Packing a lunchbox for school seems easy, but like most things in parenting you learn best along the way, taking advice from fellow parent-friends and following your child’s lead. There is no point in packing things that your kid won’t try, eat, or touch because then it just gets pitched in the trash and they come home hungry and tired – a combo not many people can Houdini themselves out of without an emotional breakdown.
I’ll start first by saying, I am not a doctor or a nutritionist – I’m just sharing my own mom experience. I read labels, I aim for healthy choices but I also live by the rule of moderation and dessert treats are not bad, I’ll get into my theory on dessert a little later.
If you want to follow a picky-eater kid account, she is a nutritionist, has tips and tricks, meal planning, all the works here is her website, I also follow her on IG @Picky Eating Help. She is the one who influenced a friend, who influenced me to use the silicone cupcake holders to help keep food from touching in the lunchbox container.
When I read labels I look primarily at the additional sugar, protein and fiber sections. I pay even more attention to the ingredients, GMOs, organic, preservatives, and because we are attending public school, nut-free. I’m not going to do a deep dive into each label, I’ll just let you know I seek to find lunch snacks that have no GMOs and I read the ingredients to see if whole foods are used.
I will bore you with my thoughts on organic. I have noticed that lately, I’ve been buying more organic options but I think it is because the price-points are no longer so different from non-organic, except milk. I do splurge to buy organic milk with no added growth hormones, the reason for this is because years ago (2005), before I even knew my now husband, I read an article that added growth hormones in dairy cows (which are used to increase milk production) can increase a child’s chance of starting puberty earlier, this has since been completely debunked and is not true, however I can’t move past it. A nice bonus is that organic milk lasts longer, the expiration date is always further into the future than non-organic milk.
Some rules I absolutely live by for myself and family when it comes to organic and I’ll tell you the backstory first. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at the young age of 5, mostly lived a life in remission with a few manageable flareups along the way. To this day, there is no clear reason as to why people have UC, everyone’s flareups are caused by something different and there is no cure. As an adult, I had a pretty serious flareup at the age of 28, that kept me from going to work, I could barley eat, I had no strength to walk and it was at that point I started doing research to learn more about UC and how to remain in remission without relying on a lot of prescriptions – one of the keys to success for me was diet and weight management, easier said than done to be honest. On my holistic journey, I started acupuncture and at a visit I learned about the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen. This is the actual point of my story – every year the list is updated and released. The clean fifteen are produce that do not need to be organic. The dirty dozen is a list that are recommended to purchase organic if availability and budget allow because these foods are more porous making them harder to clean pesticides and farming products off of them (strawberries are always on this list)- here is the clean fifteen 2021 list and here is the dirty dozen 2021 list.
All of this is just my personal preference, and sometimes I bend the rules because we all need to live life and enjoy it so we can’t sweat the small stuff. You do what is best for your family and I hope this helps!
Stay with me and hear me out because I know what I’m about to say may seem unconventional but it has worked for us.
Growing up, sweet treats and desserts were always available, to this day my mom’s motto is to eat dessert first so you have room for it. She has a sweet tooth that can never be satisfied. I think that helped me have a healthy relationship with sweets and desserts, I never sought them out as a reward or snuck them into my life, I never had to. So my approach is this, we offer treats randomly, we don’t make a habit out them and we don’t use them as a reward for anything – eating dinner, potty training… When I pack food for school, I have to send a snack pack and a lunchbox – there is almost always some sort of sweet treat and sometimes it comes back home because she knows that it will be offered again soon if she doesn’t want it at that time. It’s been really rewarding to see her make those calls for herself at 4 years old.
Dessert is not offered at every dinner, that is still a random act of kindness, depending on what it is, I like to put it right on their dinner plate allowing them to eat it first, in the middle or after dinner – their choice. I’m not saying we do not endure temper tantrums if we say no to ice cream or treats, we do, but I like to see them manage their own intake, we offer, they choose if they want it.
I’m always watching for clues that this approach is not working, and I’m willing to pivot if I notice an overindulgence.
Without further ado let’s dig in to the lunchbox
First I want to say thank you to everyone who has offered advice and who has given food ideas when I was looking for help with Olivia’s lunchbox. I also want to say my daughter is a picky eater, she’s a self-made vegetarian only to succumb to a chicken nugget or fish stick if it’s doused in ketchup. She lives for fresh fruit and peanut butter sandwiches – hold the jelly. On the east coast, the fresh fruit variety is limited during winter and school is nut-free, so as you can see I was desperate to find alternatives – and we did!
Some days are more balanced than others but she’s eating, growing and happy.
The go-to protein options:
– Hummus and pretzels (she wouldn’t dare to think about dunking vegetables)
– Two Good Greek Yogurt (12g of protein and low in sugar), Olivia’s favorite flavor is the Meyer Lemon
– Sun Butter (also a good source of Vitamin E), Olivia will not eat a sandwich, but will dip apples into it.
– I would include Hard Boiled Eggs, however Olivia shows no interest and there is an egg allergy in her class so I have not tried it.
– Kodiak Muffins – Okay so this brand is amazing. We buy a big box of pancake/waffle mix from Costco and on n the back of the box is a muffin recipe that is delicious. Not to mention, the pancakes and waffles are so good – jam packed with whole grains and protein (you can also buy them pre made and frozen for even easier mornings).
The go-to hidden vegetable options:
– From the Ground Up Cauliflower Cheddar Crackers, Olivia was not a fan of the pretzels.
– Wholly Guacamole mini packets and chips.
– Kirkland Brand (Costco) Fruit and Veggie Pouches, I include one of these in her snack pack daily.
– Apple Sauce, not really hidden but always a favorite, I buy unsweetened.
– Made Good – Chocolate Chip Granola Bars or Balls. Olivia is OBSESSED.
Other goodies I have in rotation:
– Mini Bagels with Cream Cheese
– Cheese Sticks
– Veggie Straws
– The Froot Thief
– Ritz Crackers
– Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars – all flavors
– Once Upon a Farm Pouches – the favorite blend is “OhMyMegaVeggies”
– Homemade Overnight Oat and Granola Bars
– Good Culture Cottage Cheese with Fruit – Olivia hasn’t really loved this option but Kate does.
– Tolerant Lentil Pasta – usually red lentil because it looks pink, cold and plain. (sounds weird but she eats it)
Make the lunchbox fun!
I try to make lunch fun, to let her know I’m thinking about her. I always include a post-it with “I (heart) O!” She can’t read yet, but she knows a heart means love and she knows her name starts with O.
I also try to add a fun snacks and a napkin in the lunchbox, something that matches the holiday or season in that month, you can find these at the grocery store usually as an impulse buy.
Lastly, I change up the dessert, you can find cute little frosted cookies to match a holiday/season.
The last tip I have
Summer is going to be here sooner than we know. I have created a drawer in the pantry that has all of the parent approve kid snacks, the drawer pulls out at their height so they can browse the current snack options, and grab it themselves. This gives them independence and more importantly, I am no longer their snack bitch. Of course, you have to set your own family’s rules for snack times, but this helps us out tremendously.
Follow me on IG for our daily lunchbox in my stories @nictastingspoon.
All of the links in this blog are provided for your use, none of them are affiliated or sponsored.