Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Packing a Healthy Lunch Your Kids Will Eat - WFMW

Whenever I talk about eating healthier and feeding my kids healthy food, I often get the same question.

What do you feed your kids for lunch?

I actually have this very same issue.  Trying to stay away from packaged foods is nearly impossible with the lunch situation.   I have the hardest time packing a healthy lunch that my kids will actually eat.  I suspect many of you do also. 

For one thing, my kids want what everyone else is eating.   They really don't want to bring something strange to school for lunch.   I go to lunch with my kids a lot and I see what happens to the foods that parents send that the kids are too embarrassed to pull out of their lunchbox.    And it usually ends up in the trash.

I applaud any parent's effort to send a nutritious lunch to school and I think sending the alternative is, well, not such a good alternative.

I would love to hear from you on this topic. I need new ideas! 

In the meantime, here has what I've been doing so far this year.

Here are non-negotiables for me:
  • Water always. 
  • 100% juice boxes only.
  • Whole grain bread without High Fructose Corn Syrup.  There are about two brands out there in your mainstream grocery store.  Trader Joes and Whole Foods do carry only this type of bread but I choose not to spend $4 on a loaf of bread.  Just sayin'.   I also use Naan bread, pita bread and whole wheat tortilla shells sometimes. 
Let's talk about the sandwich...
I saw this sweet little Kindergarten boy at lunch the other day with a tuna salad sandwich.  Five year old kids at the table were already saying ewwww!  Apparently, it starts early.   Thankfully, he did not seem bothered by it at all - he was chowing it down. 
  • My children do not love deli meat so I only pack a deli sandwich a couple times a week.  I try making chicken salad which my daughter loves but my son hates.  I try to buy whole sliced turkey or chicken and give them the things that they love like Bologna and Salami only on occasion. 
  • My kids dislike mayo, so we use mustard.  
  • lettuce and tomato add a boost to the sandwich.  
  • Whole cheese slices - cheddar, mont-jack, provolone.
  • I only use all-natural peanut butter - my kids have never known the difference.  And only all fruit jams or reduced sugar jelly.   Smucker's reduced sugar (not sugar-free) jelly has less sugar in it than many all fruit jams.  Go figure. 
Snacks and sides:
  • They want snack chips.  So, I try to pack the lesser of the evils.  I will pack real potato chips which, although they are fried, they do not have hydrogenated oils in them.  I also pack pretzels a lot and tortilla chips.   Doritos, Cheetos, Cheez-its and the likes are a rare treat as most of them have hydrogenated oils in them.  
  • I noticed a girl in my son's class that had homemade waffles for her snack.  No butter or syrup - just the waffles - she ate them up and was so excited!   We love the whole wheat waffles from Trader Joes or Vans waffles that you can find at your grocery store- those might be a good option. 
  • Air-popped popcorn with sea salt for a snack.
  • I send whole cheese that I slice from the block.  My kids seem to like this better than cheese sticks.
  • Nuts - my kids will eat almonds and cashews.  I realize many kids won't.  You could make up your own trail mix and send that.  My kids don't like dried fruit of any kind - I guess I've spoiled them with too much fresh!  Here is an entire article from Family Fun about making your own trail mix.

Other things I pack.

  • Red, yellow, orange, green bell peppers with hummus.  My kids love vegetables so I am lucky in this regard. 
  • Raw broccoli, grape tomatoes, peeled carrots, cukes, and celery are always a hit with them.
  • Cooked and chilled edamame.
  • Pickles - not a fresh veggie but they love them.
  • Both of my kids will eat a salad if I pack it in their lunch, so once a week, I do that.
  • I also bought the Thermos containers and send leftover spaghetti, soup or mac & cheese.
  • I have these little plastic containers from Tupperware called Midgets that I send with dips like hummus and peanut butter.  I'm working on a homemade Ranch Dressing - any recipes out there?   Dips seem to make my kids eat just about anything! 


