Six Easy Tactics for Better School Lunches

I like to think of myself as a fun-loving heathen, as someone happiest with a car full of kids setting off on a day of unstructured adventures. But yesterday, I danced in the street all the way home when I kissed my three oldest kids goodbye and sent them off for their first full day of school. It was time, more than time, for their growth and learning to be handed off to someone else for a portion of the day.

I was the only one without mixed feelings on back to school morning. I danced with joy!

The house echoed with silence, suddenly doubled in size by everyone’s absence. It was so jarring, so drastic, that Sophie started giggling. I’m not sure if she realized that she had finally gotten unimpeded access to a lot of forbidden toys or if she just thought it sounded funny, but her simple joy was the perfect way to fill the void.

There’s great energy in new beginnings, and it’s a wonderful time to resolve to do things differently, to start things off right. This year, I only have one back to school resolution:

Make their school lunches healthy, delicious, and FUN.

We started out with good intentions last year, but we quickly hit a serious rut. To call their lunches uninspiring would be kind. Every day they opened their lunch boxes to find the same ham sandwich, baby carrots, and apple. Boring, boring, boring.

New school year, new resolutions. I want pretty flowers on the table and fun but healthy lunches in their backpacks.

This year, I’m kicking things up a notch with these simple five tactics:

1: One new thing a week.

Kids rarely add new likes to their appetite, but they often suddenly decide that they now hate something they had previously loved. I’ll fight that trend by exposing them to one new food every week. Nothing radical: no need to launch a full quinoa attack in the lunchbox, but they’ll be encountering cucumber and red pepper slices instead of carrots, pears instead of apples, frozen yogurt sticks, and maybe a hummus wrap or two.

Surprise and delight with a mini Nutella sandwich.

2: Surprise and Delight.

Once a week, never on the same day, there will be a super special treat in the lunchbox: a couple of gummy bears, a Hershey kiss, a mini Nutella heart sandwich. Nothing big, just a tiny surprise and delight treat.

3: Bento Box

Little boxes equal lots of fun. Using lots of little tupperware containers adds variety and makes things more exciting. Whenever I stick 5 grapes in a teeny tiny container, they always get eaten. This year, we’ll try broccoli in tiny containers, and see what happens.

Give kids a few slices of American cheese and some cookie cutters, and they’ll eat 5 times the amount they would normally eat.

4: Cookie Cutters

Cute things taste better. I’m sure it’s been scientifically proven. With a drawer full of cookie cutters, it’s easy to get creative with sandwiches, cheese slices, and watermelon.

5: Make your own

This is actually a cheat, a repeat from last year. Given the makings of a sandwich instead of a ready made sandwich drastically increased my son’s love of previously painfully boring ham sandwiches. It’s also a nice way to make new things less threatening.

6: Go Hot

Thermoses go a long way to jazzing things up. And while things won’t be piping hot, it’s still so much fun to have warm stir fry noodles for lunch instead of a boring sandwich. Leftovers are also a great lunch when the dinner was a winner, like their favorite creamy meat sauce or a big bowl of chicken soup filled with noodles.


4 Responses to Six Easy Tactics for Better School Lunches

  1. Funny, I’m not packing lunches for kids in school yet, but made a new goal to pack lunch for my husband and me everyday. I often get on this kick and we quickly get bored and go back to buying lunches, but I promised I would keep it interesting and change it up. Think cookie cutters will jazz up a PB&J for my husband when I’m in a pinch?

    • Cookie cutters are fun for EVERYONE. 🙂 It just depends on the shape. My husband packs his lunch too, but I don’t think he’d be too excited to see his sandwich cut into a flower or a heart. But as long as it was stuffed with some leftover short ribs, I don’t think he’d be too upset.

  2. These are GREAT tips to keep kids interested and healthy! I’m glad to hear you pack your kids’ lunches. We home school, but I read the public school menus in the paper each week. Processed, processed, processed. I hear they are making some improvements like taking away the extra salt packets and changing the potato chips to baked chips…but not enough to meet my standards. lol

    • Toni,
      As a homeschooler, although you’re having lunch at home, I’m sure you hit ruts too. Routine has a way of sneaking up on us. Our school doesn’t have a cafeteria, but when we lived in Ohio, I was appalled by the lunch menu offered and we brown bagged then too. We need to get schools serving up a rainbow to kids. Thanks for the comment! Vanessa

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