Five Days of Kid-Friendly Lunches

I’m a mom who definitely does NOT have it all figured out. I am learning as I go and once I think I’ve got a handle on something, the game changes. What’s up with that?!? That’s why I love tip swapping. I’ll take all the ideas I can get and I’ll happily share what’s worked (sometimes) for me. I hope I’m not jinxing myself, but the lunch routine I established to feed my picky’ish preschooler is still running pretty smoothly after a year. Pre-routine, I would stand bleary-eyed and uninspired, cup of coffee in hand as I peered into the fridge trying to figure out a lunch that wasn’t peanut butter and jelly. Oh, I give up. PB& J it is. That was then, this is now:

Monday: Almond butter and jelly sandwich + veggies + fruit + cheese and crackers

Tuesday: Hummus sandwich + veggies + fruit + cheese and crackers

Wednesday: Cheese quesadilla + veggies + fruit + peanut butter and crackers

Thursday: repeat Tuesday

Friday: repeat Monday using peanut butter instead

I always keep this stuff on hand:

  • veggies = baby carrots, grape tomatoes and/or cucumber slices
  • fruit = apple slices + any seasonal or on-sale fruit (whatever is in the fridge at the time) usually, grapes, kiwi, oranges, melon
  • nut butters = my family loves the grind-your-own nut butter station in our Whole Foods Market bulk department. The honey-roasted grind-your-own peanut butter is probably my very favorite product we carry.
  • bread = Food For Life Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted 100% Whole Grain Bread. I think this bread is really delicious and flavorful and my son eats it up. If you’re used to the soft white stuff, the denser texture might take some getting used to, but it’s so worth it.
  • crackers = I’ve tried fancy crackers with lots of nuts and seeds, I’ve tried animal-shaped crackers covered in cheese dust, but the simple ak-mak sesame crackers are what gets eaten up by kiddo and mom and dad.

Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

  • Have designated containers so you don’t have to dig around the Tupperware drawer at 6 AM trying to find a matching lid. I use a little bento-box style set that fits perfectly in my son’s Spiderman lunchbox. Many Whole Foods Market stores carry these fun and handy lunch organizers, so check with yours if you need boxed solutions.
  • My secret to getting him to eat his crust? Don’t cut the sandwich. If I cut it in triangles or rectangles my son would eat the middle and leave the crust. I leave it whole, he eats the whole thing. This might not work for everyone. Fancy sandwich shapes made with cookie cutters are a good trick to keep in your back pocket for the reluctant luncher.

This simple routine is just the thing for me and my three-year old, but here’s another weekday lunch planner that provides a little more variety for the older set. It’s in PDF format so you can download and print it. One trick to get older kids to eat their lunch is to involve them in the planning and prep work. Here are a few very simple guidelines to make sure they pack in the nutrition they need (whether it’s you or them doing the packing):

  • include a protein
  • choose whole grain breads, crackers and pasta
  • pack one fruit and at least one veggie

Hannah, the fourteen-year old daughter of a co-worker, sent me a snapshot of her typical lunch and why she chooses what she does:

“This nutritious meal is easy to make, delicious to eat, and quick to devour which is definitely needed seeing how they never give us enough time to eat at school. I love to eat this and it gives me all the energy I need to laugh with my friends for some of the time and keep my nose stuck in a book the rest. (By the way for those who need to know, this lunch consists of grapes, pickled okra, whole wheat crackers, seaside cheddar, and smoked salmon.) Absolutely a meal to have, in my opinion at least.”

Sounds delicious to me too! I’m taking note for my own lunchbox. What midday-meal tips and tricks do you have up your sleeve? Do you bento? Pack bite-sized energy boosters? Share your ideas with us on Facebook and let us know what makes your kid love their lunch so much they keep it all to themselves. The top ten fan favorite ideas will win $50 Whole Foods Market gift cards. And get this: we’ll pick one bright idea and the winner will receive a grand prize of $1000 in Whole Foods Market® gift cards!

You'll only be entered to win if you share your idea on Facebook, but I since I can use all the help I can get, I would love to hear your lunch learnings too. Share them in the comments below.

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48 comments

Comments

geri keller says …

Hello i have a gluten and peanut allergy and i was trying to find some quick and easy lunch time things to pack

Amelia says …

My daughter is turning three in a few weeks, and, like most kids this age, goes through cycles where she loves something one day and won't touch it the next. (strawberries are SLIMY mommy! Next day - I wuv strawberries mommy!) The best trick I've found is to get her involved. After helping pick out the fruits and veggies in the store, and helping wash and prep them at home she's actually excited to eat them. Now I just can't wait for the day I can stop labeling everything in her box!

anca says …

more and more classrooms are nut-free environments, in addition to being peanut-butter free environments. many of the parents who read this are confronted with the issue they cannot pack such nut butter lunches for their kids. just something to keep in mind!

