – after making grilled chicken for dinner, use the leftovers in a salad! Top with black beans and your favorite dressing and you’ve got yourself a balanced lunch.
  5. Corn tortilla chips, guacamole, and salsa – my sister makes the.best.guacamole.ever…seriously! Her secret ingredient is sour cream! A great substitute for sour cream is Greek yogurt AND it adds tons of protein! Making guacamole with avocado, limes, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and greek yogurt and serve it with corn tortilla chips (whole grain plus more protein), and salsa!
  6. Sushi-like hummus wraps – grab your favorite hummus flavor, very thinly sliced cucumbers, julienned carrots and peppers, and whole grain wrap. Make it and roll it up tightly! Cut it into small slices like sushi!!!
  7. Turkey bacon BLTs – Turkey bacon, lettuce, garden fresh tomatoes, and whole grain bread. It’s old school but it is SO GOOD! PS if your kiddos don’t like tomatoes, try it with cucumbers instead 🙂
  8. Egg salad sandwiches – Hardboil up a dozen of eggs (use them for this salad, chopped up in a veggie salad, for snacks, etc), I like pickles, celery, and mayo in my egg salad! Gives it a little pop and crunch. Spread on whole grain bread with tomato and lettuce…mmmmmm.
  9. Turkey and cheese kabobs – go to the deli and get turkey breast in a chunk. Buy block cheese and then cube both into one-inch cubes. Along with the cubes of meat and cheese, add cherry tomatoes, pepper squares, lettuce pieces, mushrooms to the kabob sticks…whatever veggie your kiddos like! On the side use honey mustard dressing for dipping!
  10. Apple slice PBJ – Instead of using bread, make it super fun with apple slices! Cut the apple with the core still in the middle OR use an apple corer to take out the core before cutting them in slices (like a sandwich). Put the peanut butter and a small amount of jam or jelly on one apple slice and then top with another apple slice! Fun and delish!

Don’t reinvent the wheel either! I know ya’ll like looking on Pinterest for ideas but what do your kiddos like? Expand on that! If they enjoy mac ‘n cheese MAKE IT FOR THEM ONCE IN A WHILE! They should have a veggie with it, so give them an option of green beans, broccoli, salad, whatever they like. Hot dogs on your kid’s favorite list? FINE! It’s not an everyday kind of thing but once in a while have fun with it! Make them their favorite veggie side dish and have a picnic outside.

Remember parents…you only have 18 summers (sometimes less if they decide to get a summer job when they are 16) with your kiddos. Don’t make the lunch menu a point of contention with kiddos. Keep it fun, incorporate the things they like too, help them try new things, and eat together!!!!! The love and skills they will gain eating together this summer at lunch are going to be taken with them throughout life. Nurture that as you eat your BLTs on a blanket in your back yard 🙂