Stuck in a lunch rut? Jennifer Tyler Lee, award-winning author of The 52 New Foods Challenge, shares simple tips to give your lunch boxes a boost.
Back to school means back to packing lunches. With busy schedules and tired kids, it’s easy to rely on the same few lunch dishes and snacks that always deliver. But that gets boring—fast—for you and your kids. These simple tips will help you start the school year on the right foot, and keep your lunches at the top of the class list.
Healthy Lunch Ideas: Lunch Packing Tips
Follow a Formula. Three colors + one protein + one healthy grains = a better box. Colors can be veggies or fruits. This simple formula is easy for kids and parents to remember, and makes for a playful and colorful box—one of the keys to lunch packing success. Remember, kids eat with their eyes first so packing your box with a variety of vibrant colors will help get them excited to eat what you packed. No special shaped veggies required.
Speed Packing Tip: Pre-wash and cut veggies and fruits like carrot sticks, celery, and apples on Sunday so you’re prepared for the week ahead. To prevent apple slices from browning simply keep the wedges soaking in a mixture of lemon juice and water and seal tightly (lemonade works too). No time for chopping? Keep grab-n-go fruits and veggies on hand including blueberries, plums or apricots, green beans, cherry tomatoes, and mandarin oranges. Mix it up by season.
Kids Pick + Pack. Set up a kids’ snack drawer in your fridge and pack it with colorful fruits and veggies that are portable. Make it the kids’ job to pick their snacks and pack ‘em. If they put it in the box, they’ll be more likely to eat it. And if they don’t like what they packed they’ll take responsibility and pack something different the next time. Too busy? On the weekend, make a meal plan and have your kids pick which dishes they’d like to eat each day. You do the packing. Jot down your plan on a weekly calendar.
Think Out of the Box. School lunches can be the worst offenders when it comes to processed and over packaged foods. Pick one category, like snack bars, and make them at home. You’ll find it’s a boost for your budget too. Homemade Granola Bars are a great place to start because you can make a big batch on the weekend and freeze them.
Pack Fats. Snacks packed with healthy fats, like avocado, coconut or olive oil, and seeds or nuts, are essential for keeping your kids powering through the day. My favorite lunch snack that packs a huge boost of healthy fats is a recipe my kids call the Chocolate Rocket. This incredibly delicious chocolate avocado pudding is a perfect lunchbox companion because it’s quick for kids to eat (with only a few minutes to eat you need to make those minutes count), the healthy fats keep them feeling full, and it doesn’t turn brown in the lunchbox. And who doesn’t love chocolate pudding?
I have to admit, I was skeptical the first time we tried to make pudding with avocado. To our great surprise we fell in love. The creamy texture of this delicious chocolate avocado pudding is so amazing, and the taste so delicious, that it’s earned a place at our family table. Bonus, it’s no bake (yay!), good for you (avocado is loaded with healthy fats), and is amazing packed in a lunchbox. I’ve even been known to eat this recipe for breakfast.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 0 minutes
Ingredients for Chocolate Avocado Pudding
2 medium Hass avocados
½ cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup whole milk (substitute coconut milk to make it vegan)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Whipped cream and fresh fruit, for serving
Directions for Chocolate Avocado Pudding
1. Halve the avocados and remove the pits. Using a spoon, scoop around the fruit, between the flesh and the skin, to remove the flesh. Place it in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade.
2. Add the cocoa powder, sugar, milk, and vanilla and process for 2 minutes, or until smooth and no chunks of avocado remain.
3. Chill for 10 minutes.
4. Serve in small cups with a dollop of whipped cream. Top with fresh fruit.
Tip: When packing your pudding in a lunchbox, skip the whipped cream and simply top with fresh fruit. Pack the pudding in a small glass container with a seal-tight lid.
Reprinted from THE 52 NEW FOODS CHALLENGE Reprinted by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Tyler Lee.
A mother of two, Jennifer Tyler Lee is the award-winning author of The 52 New Foods Challenge and the creator of the award-winning series of healthy eating games, Crunch a Color®. Her family cooking adventures have been spotlighted by Jessica Alba, Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver, Rachael Ray, Laurie David, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn Kids, and Whole Foods. She is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post and a regular contributor to the James Beard Award-Winning magazine, Edible.