Beth says …

I love your ideas, I would love some more without peanut butter/or other nuts. Since many schools are no longer allowing nut products in lunch boxes! I find it challenging to keep

Beth says …

I love your ideas, I would love some more without peanut butter/or other nuts. Since many schools are no longer allowing nut products in lunch boxes, I find it challenging to keep it interesting!

Audra says …

At our school you have to pack a lunch, so I tend to be creative. For one daughter who loves fish, I purchase the salmon candy at WF, she loves it. Another daughter of mine, really loves granola balls. I put a nut butter with oats, dried milk, chia seeds, mini chocolate chips, anything goes. She also loves yogurt, so I purchased a container that separates the granola from the yogurt and pile on the berries. Another idea is fruit. They love mango and strawberries, watermelon with grapes. I also put a tortilla and put some sort of cream cheese, with peppers and cheese. As the year goes on, and seasons change, our menu changes as well.

eila says …

I aim for color and variety... often times its' leftovers from the night before. Otherwise, I keep stash of prepped fruits and veggies at the ready, so I can simply pop them into little containers and have lunches made in minutes! Here are some recent lunch boxes from our kitchen: http://www.fullplatecookinglessons.blogspot.com/search/label/lunchbox%20ideas My biggest challenge is that the children's school in nut-free, and we eat a lot of nuts at home. So, I do need to be thoughtful when packing + picking up prepared items to pop in to their lunch boxes.

JP says …

Love the ideas. I have 3 children in 3 different schools and all three schools do not allow peanut butter, almond butter, sun butter, nutella or any nut products, due to food allergies. Th8is is great for sanwiches and fruit & veggie dipping but sadly not allowed. Two of the schools also do not allow any chocolate products (i was sending mini chocolate chips with my youngest son's yogurt to encouage him to finish it - small treat)or granola bars with nuts or chocolate ships. Sometimes this gets so difficult to send things they actually eat and also fit in the guidelines. Thanks for some ideas!

Jill says …

While I love the healthful approach and the variety included in your lunchbox plan, I think it bears mentioning that nut allergies are a problem at most schools (in Canada, where I live); nut products should not be sent to school at all. Don't worry, I'm not a completely crazy parent who loves to jump up on her soap box whenever she gets the chance; but as a parent of a child with life-threatening peanut and tree-nut allergies, I wanted to take the opportunity to point out that sending nut products to school can become a life-threatening situation for some families. My son does a random of check of other children's lunches (each day) because he is consumed with worry that a parent will mistakenly send a nut product. I completely understand that nuts/nut butters provide a yummy and healthy choice for many families (I miss it every day ;) ) but I want to hope that a child's life is more important than a PBnJ sandwich for lunch. Please do not send nuts to school.

Angie says …

I have my kids help make their lunches. This way I know they will eat what they pack and make sure that they have at least two servings of fruit..

Tara says …

Love the lunch box tips. Our family loves nut butter too, but many schools and camps are nut-free. An alernative is sunbutter made from sunflower seeds.

Danyell says …

My son loves frozen fruit in his lunch. I put some in a container with a lid and add a fork. It isn't frozen solid by lunch time, but still super cold and not soggy. I just put a frozen lunch pack in his lunch bag next to it. I also always put ice cubes in his water bottle to help keep his entire lunch box cold.

Dale L says …

I am embarking on a new adventure in the lunch category this year. All three of my munchkins are going to school! Can I get a YES!?! My oldest is the pickiest. Usually for him its sandwiches, nuts, yogurt, crackers and fruit. Not necessarily all at once. But my youngest, twins, are adventurous eaters. Their lunches will consist of tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt, carrots, broccoli, (my oldest will eat broccoli and cauliflower, so those go in his too) wraps, granola everything and anything I can think of. Often when there is leftover from the night before I stick those in lunches too. The sky is the limit. I use laptop lunch boxes as well. I lOve these! They make it so easy to prepare some things the night before, stick them in the fridge then finish the rest the next morning.

Emily says …

My best tip is to plan out lunches along with your weekly menu, that way you avoid the 6am pb&j trap. I'm very blessed to have an 8yo child with a wide-open palate, so we explore ethnic foods quite a bit. Which in turn inspired a lot of conversation and exposure to his classmates. Also very helpful is I take a picture of his lunch every morning and blog it so we can go back and evaluate his lunches together.

