The Ultimate Guide to Packing a Home Lunch

The Ultimate Guide to Packing a Home Lunch

There is one slight advantage to store bought lunchable type of lunches: convenience. But in buying that convenience, you are sacrificing a chance to provide much needed nutrients used for growth of your child’s amazing body. And if you, and your child too possibly, make a plan, the lunches that you make at home can be just as convenient. There are lots of advantages to packing a homemade lunch, and one is that you’ll feel good knowing that you have all or most food groups represented by foods that your child enjoys.

Your homemade lunch does not need to be made in the morning when everyone is racing to get out of the door. My oldest is moving on to middle school, and our biggest issue is that she will have to wake up one hour earlier than she did before. That’s a huge change for us. So our goal is to have her lunch made the night before and ready to throw into the lunch box with her ice packs. I have slacked a bit in the past with involving my children with preparing their own lunches, but my sixth grader will be in charge of planning her lunch with guidance from me. And the bonus is that we’ll make lunches for the other kids as well or have them join us to make their own.

Remember that the freezer can be your friend in your race to get lunches made. Have some leftover chicken? Cut it up and freeze it into portions that can be used for lunches. It can be used in a quesadilla, in a chicken salad, on reusable toothpicks along with cubes of cheese or cherry tomatoes, etc.

There are so many options. Make and freeze muffins, excess fresh fruit, green smoothies, etc. to be grabbed and used when needed. Also, you can keep some of your grain options in the freezer to defrost as needed. That way, your package of English muffins will stay fresh even if you only use one or two per week.

I like to keep frozen fruit in the house in case I run out of fresh to use in lunches. One of my children loves to find defrosted mango and pineapple in her lunch. Another loves defrosted cherries as a special treat. So this allows me to make sure that fruit is always on the lunch menu, even if I don’t have fresh or we don’t have time to peel, cut, and so on.

We may use some foods often, but we do try to vary things so that lunch doesn’t become boring. So I like to post some options on the refrigerator to help with decision making.

Bread/grain options:

  • Whole wheat English muffins
  • Whole wheat tortilla
  • Whole wheat pita
  • Homemade pancakes or waffles used as the bread of a sandwich
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Muffins made with whole wheat flour. I make mini muffins and freeze them. Then we can add them to a lunch, and they defrost by lunchtime. One of our favorites are fruit and veggie smoothie muffins.
  • Pasta. If I am not serving bread or crackers, I usually include a pasta salad with whole wheat noodles, which doubles as a grain and a vehicle to serve a variety of vegetables. 

Protein options:

  • Beans. I like to make homemade beans, but you can use canned. The bean recipe that I use freezes well, and I like to freeze portions in a muffin tin so that I can defrost small amounts.  With this, you can make a bean and cheese quesadilla. As a variation, add chopped chicken or leftover steak. You could also make a bean, cheese, and guacamole roll up.
  • Hard cooked egg. Peel it or cut it into wedges for a salad.
  • Baked egg. The kids enjoy baking an egg on top of a few spinach leaves in a muffin tin at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Once baked, we sprinkle cheese on top, and we put it inside of an English muffin. And it tastes wonderful as a cold sandwich in the lunch box.
  • Chicken. The number of options with chicken seems almost endless. Slice it for a sandwich, use it in chicken salad, throw it into a green salad or pasta salad, cut it into cubes and serve with reusable toothpicks or provide the toothpicks for your child to assemble, etc. 
  • Nuts. You can use nuts as a side, in a mix with dried fruit, in a chicken salad, or in a muffin.
  • Nut butter
  • Hummus
  • Cold cuts. We do occasionally use turkey or ham cold cuts. Besides using these on bread, you could make a roll up with the meat on the outside. My son enjoys a roll with baked turkey breast as the outer wrap with cheese, spinach, roasted red bell peppers, and dill pickles inside.

Dairy options:

  • Milk. My kids buy the reduced fat milk provided at school. But you can send milk or a milk alternative in an individual portion.
  • Cheese. Reduced fat cheese sticks or other cheese can be used in the lunch, even if it just a bit sprinkled into a green salad or pasta salad.
  • Yogurt. Blend plain fat-free yogurt with fruit and honey, putting it into a silicone ice pop maker (with a cover), freezing and sending with lunch. Or layer fruit and plain fat-free yogurt (mixed with honey if desired), and let your child add granola at school (to prevent the granola from getting soggy) for added flavor, texture, and fun for your child.

Vegetable options:

  • Assorted raw vegetables
  • Assorted cooked vegetables. One of my children enjoys cold cooked broccoli and cauliflower. That’s her favorite school lunch vegetable. You just don’t know until you try, and I decided to try because she wouldn’t eat any raw vegetables, and she dislikes dips.
  • Vegetables in a pasta salad 
  • Vegetables included in muffins
  • Vegetables in a green smoothie, frozen in a silicone ice pop maker (with a cover), and sent with lunch

Fruit options:

  • Assorted fresh fruit
  • Assorted frozen fruit
  • Fruit blended with yogurt or layered with yogurt
  • Applesauce

I do include a “treat” in my children’s lunches, but it’s usually one of the mini muffins that I have previously cooked and frozen for lunches, or it’s a few dark chocolate chips mixed in with walnuts.

And for fun, if you have time, you can include a love note. It can be handwritten, or you can print some and just add your personal touch. I like to make all that I need for a week so that they are ready to use when the lunch goes into the lunchbox. Something else my kids love to do is be in charge of the notes for a day. My six year old loves to make notes for his sisters to include with their lunches. 

Your child’s customized homemade lunchable, made with his tastes in mind, is sure to please while providing what your child needs to grow and learn.

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