How to Balance Your Kid’s Lunch Box
As school gets underway, most parents, including us, are tasked with packing a lunch for our kiddos. It can feel like a daunting and monotonous task at times, but it can also be fun and rewarding to see what types of new combinations you can come up with that the kids will love. As parents, we want our kids to enjoy (and eat!) their packed lunches, all while having them provide good balanced nutrition to help them feel great and keep up their energy. In today’s post, we’re talking about our formula to a healthy lunchbox and some of our favorite bento boxes for packing.
First, an important note…
The ultimate goal for a healthy lunch is balance. While this applies to the balance that goes inside the lunchbox (i.e. the actual foods you pack), what’s equally important is balancing what is realistic for your family and your child. Some kids are really open to trying new foods or combinations while others take longer to accept something new. Variety is great for developing kids’ palates and keeping them excited about eating. However, it’s important to not put too much pressure on yourself or your child when it comes to variety. You know your child best, so take these suggestions and adapt them to your situation.
The Formula for a Healthy & Delicious Lunchbox:
With that in mind, here’s a quick formula we like to use to help put together a healthy balanced lunch. We break down the lunch box into categories and list options for each. If you’re using a bento style lunch box (which we love and recommend — see recommendations below) it makes it easier to visualize the different components and fill each with the appropriate food.
Tip: We aim to buy different foods within each category on a weekly basis, this way even though the formula is the same, the lunch can look completely different. For instance, if a sandwich is planned a couple times a week, use bread one week, a tortilla the next, and a pita the following week.
1. At least 1 fruit: Cut up grapes, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi slices, dried apricots, fresh figs, peaches/nectarines, plums, melon, apples (try this trick for preventing browning if you need to pre-slice for little ones), pears, pineapple, mango, raisins, dried plums (aka prunes). Try fruit kabobs, for a fun presentation!
2. At least 1 veggie: Sliced cucumbers, sliced carrots, halved grape tomatoes, raw or cooked broccoli, sliced bell peppers, sugar snap peas, salsa, tomato sauce.
3. A source of protein: hard boiled egg, cheese (cubed, sliced, string cheese, shredded), meatballs, nitrate/nitrite-free deli meat, beans (white, kidney, black, chickpeas, edamame), leftover cooked chicken, pork, or beef, tuna or salmon (we love Bumble Bee Tuna Pouches with Spoon), yogurt.
4. A source of carbohydrates (preferably whole grain): whole grain bread, tortillas, pita, crackers, cooked quinoa, brown rice, whole grain or bean based pastas.
5. A healthy fat: avocado or guacamole, nuts/nut butter (if allowed) hummus, coconut chips, olives, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin), pesto. Fats often make great components of dips for veggies or on sandwiches. For instance, use pesto as a dip for veggies, a sauce for pasta, or a spread on sandwiches.
6. Something fun and unexpected: We like to include a small treat or surprise often. It could be a small piece of chocolate, chocolate chips mixed with cereal, favorite chips or crackers or another packaged food they love, or some of these oatmeal cookie energy bites.
7. A variety of colors: Kids eat with their eyes, so even if you’re not making beautiful lady bugs out of your grape tomatoes (kuddos to you if you are!) try to vary the colors by including different fruits and veggies. The more the better!
Bento Boxes We Love
Having a great lunch box can make packing and organizing lunch easier and more fun. We love bento style lunch boxes, which help you use the formula above to separate out the different components. Here are some great options:
PlanetBox: We love their Rover Box, which has 5 compartments so you can offer a little of a variety of foods. They are stainless steel, super sturdy, and come with a 5-year warranty. The only downside is that they don’t fit into many of the soft lunch bags, but PlanetBox sells a sack that you can use.
LunchBots Bento: These are stainless steel and come in a variety of sizes that fit into most canvas lunch sacks. They also make leak proof thermal containers that keep hot foods hot for 6 hours.
OmieBox: We love that OmieBox has a built-in compartment for hot food!
Bentgo Kids: These have just the right amount of compartments for young kids. They’re also really durable with rubber edges and completely leak-proof (so key!).