School lunch…if you follow me on Instagram (that’s the link) you might have noticed that I take lunch boxes very seriously. The truth is that I try to offer Luca and Alex healthy, tasty and fun food at home and I can’t just “let it go” when it comes to what they eat at school. I just can’t.
Through the summer I worked on a LunchBox series: 4 videos to share with you all my tips, strategies, tools, recipes to make my daily lunchbox experience easy and simple and at the same time to prepare a fun, inviting, healthy lunchbox every day. I really hope you are going to enjoy them and, if you like, share them with your friends 😉
I think that every lunchbox should be:
1 FAST and EASY to PREPARE
2 HEALTHY and BALANCED. Ideally every lunchbox should have a nice mix of fruit, vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates. Small amounts, of everything.
3 FUN and APPEALING for the kids. At school kids do not have a lot of time for lunch or recess and they have to choose between “eating” and “playing”. It is not difficult to guess what they will choose if the lunchbox is not presented in an interesting way. That’s why I like to offer something different every day. The kids are curious to open their lunch boxes and discover what I prepared for them. You can keep it as a surprise to make it more fun. Wouldn’t you be bored to know that every single day you are going to eat exactly the same thing?
Here you are some mom’s hacks that make the preparation of my kids’ lunch boxes easy and simple.
Leftovers. That i what really saves me 4 out of 5 times. When I prepare dinner I always add one more portion that I already know will be the main course in my kids lunch box the following day. Sometimes (when I have time) I like to re-invent leftovers. My favorite one is risotto. Leftover risotto is a wonderful base to prepare small patties or baked arancini for the next day.
No testing in the lunchbox. Do not pack food that your kid hasn’t ever tried or food that you know he doesn’t like. The lunch box is not the best way to test new foods or try to convince your kid to like one.
Favorite foods. As a consequence, make a list of foods that you know your kid loves and keep it in mind when you prepare the lunchbox. Try to have at least three of your kids favorite snacks always stacked in the pantry, ready to add to the lunchbox.
Bento Box style. I love the bento box concept. Foods are neatly separated but at the same time presented all at once. A lot of toddlers are very picky about dividing their food, they do not like when foods touch each other. Also, if foods are touching they can get soggy or change flavor. Consider what happens if you top some yogurt with either granola or cereals and – 4 hours later – your kid open the lunch box and finds them soggy and mushy. In this case it is always better to pack the yogurt separately from the granola (in a tiny container inside the bento) and let your kid have fun mixing them at lunch time.
Last minute foods. Insert at the very last minute foods that you know will deteriorate or oxidate with time. Apples, oranges, avocado, peeled banana.
Follow the seasons. I love taking the kids with me at the Farmer’s Market, either in Los Angeles or in Italy. I show them all the different and beautiful fruit and vegetables available. I ask them to help me picking the best produce and I tell them funny fact about it to keep them interested (why some cauliflowers are purple, the deeper the color the sweetest the fruit, good zucchini and cucumbers have to be firm at touch…).
Of course, the sample part is what they love most and…to tell you 100% the truth, the bouncy house and the kids art&craft booth at the end of the market!!
Use fresh and seasonal produce! It tastes better as it didn’t need to travel all around the world to reach you. Also, buying local you are supporting your local economy.
For the kids saying “bye bye” to the last bunch of grapes in February and “welcome back” to the first peaches in April (we live in Southern California!!) is exciting and teaches them the meaning of seasons.
Involve your kids (if they are old enough). Give them few options (that you already selected) and let them decide what they want to eat. If they are old enough than can even help you preparing the lunchbox (i.e. cutting fun shapes with the cookie cutters).
Ask your kids feedback. What did they like or not like in the lunchbox? why?
Food ice packs. Instead of using lunch box ice packs to keep the food cold, you can use the food itself. Frozen yogurt sticks or puree pouches are a perfect example. They will keep the food cold and by lunch time they will be a fresh treat for your kids.
WHEN TO PREPARE THE LUNCHBOX?
