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!