  • Dessert - I try to send homemade goodies if I have them.  
  • Fruit salad or fresh fruit every single day.
  • Yogurt 
  • I will pack cookies. They are kids.  Kids love cookies.  I love cookies.  Bonus if they are homemade.  
I talk to my kids a lot about making good food choices.  I want them to want to eat healthy even though they see other kids eating things that are not so good for them.  I try to teach them about packaging and marketing and how that is not what we should look for in food.   I also allow them treats so they don't feel they are missing out on something.  Most days I think they get it.

So, that is about all I've come up with!  Your turn - what do you pack for your kids lunches?

*updated:  found this great post that pretty much covers mine and then some - wanted to share it with you because there are some awesome ideas here. 
Packing a Lunch: Healthy Food to Go at Kitchen Stewardship

**More updates:  Another great one over at Musings of a Housewife - School Lunches - be sure to check out the comments, too. 

For more Works For me Wednesday ideas, head on over to We are THAT Family.  

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jen@odbt said...

Thanks for all the great ideas. We're going to be packing 2 lunches this year (twice the fun!). Don't forget a note from mom or dad in the lunch. I usually jot something down on their napkin.

Kristin said...

Thank you for putting so much thought into this! I wish my kid would eat raw veggies - nothin but carrots over here :)

Janel@Dandelion Dayz said...

Yes, packing 2 lunches certainly added to the stress of making lunches. Especially, since my youngest does not eat all his sister will eat.

Yes, a note! My kids always love a note. Feed their hearts, too! ;)

Tracey said...

Those are some wonderful ideas! My girls are good about eating fruit, cheese and whole wheat crackers. I also send leftovers in the thermos and only water to drink. They've almost never had anything else to drink with their lunch so don't seem to think they're missing anything!

Ali said...

What great ideas! My oldest is picky so he gets the same old stuff week after week. My Kindergartner is my good eater loves sandwiches and pickles and nuts. But I admit, sometimes convenience wins out and it's goldfish and chocolate pudding some days!

Janel@Dandelion Dayz said...

That is real life, Ali. A mom's gotta do what a moms gotta do!

Anonymous said...

All great ideas - but the Smuckers low sugar jams contain red40 (at least the strawberry flavor does). So if you're trying to avoid artificial colors, you may want to look at other options.

{ L } said...

This is an awesome and extensive list of great healthy ideas! I needed this. Thank you so much.

Janel@Dandelion Dayz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janel@Dandelion Dayz said...

Good to know about the red dye in the Strawberry, Anonymous.

I know many kids have allergies to dyes and it is a real concern for some families.

I use the Grape because my kids do not like most Strawberry jams on their sandwiches.

The grape DOES NOT have any dyes, although it does have preservatives that some may choose to stay clear of.

RLR said...

Fantastic ideas! I pack my kids' lunches, too, for a few reasons - food allergies, less packaging waste, and because I want them to eat healthy foods. I have pics of their lunches over on my mommy blog - hope you'll drop by. Click the "lunches" label to find them quickly!

Kitchen Stewardship said...

Thanks for linking up to me (and the granola bar link-love). Your blog looks great!

I have a HM ranch dressing at my blog in the recipes tab (, and I like Kelly the Kitchen Kop's, too! Best of luck-- Katie

Musings of a Housewife said...

Omigosh. I totally didn't see this post before I wrote mine. We even chose a similar photo! LOL!!! A reader referred me to this post in my comments.

Now, I'm going back to read. :-) So I'm sure I'll have another comment with my remarks.

I'm nothing if not inefficient. Snort.

Musings of a Housewife said...

Love the popcorn idea. Just added it to my list. I also like that you send something sweet. I'm going to start sending homemade granola bars (which, let's face it, are basically a homemade bar cookie anyway) or homemade cookies b/c even though I know sugar is evil, I would rather them eat homemade baked goods than something from a package.

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