If you send your kid off to school with a lunch box, you've already packed close to 100 lunches this school year (and that's just for one kid!). But even if you've got your routine down pat, it's always good to take stock of what you're packing and make some healthy changes where you can. Here are some ideas for a mid-year lunch box reboot:
1. Pack LESS. This is my number-one piece of advice when parents complain that their child doesn't eat what they've packed. Cafeterias are busy, noisy places with lots of distractions—and there's not much time to eat anyway. When you pack less in your child's lunchbox, portions will look doable (not overwhelming), so he may just eat more food. Sounds counterintuitive, but it works for my kids!
2. Include a veggie every day. It could be a piece of lettuce on a sandwich, a few baby carrots, or even a little container of salsa. No, your child may not eat the veggies every day—or eat all of them—but she's getting the important message that veggies are part of lunch. And she's getting a chance to get vegetables beyond what's on her dinner plate. Vary what you pack, and include her favorite dip in a leak-proof container (research shows kids eat more veggies when they're paired with dip).
3. Rely on fewer packaged foods. I get it: Individually packed items are heaven-sent on hectic mornings and can truly streamline lunch packing (I use them too!). But with rising concerns about plastic waste, it makes sense to trim back when possible (and teach our kids to generate less waste too). Pick just one item at first to buy in larger quantities—like a large tub of yogurt instead of cups or a family-size bag of pretzels instead of small snack packs—and use a bento lunch box or reusable containers to portion them all week.
4. Get real about sweets. Sugar can add up fast in a lunch box, and beyond the obvious lunch box desserts, it can crop up in a lot of other places you may not think about, like granola bars, flavored milk, homemade muffins, and gummy fruit snacks. Take stock of which items are sugary, then try to include just one. Kids get added sugar in so many places during the day, it's good to tilt the lunch box balance toward less sugar whenever you can.
5. Teach them to pack all by themselves. If you're sick and tired of packing lunches every day, it might be time to pass the job onto your kids. Even kindergarteners can help portion items into a lunch box and locate a cold pack from the freezer. It's liberating to take lunch-packing off your to-do list, trust me. Ready to take the leap? Here's a guide to making it happen.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids, a guide to the very best foods for kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher.