Permanently Change the Way You Pack Your Kids' Lunch Box

August 25, 2018

Being a parent is kind of like running a marathon in the dark. It’s a winding, unpredictable path that requires precise maneuvering, a little bushwhacking, potential run-ins with aggressive wildlife, and incredible patience.

All the while, you are breaking trail for those behind you and being accosted by voices coming at you from all sides telling you which way to go and giving you advice on how to be more efficient.

At the end of the day, you question whether the whole marathon thing was even worth it, whether you made any right choices at all, how you could have done it better, and whether or not you are even capable of trying it all again.

But every day, you dust yourself off, and begin all over again.

Packing a great lunch box is no different.

Prepare Yourself to Make Nutritious Kids Lunches

We all know it happens: we start out strong at the beginning of the year, using fresh ingredients, making homemade bars and cookies, browsing the latest tips online, and putting a little extra energy into the lunch box balance.

But as time passes and schedules overtake our determination and preparedness, we start to reach for the packaged granola bars and break out the ham and cheese.  We say things to ourselves like “Just this once” or “You do what you have to do”.

I totally get it. We can’t possibly pack perfect lunches every single day without the ebb and flow of life swallowing us up every now and again.

Here’s what worries me: it’s like pulling out those baggy, a wee-bit smelly, worn-out-in-the-butt, “I’m so tired I can’t do anything” dark grey give-ups.  The throwing of the hands in the air as though all is completely lost simply because you’ve had a horribly rotten day or an incredibly tough week.

Do not turn your marathon around just because you stubbed your toe.  Stick to your path, my friends, as all winding journeys have bumps and potholes. Keep moving.

This fall, get out of the gate at a great, steady pace with just a little more determination and preparedness.

A New Approach to Packing Amazing School Lunches

When preparing school lunches for your kids this year, keep these important nutritional tips in mind.

1. Ditch the Junk….FOR GOOD!

One of the toughest things we have to do as parents is set boundaries AND stick to them.

If your boundaries are unclear, your kids will not learn about limits and will walk all over you (take this from someone who’s struggled hard with boundary setting).

Simply say no to what I like to call "non-food items":

  • packaged foods with zero nutritional value
  • unnecessary sugars and hidden chemical additives & flavourings
  • gummies (yes, even those fruit juice organic ones)
  • string cheese (don’t get me started!)
  • packaged cookies & granola bars
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Clif Bars
  • etc.

Remember:  just because the package says “organic” does not mean it is a healthful food!

2. Reduce Reliance on Refined Carbs

Refined carbohydrates make our jobs as parents and meal providers far too easy: breads, wheat wraps, muffins, croissants, English muffins, bagels, cinnamon buns, crackers, etc. are all favourites for kids.  Generally, they will eat these each and every time.

The problem with refined carbs is that the body converts them into sugar quickly, using up the energy right away and ineffectively, spiking blood sugars, and often storing the excess sugar as fat.

Long-term issues involve weight struggles, diabetes, and degenerative diseases. Short-term problems include blood sugar instability, hyperactivity, difficulties with focus and concentration, and behavioural disruptions.

Choose whole food, slow-release carbohydrates instead: brown rice, millet, quinoa, oats, Kamut, spelt, rye, etc.  Your child will have more energy for longer and with a potential increase in focus, concentration, and behaviour. Win-win.

3. Take Out Processed Meats

Sausages, hot dogs, salami, ham, bacon, smoked meat, beef jerky, cold cuts, etc. are all meats that have been smoked, cured, dried, or canned and are considered processed. These factory-altered meats have strong links to cancer, chronic disease, and obesity, and many contain high levels of nitrosamines (preservatives), which are additive compounds found to contribute to cancer and degeneration.

If you want to use meat, source it with care, look for ethically-raised and organic, and cook the meat yourself.

4. Build Lunch Around Veggies

As opposed to building a lunch around a sandwich, try starting with a solid portion of vegetables. Either an assortment of raw veggies with dip or hummus, zucchini noodles with pesto, or dinner leftovers. Build around your veggies and feel good knowing the bulk of your child’s lunch intake will be vegetables.

5. Try Vegan

I am a big advocate for including vegan meals in your everyday routine. Eating vegan, at least in part,  ensures a generous supply of real, whole foods, nutrient-density, and often, eating in season and with variety.

Looking for more vegan meal ideas?  Check out some great recipes here!

6. Try a Lunch-Packing Schedule

Kids love a solid schedule; they know what to expect and can have something to look forward to. Making a Monday-to-Friday lunch schedule may help you to get more organized in the kitchen, will ensure better lunch variety, and may even spark some needed lunch enthusiasm in your young ones.

Read about my lunch packing schedule here.

7. Allow for Grab ’n’ Go

Every now and again, we need a break: you have to work extra hours, your partner’s away, you’ve taken on an extra home project, etc.  Whatever the case, allow for an occasional grab ’n’ go option, but choose wisely. My go-to is brown rice sushi or a grain-based salad made in-store from our local organic store. Try to avoid those mostly-bread, processed meat-filled sandwiches or fast food style meals – this kind of eating isn’t doing anyone any good.

Healthy Kid-Approved Lunch Ideas

Here are a few nutritious and delicious recipes your kids might enjoy in their lunches:

Happy lunch packing!

What healthy lunch meals or items do you prep for your kids?

Let us know in the comments!

Cindy Spratt is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and certified Eating Psychology Counselor specializing in Culinary Nutrition.  Through workshops, working with kids, individual counsel and retreats, Cindy weaves her areas of expertise by infusing nutritional education with emotional guidance and culinary passion. It is her mission to help individuals make realistic, long-term, and sustainable life changes for thriving health. “Eat to Feel Good. Feel Good About Eating”. Learn more at

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