Adventures in Healthier Eating with 2 Kids and a Picky Husband

Ask Roni: School Lunches

Posted by 7 years ago 16 Comments

I have 2 sons, one in preschool and one will be next September. I have to pack them snacks for school and I really don’t want to keep relying on processed snack food for them. What kind of snacks do you give your little boy so he can avoid the processed food trap? Do you have some healthy kid-friendly snack ideas? Fruit just goes so far with my kids!

Ohhh Boy.. school lunches are about to begin for you. Always a hot topic especially this time of year. I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask but I’ll share with you my school lunch strategy and maybe it will give you a few ideas.

First, I went to a bento style lunch box (click here to see the one we bought a few months ago). Little guy LOVES it. He likes the fact that everything has a container and since I already took a departmentalized approach to lunch they work great for us.

Regardless of the lunch box my approach is the same. Little guy gets 1 thing from 4 different categories, main course, vegetable, fruit and a treat.

The Main Course

The main course is normally a ham sandwich on whole grain. Although that gets boring so I mix it up a little. Sometimes it’s rolled ham with triscuits, whole grain ritz with laughing cow (he LOVES the stuff) and turkey pepperoni, sandwich sushi or even leftovers. I’ve been known to send him to school with 2 chicken legs from the night before or even a slice of leftover pizza.

I have many other main course ideas but they don’t fly with Ryan. I’d love to give him hummus and whole grain pita triangles or even a peanut butter and jelly but he’s not a fan. His school is also peanut free which wipes a whole food group off the table for me as I would literally go nuts with nuts but I can’t at the moment.

The Vegetable

Lunch and dinner never get served without a veggie. It’s just a personal rule of thumb. For school lunches our go-to’s are pepper strips, carrot sticks, grape tomatoes, green beans, sugar snap peas, cucumber and now kholrabi. :) There are all served simply raw.

The Fruit

Fruit is by far the easiest of the categories. I mix it up.. apples, plums, peaches, watermelon, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, cantaloup, honeydew, banana, orange slices, whatever! I go with what’s in season and what he likes shooting for at least 2-3 different ones per week.

The Treat

The treat is by far the Little Guy’s favorite and I let him pick something special for his lunch every week when we go grocery shopping. It’s usually those character gummies or kid yogurt (which I consider a treat with all the sugar in it) but sometimes I’ll throw in some pretzels, gold fish, and even an occasional piece of leftover candy.

My philosophy for feeding my Little Man is pretty simple, variety and moderation. His diet doesn’t have to be “perfect” it just needs lots of fresh whole foods with a focus on fruits and veggies. As long as he eats the “good stuff” I let him have the treats. We have conversations about the importance of healthy food in his diet and he knows and is very aware of our lunch making “strategy” even making the healthy decisions for himself.

Since you are only packing snacks you may want to focus on 2 of the categories. Maybe, a fruit or veggie paired with some cheese and crackers or a cheese stick. Cut veggies sticks with a little ranch dip? Half of sandwich? I know the processed stuff is easy but I’d make a rule of pairing something processed with something fresh. That’s a nice simple way of adding variety and whole foods without sending your kids to school with just fruit.

I’m sure there other moms out there with tons of tips so I’m going to turn it over to the comments…. :)

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There are 16 comments so far. Join in on the conversation.

    Cynthia (It All Changes)

    August 18, 2010

    Honestly this helps me a bunch too. I work just downstairs from my apartment so I always go home for lunch. Soon I'm going to have to start packing so THANK YOU for the tips.


    August 18, 2010

    Those are all great suggestions. Have you, by any chance, tried the Sabra brand hummus? My kids don't like any other kind, but they DEVOUR the Sabra stuff. And I must agree, it's the best!

    colleen, haverhill Ma

    August 19, 2010

    Parenting magazine just had an article on cute Bento lunches.


    August 19, 2010

    My problem isn't what to pack in my son's lunch, it's getting him to eat it. At home it takes him forever to eat dinner, at school he only has a set amount of time to eat lunch and has a million more distractions. He has come home with sandwiches with one bite out, and almost full containers of carrots, grapes or even goldfish crackers. I finally gave up on sending milk in his thermos and send water, that way I'm not wasting money on the milk he isn't drinking. It gets so frustrating. And when he buys lunch I have really no idea what (if anything) he is actually eating.


    August 19, 2010

    The sandwich sushi is so clever! Looks delicious.


    August 19, 2010

    I'm like Lori - my son isn't able to concentrate enough to eat when he's around other kids. We homeschool so thankfully I've never had to pack his lunches, but I do like to keep a couple handy snacks. My favorite whole food that's still easy and prepackaged is the tiny boxes of raisins. When we run out of fruit, or I need something to keep in my purse, or we need a little treat, the raisin boxes work perfectly. It's one thing that I actually don't have to prepare or clean up after! But it's still whole, healhty food - hooray!


    August 20, 2010

    Instead of PB use sunflower butter like Sunbutter.


    August 20, 2010

    Great idea! I wonder if they'll freak thinking it's PB... Once they sent home cheese and crackers thinking it was PB and crackers.


    August 24, 2010

    On sunbutter day put a note in his lunch with a photocopy of the label with ingredients and your cell number. I doubt they will call or take his lunch away ;) I would die without PB I love it!


    August 25, 2010 What fun ideas! I think I am going to need to get some bento boxes. =)


    August 27, 2010

    We send soynut butter for PB&J. the first few times for each kid I sent a note indicating that it is soynut. After that I figure they know. I do make sure to keep the soynut butter in a completely different place than the regular PB (also because my son hasn't had regular PB yet) These are great ideas for lunches - I currently send my daughter, who is 4, lunch 3x a week and my son 2x - I have so many ideas but many of them get shot down by her. But I want to start more with him, now that he has all his teeth, to get him used to different foods.

    Kim C.

    September 12, 2010

    We homeschool so I don't pack lunches for my kids but I still read daily. SO many great ideas for kids' school lunches!


    October 3, 2010

    This post is great! I am a college student and actually have the same lunch box as your son - except mine is pink! I generally stick to the same theory as you .. my "treat" though is usually cocoa dusted almonds (bummer about the no nuts rule). Thanks for the sandwich sushi idea! I love it!

    Liz W

    April 7, 2011

    i pack lunch for a "big boy" (he's 30) everyday. we sort of follow nutrisystem as far as what gets packed, but since their meals are loaded with crap, we make all the entrees at home. thanks roni, btw. about to make another meal of yours in a moment. but with the NS plan, there's always a snack, and a healthy carb and all that. i don't like the waste and preservatives of store bought, so i make this recipe once a month, though i'll double or triple it to get us through. we keep a select amount in the cupboard and freeze the rest, and i like it better without the nuts. we're getting a food dehydrator at some point, so i'll have a better, healthier variety of fruit to stick in them.


    September 4, 2011

    I found this website with fun lunch ideas-thought I'd share it.


    November 28, 2011

    Just reading this post...I'm not even a mom (yet), but I found it interesting and helpful. Variety and moderation---love it (and not just for kids!)!