Easy ways to help your kids pack balanced lunches

cheerful black schoolboy with lunch box against unrecognizable girl

After many months of at-home learning, many parents throughout Ontario are glad to have their children return to schools, their friends, and some extra-curricular (in person) activities. And I’m no exception.

While our lives have been topsy-turvy for what feels like years, a routine is re-emerging from the COVID-19 chaos. And with it brings mundane chores such as washing masks non-stop and packing lunchpails every day.

My girls are 10 and 13 now, so they’ve been working on independent lunch making for a few years. I was still overseeing the lunches before we went into our last lockdown, but I’m more hands-off this year.

Still, I need to know that the girls are taking at least some things that would be considered part of a balanced diet. If they had their way it would be all carbs and pre-packaged snacks (and I’m sure some days it is!)

Read about our early struggles packing lunch for a picky eater.

Here are some of the ways I help them get a more balanced collection of lunch and snacks:

Send soup or leftovers in a thermos

This requires some assistance from me in the mornings. When we use the thermoses we will boil the kettle and pour the hot water into each thermos and put the lid on until the food is ready. This pre-heating probably isn’t necessary, but it keeps the food piping hot!

If we do a can of soup, I heat it on the stove and pour it into the thermoses. The girls get distracted often, so I get to keep an eye on the soup so it doesn’t burn! When it’s other leftovers we often just microwave some heat into them and then package them up.

Something to remember, though – make sure you’ve poured out that hot water before you put the food in. We have made that mistake a few times!

Prepare fruits or vegetables ahead of time

Chop up that melon, cucumber or carrot before morning. It’s a huge time-saver and helps the kids keep that independence. It also makes it easier to add those as snacks to your own day (or lunch pail), without the hassle of chopping them up.

Invest in containers

My kids struggled with containers for a long time. Kindergarteners have poor dexterity, but thankfully kids grow into many abilities over the years. We found success with plastic containers with flip-top lids and a gasket-style seal early on in the girls’ school lives. Now, most of those are on their last legs.

Because our school does boomerang lunches (where everything that goes to school also comes home from school), good containers are also instrumental in keeping the inside of the lunch pails clean.

I was offered the opportunity to try some new storage containers from Cuisipro, free of charge. Of course, I jumped at the chance. The pouches come in assorted sizes and are a one-piece design with a great seal. The larger ones stand up on their own for easy portioning or storage.

Pack-It bags come in a variety of sizes. Image via Cuisipro.

The girls love trying new things, so I ran the collection through the dishwasher and they took a few of them to school the next day.

One mild annoyance from the mom side: we don’t use the heated dry in the dishwasher, so they come out very wet and do not airdry. Not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but you need to get in between the layers at the top that seal it closed to ensure it’s dry before packing your dry food in them.

The verdict?

“They work great!” they told me. No spilling, easy to open, and soft-sided so they can be maneuvered around more rigid items in the lunchpails.

One morning’s lunches. Photo by Jessica Foley (lunch by Rose Foley.)

Using the Cuisipro Pack-It bags has made mornings run more smoothly, and knowing they’re plastic-free gives me peace of mind as well. Our next adventures with them will be freezer storage and perhaps cooking sous vide style. Learn more about the Pack-It bags on the Cuisipro website.

Let the kids help with groceries

Sometimes this backfires, but overall your kids can suggest what they would like to take in their lunches, and tag along to the grocery store to see some options. Of course, guidance is always required here, but there are often great opportunities to read labels at the grocery store to help kids understand what they’re eating.

My kids have been helping with the grocery lists, and the actual shopping, for quite a while now. I always ask them what they’re low on (they have a cupboard of their “school snacks”), and we brainstorm options for the week before we head out shopping. Does it help them eat healthier? I’m not sure. But it does help me lessen some of my “chore” load!

If you just skipped to the end, here’s a recap: packing leftovers is usually a healthy and quick lunch option; do some prep like chopping and portioning foods in the afternoons, evenings or weekends to save time; invest in good containers; and get your kids involved with the grocery shopping. These seem like obvious tips, but sometimes we get lost in the morning’s rush and forget how to support our kids throughout their school days.

Related: Ways to support our pre-teens in the classroom

How do you help your kids make smart and balanced choices for their lunch pails? And do you pack them, or do they? Let me know in the comments!

Disclaimer: I was provided with Cuisipro Pack-It bags for free to facilitate this article. All opinions are my own, or that of my family.

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