family wellness

How to Keep School Lunches Interesting

We’re a few months into the school year, and if you’re anything like me, packing lunches for the kids every day is getting O-L-D. I want to be that mom who packs something healthy, colorful, and exciting every day of the week, but it is so much harder than it looks! For school lunch inspiration and advice, I reached out to one of the best school lunch packers in the business: Catherine McCord of Weelicious.

If you’re not following Catherine’s awesome Weelicious Instagram page, you should be. She posts gorgeous, nutritious, creative school lunches comprised of everything from a huge variety of fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market, to homemade baked goods, to items that are gluten-free or dairy-free, to treats and snacks that look like cute animals. It’s my go-to place for lunchbox inspiration, so I was thrilled when Catherine offered to share some of her tips on the blog.

Keep reading to steal her secrets for keeping school lunches interesting for kids—and for parents.

What kinds of foods should parents pack for school lunches?

My philosophy is pack a fruit, veggie, carb, and protein. If you know you have those things, you’ve already won. Adults eat so much with emotions, but kids are better about eating what they need. Sometimes I pack cookies, and the kids eat the fruits and veggies. They can regulate their bodies with what they need. I also try to touch on different flavors and textures, so I’ll be sure to pack something crunchy, something smooth, something savory, and something sweet.

The worst thing is when kids don’t eat what you so lovingly pack. Does involving kids in the process help?

Oh, 100 percent! Take them to the grocery store with you. Have them pick two fruits and a salty snack—or whatever you think will entice them—and always have those on hand to mix and match in their lunches. I also try to keep a chalk board list or notepad with each kid’s top 10 favorite foods, which I know they will eat.

What do you do when a lunchbox comes home uneaten?

If they don’t finish their food, it’s their snack later. I really love PlanetBox bento boxes, and those have a pouch for an ice pack, so I know their food is still okay to eat in the afternoon. I’ll say, “Do you want another shot at your lunch?” They usually do.

What about fun things like notes or animal toothpicks? Are those worth the effort?

I think so. I use cute toothpicks intermittently and find that cutting sandwiches or fruits and veggies into fun shapes goes a long way with my kids. Use a process of trial and error until you figure out what works with yours.

What kind of supplies should you have on hand for packing lunches?

I love bento boxes because kids are able to see all their choices laid out for them. I suggest owning one or two bento boxes per kid—i have five for three kids—so you always have an extra in case one gets left at school or you didn’t run the dishwasher that night. If you have kids who like hot items, like my daughter who loves leftover mac and cheese or lentil soup, have a thermos or two. And we have tons of reusable water bottles and reusable napkins. It sounds like a lot, but we’ve used some of our stuff for seven or eight years.

Any tips for picky eaters?

I think involving kids in packing lunches and food prep is key. Cook with them, eat with them, and give them two choices as much as you can. Show them how much you enjoy food: plant a garden, go to the farmers’ market, make pesto. All of these little things lead to kids becoming more flexible eaters.

Have some creative lunchbox ideas of your own? Please share ’em in the comments below!

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  • michaela kilbride

    Some really interesting ideas Gen. Thanks xxxxx

  • Pam

    Bentos are fantastic – they cause less waste, but the food doesn’t touch which can be an issue with some kids. A friend of mine has a son with high functioning Asperger and she could pack only five items, only the veg could change – he had two he would eat. He does not handle change with ease, so this sort of advice is fantastic for those who have unique struggles.

  • Lily Wood

    Totally stealing these for my own lunches! Thanks Gen ❤️

  • Suganti

    I have a few things that fit my kids like, it has to be easy to eat with one hand, no liquids, quick to eat given the lunch time and also portion matters. And I definitely try to cover the major food groups. So yes, of course sandwiches are involved (ham, pbj, chicken,etc) given the left over meat from dinner. Pasta, meatballs w/ breadsticks, quesadillas. I also try to compensate their sides like, pbj covers carb, protein and fruit part. But I do give cheese/yoghurt and carrots w/ranch. Fruits get in the rotation with other lunch options. But their dinner gets what lunch doesn’t. Things that don’t get soggy by lunch. The less work they do at lunch with food is more time for them to eat. They get easily distracted talking to friends or less lunch time bc of finishing their work. I could go on and on about my learning and figuring it out but I guess that helps anyone who needs tips? Great post! Something I love talking about :)) Food!

  • Alyce

    Love Weelicious!! Have been following for her smoothies and platters for so long.

  • Laura Rogers

    I love sending leftovers from the night before, so when I’m making our supper plates I also make a container for my daughters lunch as well. But not everyone has access to warm up their food, so salads are fabtastically great (green leafy veggie salads, tomato cucumber feta salads and fruit salads are amazingly delicious and healthy). Chicken ceasar salad wraps is one of my favourite go to lunch items. Putting the dressing in a small container and packing tortilla wraps separately and then I put seasoned cooked chicken, lettuce, bacon bits, cheese and croutons in a covered bowl makes it easy to add the dressing and shake it up before wrapping. It’s healthy quick and quite tasty, although cooking the chicken takes 20-30 minutes I do that the night before. I also sometimes send some milk in a thermos as well as a bowl and baggie of cereal. Or you can send cheese, crackers & cut lunch meat (you could use a cookie cutter to cut the meat and cheese) which is much more affordable than a lunchable. Or simple things like cooking mr. noodles, soups, or grilled cheese sandwiches in the morning and putting them in a thermos to keep warm and packwith yogurt fruits and vegetables. In my house we pack a lot of cucumbers, pineapple and berries. I hope this gives you some extra ideas and that your little ones enjoy them too.

  • Andria MacDonald

    I love the home made sea kelp wrapped sandwiches. We press the food together with molds that come in halves. It makes 3-d sandwiches. Little hearts, butterflies. Tie them with sea kelp. My son now makes his own sushi. If they make it, try eat it, no matter how healthy. If you make it they don’t. Same stuff. Kids!!

  • Andria MacDonald

    I love the home made sea kelp wrapped sandwiches. We press the food together with molds that come in halves. It makes 3-d sandwiches. Little hearts, butterflies. Tie them with sea kelp. My son now makes his own sushi. If they make it, they eat it, no matter how healthy. If you make it they don’t. Even if it’s all the same stuff. Kids!! They want to have some say in what they do just like we want.

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