It is that time of year again – when the kids are heading back to school and you are thinking about what they are going to eat at lunchtime.
If you are anything like me, or are at all interested in providing them with a healthy lunch-time meal, you will not even consider letting them have what the school cafeteria has to offer. Even with the drive to improve the quality of school lunches, most are not what I would consider to be healthy. They are too high in salt and sugars for the most part. And they are not usually gluten or grain free. Then adding that a very limited supply of fruit and vegetables are on offer…..
So that leaves you with no choice but to send in a packed lunch. And if you are new to Paleo or Primal eating that can seem like a daunting task.
What are you going to give them in place of the sandwiches? What about the cereal bars? The cakes and cookies? The chips? And what about a drink? Are juice boxes and chocolate milk Paleo/Primal? And will the kids even eat what you pack?
Here are my tips for packing a healthy school lunch that your kids will love, without you tearing your hair out with stress.
Buy good quality food containers
There is nothing more stressful than rummaging in a cupboard desperately trying to match up plastic tubs with their lids first thing in the morning. Get some quality lunch containers (one for each kid that you will be packing lunch for and one for you and your partner too if you work outside the home). Yes it will be expensive, but for the reduction in stress it is worth it. There is a really good review of the various lunchbox options at 100 Days of Real Food. We bought Planet boxes for our kids (and for Hubby and me), 6 of the full Rover Systems, including the carry cases and the big and little dippers. Believe me, it was NOT cheap! But a good quality lunch box will last for years.
Make sure that in addition to a lunch box you also get an insulated food jar so that you can send a hot meal. And consider a Thermos to send hot or cold drinks as well.
And while we are at it, cutlery…. I found that if I was buying cheap disposable plastic spoons and forks, the kids would throw them away even if I told them to bring them home and wash them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to contribute to environmental pollution in that way, and I dislike wasting money either. The solution we went with was to buy the kids sporks. They bring them home each day and they go through the dishwasher with the lunch boxes.
Get a metal or BPA-free plastic water bottle so that you can send in water instead of juice or disposable water bottles.
And don’t forget the re-freezable ice pack to keep it all cold.
And the minute they come home from school, make them fetch their lunch boxes and other lunch items out of their bags so that they can be washed or put through the dishwasher… that way, they are ready for the next day! No if’s or but’s, no excuses of “But I must do my homework”, fetching their lunch containers takes seconds!
Keep it simple
Aim to use lots of leftovers and consider cooking for the week ahead over the weekend. Either send the leftovers in cold to be eaten cold (even stews and chilli can be surprisingly tasty when served cold!) or reheat them in the morning and pack in an insulated food jar. If your child’s school has a microwave for the kids use (a surprising number do now, especially for older kids) you could send the food in in a microwave safe container for your child to heat up.
If planning on cooking for the week ahead, cook chicken legs and wings, meat such as a beef or ham joint that can be sliced, make soups, stews and chillies and freeze them in single serving containers ready to be used later on. Maybe even consider making some paleo-friendly treats such as my energy bars or chia pudding.
Stock up on fruits and veggies that can be eaten raw, nuts, seeds and dried fruit and jerkey and other Paleo friendly snacks. If your kids eat dairy, buy some cheese to cube or cut in sticks and consider these silicone molds that can be filled with natural yoghurt.
Make sure you include something that contains healthy fats – olives (if your kids will eat them), avocado, nuts or nut butter (as long as the school is not nut-free), coconut chips, full-fat dairy (if you allow your kids to eat it), even cold cooked bacon… The fat will give them plenty of energy and help keep them full.
Then enlist the kids to help. Older kids should be able to pack most of their lunches themselves, and even tiniest can assist with making choices (“carrots or celery? Apple or banana?). You want to be able to pack the entire lunch in 5-10 minutes if not less.
You want the kids to eat their lunch, so the lunch-box is not the place to experiment with new unfamiliar foods. Stick to what you know they love, and save the experimentation for the weekends.
Don’t pack junk food
This should go without saying. Send in real food. Things that your great-grandma would recognize. So no packets of chips, cookies or crackers. No yoghurt tubes, cereal bars and cakes, even if it is organic. Just because something is organic does not mean that it is good for you!
Instead send in fruit, sliced or whole, fresh veggies, home made (peanut free) trail mix and 85% or better cocoa solid chocolate as treats.
Instead of a juice box (which is really just vitamin enriched sugar water) and sugar-laden chocolate milk send In plain water to drink. Or consider using a Thermos and send in fresh, cold milk.
Don’t worry too much!
The final thing to stress is not to obsess too much over the lunches – if the lunch you send in is a little light in protein (or your child does not eat the protein you provide!), just give them some extra protein at dinner… think whole day nutrition rather than a single meal. It is OK to send a meal that consists of a load of veggies and dips with a few nuts if you are all out of protein ingredients, as long as you make up for it at dinner time (and possibly breakfast if you know the lunch is lacking). And the same goes for anything else that you put in the lunchbox. If your child does not eat it and is lacking in something you consider essential, just give it to them in another form later in the day… didn’t eat the veggies? give them some extra veggies for dinner or as a snack. Didn’t eat the fruit? give them some fruit as a bed-time snack…. also consider letting them snack on the remainders of their lunch once they get home as long as you consider it safe for them to do so (eggs or meat kept at room temperature for an afternoon might not be quite so safe to eat! Just sayin….)
So, what could you pack in the lunch box?
I will write a post about that tomorrow…