Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 12 noon, I pick up Charlotte from her preschool classroom for the day. I walk by a table of 10-12 adorable preschoolers who are eating their individual lunches brought from home. Yesterday I counted 3 plates with macaroni-and-cheese, and typically there are at least 2 plates of leftover pasta and endless sandwiches with various flavors of bread. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not judging these food choices–I just take a quick glance to see where the rest of the world is with feeding their kids, and while I do see some fruit and meat, most of it is non-Paleo and processed.
It occurred to me yesterday as I watched Charlotte walk around the table and glance at her friends’ meals, many of which were unrecognizable to her, that parents have many obstacles to face when packing the morning lunch box–busy mornings, budget constraints, picky eaters, multiple children, etc.
While I certainly don’t have all of the answers, here are some things that work for us when it comes to packing the mid-day meal.
After reading about these on Everyday Paleo, we broke down and bought a Planet Box lunchbox for Dana for this school year (1st grade). While we successfully packed Paleo friendly lunches last school year, I got really tired of washing and packing plastic containers and lids, and dealing with plastic baggies. We splurged (they are a bit pricey) on the box, the cover with pockets for ice packs, and the containers.
We love it! The quality is great. It’s easy to clean and use, and it’s a good size–it fits right in the backpack. We have used the box for various meals and snacks when we’re on the go, and people always comment initally on how cool the lunchbox is and secondly how healthy the lunch is. At the beginning of the school year, Dana was telling me that yard duties and teachers were coming over to check out what was packed each day. I keep her very involved in the choices for her lunch and at the end of her school day, she proudly tells me when she finished everything or lets me know when something didn’t work or hold up well.
Truthfully, it’s very simple. I always have a couple of kinds of quality lunch meats on hand. We use a 1/2 pound to 1 pound of turkey, ham, and salami per week from the deli of our grocery store. I ask for ingredients from the deli clerk to check for any gluten fillers or MSG. If you are interested in nitrate-free meats, Applegate Farms has a good selection at Trader Joe’s.
Dana likes to roll her meat with some cultured cream cheese (not 100% Paleo), some grass fed Kerrygold cheddar cheese, or avocado. Because Charlotte is more sensitive to dairy, I use only avocado in her lunch meat.
If we have any leftover meat from dinner the night before, I use that first. This isn’t always an easy choice since the meat needs to be enjoyed cold and can change the texture and flavor of the meat. Nevertheless, Dana loves leftover pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce and leftover grilled chicken in her lunches.
For the rest of her meal, Dana picks from an assortment of fruits (dried or fresh) that we always have in the house. I try to stick with locally grown (or at least domestically grown) seasonal fruits.Typically she chooses whatever is on-hand and fills the smaller compartments of the lunch box. She likes sunflower seed butter or almond butter on celery stalks (this is great in the long skinny compartment). We have recently been packing sunflower seed butter in the small container (buy separately) for dipping bananas and apples. In the picture above, we hollowed out some strawberries and filled them with the cultured cream cheese for a special treat.
I also keep a shelf in the pantry with dried Paleo-friendly foods that the kids can grab for a snack for school, home, or activity. This includes raisins, squeezable applesauces, fruit leathers, Lara bars, coconut chips, almonds, and pecans.
Charlotte and I typically eat lunch at home, but the times I have left Charlotte at school for lunch, she has gobbled up the turkey-avocado rolls and fruit.
I have found that the trick to making a lunch that keeps the kids satisfied with good energy for the remainder of their school day is including the fat. Using the avocado, coconut chips, and sunflower seed butter ensures that they won’t run out of gas and be starving at pick up time. I would also include nuts and Lara Bars if they are allowed at your child’s school. Typically, Dana comes home, changes her clothes, and does her homework before asking for a snack. That’s how I know she eaten a breakfast and lunch that keeps up with her appetite and energy level.
Please share in the comments what your kids love to eat in their lunch.