Personally I think that the early morning is quite challenging. I can barely make to take the kids to school on time. Making the whole lunch box in the morning from scratch would be impossible. I start thinking about the lunch box when I prepare dinner (which left over will be a perfect lunch box masterpiece?) and I put them together after dinner while the kids are playing. The only thing that I do in the morning is filling the thermos and inserting the foods that will oxidate very fast and get not so appealing by lunch time (apples, bananas, avocado…)
Kids eat with their eyes first. If they see something that looks and smells good, you have a better chance that they will taste it, and like it, and keep eating it!!
When your kid opens his lunchbox at school, he is surrounded by tons of different stimulations and distractions that will take him away from his lunchbox. So, when your kid opens his lunchbox you want to get a “wow” effect. It’s more simple than you think!!
- Make it Small. Kids like small bite size portions, less intimidating and easier to handle and to eat. In a super simple and fast way the traditional sandwich can be transformed either in a sushi roll or in fun bites.
- Make it Colorful. Kids love bright colors. Luckily mother nature provides a nice variety of deep intense bright fruit and vegetables that you can mix and match creating an inviting rainbow.
- Make it Fun. Cookie cutters or a simple knife can transform in few seconds any food in something fun. For example I use a potato peeler to slice carrots creating carrot rolls.
- Let them make it. Let your older kids assemble their food. When eating is also a fun activity to do, everything is easier. Place in the lunchbox few ingredients that your kid will need to put together to enjoy: fresh fruit + granola + yogurt = parfait. For younger kids that might be a bit challenging, so an homemade fruit roll to unroll will do the trick.
- Think outside the box. My little Alex doesn’t like sandwiches. He eats them in layers separating the single ingredients. That’s why I like to place in his lunchbox “deconstructed” sandwiches. Basically I add the different sandwich ingredients separately. It works!!!
I’ve spent the last few years on a lunch box mission to find the “perfect” combination of food and equipment. My dream: to open the lunch box when the kids come back home from school and find it empty, all eaten, all gone, every day!!!
A big truth is that WHERE you pack your kid’s food is as important as WHAT you pack. The container matters 🙂
- Bentobox. I think that the Bento also known as Laptop layout is the one that works the best with kids. Only one container, easy to handle and open with the whole meal ready to be seen and enjoyed in one move. It’s a bit sad to see kids at school struggling to open their containers. It takes time away from eating and they get frustrated…aka they will not eat what’s inside. Also, too many containers hide the food and kids eat with their eyes first!!
- I’m currently using four different Bento style lunch boxes for my two kids (3yrs and 5yrs) that I really like. Check out this video to see a comparison between them. If you are interested in more information, here you are the websites
PLANETBOX (Rover model) www.planetbox.com
OMIEBOX (with thermos inside) www.omielife.com
- Hot or cold? That’s a very personal question 😉 every kid is different and they have different tastes. My personal opinion is that I like both options. I want the kids to have a warm meal when it’s cold outside and a nice cold lunch when the sun hits.
- How to prepare a Thermos? In the morning, fill the thermos with some hot water, close the lid and let it warm up for at least 5 minutes. Pour out the water and than fill it with the warm food and close. Being the container already warm, will keep the food warmer for longer time.
- Price. A good lunchbox can be pricey, no doubt. (anything from 30 to 50$). But I think that a good lunchbox is also a durable one and you will end using it for more than one year almost every week day of the year. Well, I think it’s an investment totally worth.
- Re-usable. The bento box concept is totally earth friendly. Consider how many plastic or paper bags you are saving using and cleaning the same lunch box every day!!!
- Lunch box drawer. I dedicated a special drawer to our lunch box equipment. It’s much easier: everything is there and it is much faster to find.
ONE WEEK of LUNCHBOX ideas
And now, just to give you an example of a full school week of lunch boxes, here you are some ideas
If you are interested in more lunch box ideas, simply follow me on Instagram https://instagram.com/buonapappa Every school day I post a picture of my kids lunch box 😉
I really hope this post gave you some ideas and a bit of inspiration for your kids lunch boxes. If you have more tips or suggestions, please share them with us, or if you have any question I will be more than happy to reply!!! ciao, b