No more wasted food and soggy sandwiches! Here are five common mistakes when packing school lunches (and how to fix them).
Thank you to Produce For Kids for sponsoring this post. I’m honored to be their new official registered dietitian!
If I’ve learned anything after packing approximately 2,300 lunch boxes, it’s that we all make mistakes. I’ve bought lunch box containers that were absolutely adorable but impossible for little hands to open and close. I’ve packed watermelon that dripped all over the sandwich. And I’ve tossed too much uneaten lunch box food down the disposal.
But there’s something to learn from all of these mishaps. So when Produce For Kids asked me to write about how to #PowerYourLunchbox, I thought troubleshooting might be a good place to start. You can hear me talk about this topic on this episode of Produce For Kids’ podcast Healthy Family Project.
Packing School Lunches: 5 Common Mistakes
Mistake #1: Packing too much food.
If your child regularly comes home with a half-eaten (or worse, barely touched!) lunch, big portions may be the problem. Yes, even if that amount of food seems right for him and even if he eats that much at home. Over the years, I learned that the less food I packed for my boys, the more they ate. Truth is, large portions can feel overwhelming to kids at lunchtime, especially if they’re dealing with a chaotic lunchroom and limited time.
Try this: Instead of big portions of just a few items, try packing smaller amounts of more kinds of foods. That may feel more doable and appealing to some children. And always ask your kids if the portions feel right, so you know whether to pack more or less next time.
Mistake #2: Giving up on veggies.
I get it. You’re tired of the same five baby carrots coming home uneaten every day. But hear me out: Packing veggies on the regular means your kids get used to the idea of seeing vegetables at lunchtime, and that has value. So whether it’s a piece of lettuce on a sandwich, some peas in their pasta, or even a little container of salsa for dipping, try to make vegetables a part of their lunch box. Even if they only eat the veggies sometimes, they’re establishing a positive habit.
Try this: Pinpoint the veggies they like best and pack a very small portion (like just two sugar snap peas). Add a small cup of dip if your kids like it. Dips and sauces are helpful tools in helping kids feel more comfortable around veggies–and eat more of them.
Mistake #3: Not accounting for sogginess.
Your child’s lunchbox may be sitting for hours before it’s eaten, and unpleasant things can happen in the meantime: Juice from melon can leak all over pretzels. Jelly can seep into bread. And cut fruit can turn mushy. Lunches that don’t look good won’t get eaten, which means food gets wasted.
Try this: Here are some tips for combatting lunch box sogginess…
- Wrap the cold pack in a clean towel to absorb moisture as it defrosts.
- Smear nut butter on both pieces of bread before the jelly.
- Spread a thin layer of butter under mayo on sandwiches to form a barrier.
- Test the lunch box to make sure it’s leakproof by putting a small amount of water in it and standing it on its end. If it leaks, package drippy things in separate containers.
- Pack lettuce and tomato on the side when making sandwiches.
- Separate wet and dry foods in different compartments and use silicone cups to divide them even further.
Mistake #4: Including new foods.
I know the photos on Instagram of sushi and roasted beet salad tucked into lunchboxes are swoon-worthy. But if those are foods your kids are already iffy about–or if she hasn’t even tried them before–the lunch box is likely not the ideal introduction. Unless you’ve got adventurous eaters who love surprises (and if so, I envy you), easy-to-eat, familiar foods often work best for kids at school. You can always find new ways to serve them. I love this gallery of lunch box ideas from Produce for Kids for inspiration.
Try this: Save the new and unfamiliar foods for after-school snacks when your kids are in a comfortable environment (and probably at their hungriest!). Put them on a snack plate with already-liked foods.
Mistake #5: Doing it for them.
Some parents truly enjoy packing lunches–and if that’s you, keep on keeping on! We all have household tasks we find pleasure in doing (mine: sucking up tufts of dog hair with the vacuum wand). But if you groan and complain about packing, it’s time to pass the job onto your kids. They’ll gain important life skills, you’ll get valuble time back.
Try this: Start slowly by having them pack part of the lunch. Even young kids can find the cold pack in the freezer or get an applesauce cup from the pantry. And sign up for my free 5-day email series Pack Your Own (Darn) Lunch and get printables, resources, recipes, and strategies to make it (finally!) happen.