My sweet twin boys started 1st-grade last week (2014) and I’m really struggling. I miss them so much. Kindergarten was no big deal, but this whole day….eat lunch at school thing is killing me. I sobbed their first day. They are gone ALL DAY. I miss their hugs and excited faces and story time. I just miss them. No one told me it would be this hard.
But I’m also excited for them. It is so thrilling to see them grow and mature. They are in a Chinese immersion class where the teacher speaks absolutely no English. It is HARD, but they are learning that they can do hard things and I love it. I’m so proud of them.
The thing they were most excited about for 1st grade was eating lunch at school. So while I wanted their lunches to be healthy, I also wanted them to be fun! But I’m also busy, and I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time planning and packing their lunches each week. So I brainstormed, researched and came up with an organized system (including a free printable) that works for us. We have a list of healthy school lunch ideas that my kids can choose from the lunch-able style.
My kids don’t love sandwiches, and frankly, I’m not a huge fan of them in lunch boxes either. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good sandwich, but not one that has been packed overnight and gotten soggy.
So I started looking at different options. Really, I just want my kids to eat a well-rounded meal. There isn’t any rule that says it has to include a sandwich, right? My kids love the idea of Lunchables. They like the mixing and matching. But store-bought Lunchables are expensive and not really all that healthy. Instead, we’ve opted to make our own. My kids call these “Mix & Match Snack lunches” and think they are so fun because they get which “snacks” go in their lunch in each day (which also increases the chances that they will actually eat them)!
Our Lunch Rules
Here are the “rules” for our snack lunches:
- You must choose at least one item from each of the first four categories.
- You can choose a max of two items from each of the first four categories.
- If you choose a “main,” then we adjust the other four categories accordingly.
- Group #6 is Mom’s choice and doesn’t happen every day. Sometimes you just get a nice surprise!
- Not all items are available each week. If you choose something we don’t have in the house, you have to choose something else.
Each evening before bedtime the boys and I spend 5-10 minutes packing their lunch for the next day. I do the same thing with my girls each day at lunchtime (only I don’t pack it, I just put it on their plate). They are excited to eat it because they choose it, and I’m happy to let them choose because there are only healthy options on the list. They are getting foods from every food group and their lunch is a fun “mix and match” lunch that they enjoy.
Freeze Dried Produce
I’ve had some people ask where to find freeze dried fruits and veggies. Well, my favorite place to get them in bulk is Thrive Life. You can find freeze-dried fruits HERE and freeze-dried veggies HERE. Freeze dried produce is super healthy and gives a fun change of texture to some of the same old fruits and veggies kids are used to.
Also, since they don’t have any water in them, they taste sweeter even though they have no added sugar. So, sometimes, picky eaters will eat freeze dried produce when they won’t eat the fresh stuff.
You can print our list of healthy school lunch ideas for your own use by clicking on the image below:
UPDATE (2015): This year we are also including Thrive’s new snackies in our home-made lunchables. They have no added sugar or additives of any kind. 100% fruits and veggies!
And in case you are wondering, I’m loving the Rubbermaid Lunch Blox containers. I bought a few and can mix and match them and keep thing cold, plus they snap together and are stackable!
Lunch Box Notes
In addition to a fun lunch, I wanted my boys to feel connected to me and to our family while they are at school each day. After the boys go to bed, I occasionally add a surprise dessert to their lunch, but I always add a note. You can find lots of fun ideas and printables on my Kids – Lunch Box Pinterest board.
Whole Grain and Healthy Dessert Options
I’ve had some friends ask where I get many of the whole grain and healthier dessert options on the list. I actually get most of them at Costco, but you can find them online too. Here are a few (affiliate) links to some of the items we enjoy for lunch just to get you started:
- Belvita Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crackers. These are great for dessert, have 19 g whole grains, no high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils or artificial sweeteners.
- Late July multigrain tortilla chips. All of my kids love these (even the picky one). They are gluten-free, non-GMO, nut free, no trans fat, no high fructose corn syrup. (these are definitely cheaper at Costco, but there isn’t as much variety)
- Dark Chocolate Coconut Almonds. Heaven. Just like an almond joy. No high fructose corn syrup or trans fat. (Also cheaper at Costco)
- Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Tortilla chips. I love these, but to be honest, they aren’t my kid’s favorite. They prefer the Late July. Gluten free, no trans fat, no msg, nothing artificial, 13 g whole grain (these are definitely cheaper at Costco, but there isn’t as much variety)
- Popcorn nuggets. My kids LOVE these for dessert. Gluten-free, non-Gmo, no trans fat, no high fructose corn syrup. About the same price as Costco. Yes, these are pricey, but my kids love them and it allows me to avoid too many crazy sweets, so in moderation, they are worth it to me.
- Kirkland brand Ancient Grains Crackers (only available at Costco). I love these b/c they are BIG. No trans fat, no high fructose corn syrup, 12g whole grains.
- Nabisco Triscuits (we like thin crisps best). I just get these at the regular grocery store. no trans fat, no high fructose corn syrup.
- Toasted Coconut (Creative Snack Co is the brand I get at Costco). YUM! The only negative to these is that I could down the whole bag in one sitting! Coconut, cane sugar and sea salt are the only ingredients. Also cheaper at Costco.
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How about you? What healthy, quick and easy items do your kids enjoy in their lunches?