Back to School: Tips on encouraging kids to make their own lunches

I recently republished a column I wrote in 2009 about why my mom and dad did not make our school lunches when we were kids. If you’re making that transition in your family, here are some tips to help you get started.

School lunches don’t have to be a pain to pack, which is why children should be involved in the process. Contributed by Shefaly Ravula.

  • Don’t dump the lunch duty on kids on the morning of the first day of school. Talk with them a few days or a week ahead of time to prepare everyone for the change. Practice making a few lunches before school actually starts.
  • Be patient with them and show them how to do the various lunch tasks. Kids can get frustrated easily if they don’t know how to do something, but parents also avoid frustration themselves by just doing it for them. Remember: Give the kid a lunch; they’ll eat for a day. Teach them how to make their own lunch; they’ll eat for a lifetime.
  • Avoid rushed mornings by packing lunch the night before. Get creative with a Thermos. It’s great for soup, but you can also keep smoothies cool or things like chicken nuggets relatively warm.
  • Look over the school’s lunch menu and pick out a few days each month to eat the cafeteria lunch. It will give your kid a break from lunch-making duties and might encourage them to eat the school’s lunch more often.
  • Some quick, easy-to-pack foods include dried fruit, cheese, crackers, lunch meat, rice cakes, yogurt, applesauce, cottage cheese and fruit, such as apples, oranges, nectarines, plums and bananas. Use a reusable container to pack them, if you can.
  • Grains such as couscous and quinoa, which can be eaten at room temperature, are a blank palette for vegetables, nuts, herbs or anything your kids like. You could make a grain salad for dinner and plan to have the kids take leftovers to school the next day.
  • Now that school lunches are significantly better than they were when I was a kid, I would definitely recommend eating school lunch on the days that the menu item sounds appealing, even if the kids are hesitant at first.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Plan ahead for tax-free weekend, make sure your vaccinations are up to date

Break out of the sandwich rut

Here are some alternatives to peanut butter and jelly from chef and cookbook author Ann Cooper, founder of the “School Lunch Revolution” campaign:

If your kids like Italian sandwiches, this one packs well in picnics and lunchboxes. Contributed by Natasha Milne

  • Cashew or almond butter and honey on 12-grain bread.
  • Add dried cranberries and walnuts to chicken salad.
  • Stuff a salad in a pita (keep the dressing on the side if it’s going in a lunch box).
  • Turkey, cranberry sauce and a thin layer of mashed sweet potatoes or leftover stuffing.
  • Grilled vegetables with goat cheese on toasted whole-grain bread.
  • Grilled portobello with melted Swiss cheese, avocado and honey mustard.
  • Instead of the standard mayonnaise or mustard, use pepper jellies on ham, turkey and chicken sandwiches.
  • Skip the bread and use lettuce leaves as sandwich wrappers.
  • How about a fruit sandwich? Put slices of your favorite fruits between thin slices of banana bread.
  • Sit down with your kids and ask them to brainstorm sandwich ideas with you. You might be surprised by the combinations they come up with.