Emily says …

Great ideas. Here are this seasons hits at my house... Rolling ham or turkey and provolone around a carrot or cuke stick Mini fruit kabobs - mixture of melons, berries and grapes. Mini meatballs (loaded with shredded veggies) with marinara dipping sauce

WoodbridgeMom says …

Our school bans nut productsk, but we do home-made hummus. My son doesn't like meat. I like the fish ideas and will try them. My son is a very picky eater...I wish I could get him to eat the things your kids are eating.

Cristi says …

I pack theme lunches based on what my kids like, using cookie cutters, party picks, cupcake toppers, or just the colours of a sports team or a superheros costume. I've even made decorative food picks by printing images and sticking them on toothpicks. For my preschoolers who eat at home, I make their food look fun, like attaching grape "wheels" to apple wedges using toothpicks, to make little cars.

The Kitchen Noob says …

Thanks for this! My family is changing to a vegetarian, whole foods diet and we've been wondering what to send our to daughter with for lunch.

Alishia says …

I like to use cookie cutters. A large one for sandwiches and a small star shape for apples, I also like to cut carrot flowers. It takes a bit more time but it's worth it knowing he's eating his lunch.

Allison B says …

Thanks for all the ideas. My son's school is not nut-free at this point, but it looks like I need to be prepared for that. I'd love to hear more ideas for nut-free options. Keep 'em coming!

Mingming Li says …

Kungpao chicken, rice, salads, apple and coffee

frank says …

I love customizing home made granola bars! See my link for the recipe. http://movesfast.blogspot.ca/2012/08/customize-your-granola-bar.html

suz says …

Hey for all you nut-free mom's there are nut free alternatives. Cream Cheese, also nut free butters are good too. Get creative these are just ideas. Also keep in mind there are people that give peanut butter to their children for lunch. Just because your kid a a peanut allergy doesn't mean my kid has to suffer. My duaghter is a training athlete and peanut butter is the best and easiest protein a can give her. I'm a train nurse and I know that peanut allergy reactions can be prevented just by keep your child away from direct contact. Ask your child to not sit next to someone eating a nut-butter sandwich.

naturalfoodie says …

We use the crocodile creek stainless thermoses more than anything! My kids love to eat planned leftovers from the night before. I will pour a bit of boiling water in the thermos in the morning and put the reheaded food into the container. It stays warm until lunchtime! We are dairy free and the classroom is nut free, so that forces us to be creative. Some options at our house include: cooked tilapia (we cook an extra one at dinner the night before) with wilted spinach in the thermos, fruit and some kind of grain on the side (bread, crackers, etc) Chef Chloe's vegan mac N cheese in the thermos with a side of peas (I put the frozen peas straight into the tiny bento container and they thaw out by lunchtime) and some fruit (can be whatever we have on hand) Homemade soup in the thermos with crackers and fruit Hummus in a pita with sliced veggies and fruit Hard boiled egg, crackers, fresh raw veggies and fruit Rolled up ham or turkey in a fresh tortilla with guacamole, raw veggies and fruit Beans and rice in the thermos, fruit and fresh veggies on the side Mini meatloaves made in cupcake tins, peas, cold boiled potatoes and fruit The options are endless if you think ahead and make extra at dinner time! I ocasionally include a homemade cookie or other treat as a surprise (like a small piece of cake, zucchini bread, etc.).

Nikki M. says …

I like to give my kids variety-one day a sandwich with fruit & veggies, another day mac and cheese in a thermos with butternut squash blended in and also giving them a divided tray with a lid with meat, cheese, crackers and healthy "sweets" just like the prepacked lunches that they like but much healthier. We have a weekly "menu" that they select from. It makes for an easy packing and they eat it all.

Maryann says …

My son LOVES the samples at WFM, so it that spirit ... roll up a slice of fave lunch meat with fave cheese on top. Insert (wheat) pretzel sticks into (and through the opposite side of) the roll (an inch apart) and slice the 1-inch pieces to create a meat/cheese pinwheel with a pretzel 'toothpick'. Add fruit/s and veggie/s.

nancy says …

I would love to have seen the looks on my son's faces if I'd have sent them to school with a lunch containing pickled okra and smoked salmon!

Tressa says …

My son has nut allergies but we're able to use soy nut butter. It's a great alternative for nut-free schools.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@GERI - I have listed a few ideas here for you! - Rice Paper Rainbow Wraps: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/3315 - Deli-Style Ham Roll-Ups: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/11 - Chicken Dippers Lunch: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1110 Let us know how you enjoy these recipes!

kate says …

I love these lunch ideas..ever think of packing sushi for your older ones?

