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Meal Ideas for Packed Lunches


It's easy to get in a rut with packed lunches. There's something so easy about throwing together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that branching out can seem time consuming and overwhelming. Add in a child whose age is right in the peak period for picky eating and packing yet another lunch can become a major stressor.

Creating A Meal Packing System

To help with packing different, and potentially more exciting, lunches, start with having multiple packing systems. Do you only have a lunch bag and plastic baggies available? That's going to limit what you can pack. Investing in a small insulated thermos means you can send your kiddo to school with something hot. A reusable bento box will help you create interesting combinations of foods that will keep your child happy during lunch.

Meal planning one week at a time is a good way to help you get ahead. You can also keep an easy-to-read list or small pictures of lunch ideas. If your child is one of the pickier people to need a packed lunch, you could have them help plan their meals by giving them a board to post what they would like to have packed each day.

Sample Weekly Menu

Monday: Bento box with cold cut slices, crackers, sliced grapes, carrot sticks, hummus

Tuesday: Cheese sandwich, thermos of chicken noodle soup, apple, raisins

Wednesday: Thermos of rice and beans, cheddar cheese stick, tortilla, orange

Thursday: Bento box with green salad, cold chicken breast slices, crackers, banana

Friday: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, yogurt, berries

Of course you need to be mindful of expiration dates when you shop. Foods like cold cuts are generally only good for 5-7 days after purchasing them, and some fruits have shorter shelf lives than others. Buying smaller amounts of lunch meats, or thinking of different ways to use the same cold cuts, can help you get your money's worth. As an example, if you buy deli meats you can fill out a week's worth of lunches like this:

Monday: Meat and cheese roll-ups.

Tuesday: Pita pocket with cold cuts and veggies

Wednesday: Sandwich

Thursday: Bento box with meat, cheese, crackers

Friday: Wrap

When it comes to fruit, storing fruits properly can help them last longer. Berries, citrus fruits, and grapes should be kept in the refrigerator while bananas, apples, pears, and plums should stay on the counter. If your child doesn't like apples with the skin but you want to keep them from turning brown, peel and slice an apple and then soak it in a bowl of water with a small amount of salt. After soaking for a minute, rinse lightly and pat dry. The salt water neutralizes the enzymes that cause browning and will help the slices make it to lunch time.

There is no simple solution to making the perfect lunch for your child, but with some planning you should be able to come up with an interesting, varied, and delicious lunch each day.

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