John says …

How hard is this

Tofu Mom (Marti) says …

I've been packing lunches for 17 years, I just realized today - and at least 7 more to go.(Suddenly I feel tired). Some great suggestions here (though the title is totally misleading since two meals are repeats!) I agree with the bento boxes and letting kids get involved. Sometimes a "salty" component like pickles or olives has really worked to kick-start my kids' appetites it seems. We wouldn't eat plain pickles (or pickled asparagus, okra, green beans, etc) at home but a couple slices to snack on in a lunch box seems to be a huge hit! We do home versions of those wretched "lunchables" with cheeses of their choice or smoked/marinated tofu cubes and veggies like cucumbers and thin carrot slices instead. While the nut butter issue is a concern, there are often alternatives like soy-nut butter and sunflower-seed butter that many schools now allow.

Nikki says …

Sun-butter ( made from sunflower seeds) is a great substitute for peanut butter.

Beatrice Lawson says …

Every time I start reading a blog post dealing with nutritious lunches I am full of hope, and every time by the end of it all I m disappointed. Three days including peanut butter and almond butter. Even if my child liked nut butters - which he does not - as far as I know at this point all the schools in our province are nut free environments. Not only that even things like crackers have to be certified nut free... add to that a child who feels meh about cheese and won't touch hummus and you are left with zero ideas. Now - I understand that cheese and hummus are big staples and my child being finicky is my problem, but I keep hoping someone will post some more diverse ideas.

Kyla says …

You have some good ideas, but you seem to be completely out of touch with the nut-free environment of most schools today.

Valencia says …

I'd love to know which school this mom sends her kids to with all these nut products! What about the children with peanut/ nut allergies?

Randy says …

You clearly DON'T have a picky eater! The veggies and sandwich/quesadilla would return uneating in my house. Plus so many schools prevent peanut and other nut butters due to allergies. Not superhelpful, sorry.

Nicole says …

@Emily, I would love to get the mini meatball recipe!

Lerato says …

Hi there, I'm a working mom with a 6 year old boy who has just started school. He has to pack his own lunch. Problem is ,he's allergic to eggs and peanuts and is sensitive to wheat. Can u you please help with lunch box ideas. Kind Regards. Lerato.

Heather says …

Love the ideas! Would like more without cheese though as my daughter has a sensitivity to dairy. Trying to find products she'll love, without her missing her dairy is extremely hard.

Laurie says …

Check out JJ virgins diet And the Wheat belly book

Jena says …

Love, love, love the ideas!!!! Yes my son has nut allergies but there are so many other options out there. We can still send these type of lunches using products like Wowbutter (nutrition provided better than PB) Sunbutter, Biscoff (one of our favorites). With just a little imagination you can have a weeks full of different sandwiches/lunches or even 2 weeks where you don't repeat and who doesn't love that. As another reader said "I hope a child's life is more important to every parent than a Peanut butter and Jelly sandwich".

Angelica says …

This is perfect! As a 21year old working full time and on the weekends, this is simple and just what i was looking for while adjusting to a busy week resorting to take out for any kind of nutritional intake. Kudos!

Heather says …

I see people put smoked salmon, cheese, boiled eggs, yogurt in kids lunches, but I'm always worried that it will go bad because it is not refrigerated. I put the ice packs in the lunchbox, but it does not keep it cold enough. I'm I worried about nothing? I don't want my child to get sick because of safe handling of food.

chloe says …

These sound like really good lunch ideas, but do you know of any vegan lunches that a middle school student could pack? I can never think of anything besides veggies with hummus or salad.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CHLOE - Here are some great vegan sandwich ideas that could work for lunch! http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/search/%20?f[0]=field_special_diet%3A158786&f[1]=field_recipe_course%3A803

cookie cutters michaels says …

Make sure that the plastic bag or cover is snugly closed so the biscuit dough does not dry out.

Michelle Crumpler says …

A great option is quorn roast sliced in batons for a wrap. Our wrap includes seasoned sauce with vegan mayo, garlic granules and parsley (ranch-ish), strips of cuke, lettuce, shred carrot, red bell pepper, and green spinach wrap. Wrap it up in some wax paper and cut on the diagonal it is beautiful which helps with the buy in for the kids. Another option is to use asian sweet chili sauce. Quorn cubes make a great alternative with crackers and fruit. (not a quorn employee just a fan).