Learning to Love (Packing) Lunches

Image courtesy of Kia Robertson, Today I Ate A Rainbow

Oh, packing lunches! This becomes a hot topic for parents each and every September, as we face the daily task of figuring out what to pack in our child’s lunch. How do we incorporate some healthy variety throughout the week while choosing foods that won’t return home again at the end of the day, slightly less appetizing than when they left? At first glance, it appears there is no shortage of inspiration in the lunch-ideas department; there really are thousands of articles out there with cute pictures and recipe ideas! However, a personal recommendation goes a long way so we've reached out to a couple of our favorite chefs & lunch packers for a little back-to-school-lunch-packing inspiration that we hope you'll find helpful!

Tip #1 Get all your lunches prepped for the week, before the week starts.

This time-saving lunch tip comes from best-selling author & restauranteur, Meeru Dhalwala.

When asked for her best advice on keeping lunches simple, Meeru told us that she sets aside every Sunday or Monday to prep lunches for the entire week, explaining: “I actually make a big batch of beans and rice -- either Mexican style or Indian style.  Either I or one of the girls heats this up every morning and puts it in their thermos for a hot lunch." This provides her kids with lunches for at least half the week; she’ll mix it up by making a sandwich or pasta on the other two days, saying:  “Basically, I see lunch as a meal that needs to satisfy the girls' taste buds, be filling enough to carry them through the day, and healthy.  I don't see lunch as a pain-in-the-butt meal. While making the hot lunch on Sunday or Monday takes about an hour, heating it up takes about 10 minutes with very little supervision. Making sandwiches takes way longer.”

Here’s how to make this in your home:

“Either style, I chop up and saute onions, garlic and tomatoes.  I do this in the pressure cooker and then add the beans.  It takes about 30 minutes total for either chickpeas or kidney beans.  I make the rice separately.  Mexican style:  I add salt and chili powder to beans. Indian style:  I add turmeric, a hint of ground cumin and coriander and salt. If I don't make beans, then I'll make a pot of lentils.” The best part? Her girls love it!

Tip #2: Small & cute lunches for the small & cute people

On the other side of the lunch-packing spectrum, parents like Kia Robertson, founder of Today I Ate a Rainbow, are making lunches for the young, elementary school-aged cuties. This is a different ball game, as parents well know. Kia tells us that after four years of lunch packing, she's finally figured a few things out. Here are her four tips:  

1. Have great lunch gear! I'm a big fan on the bento-style lunch boxes, which make it easy to pack up several different options in one pack. 

2. Include a minimum of two colourful fruits and veggies in every lunch.

3. Change things up with rolls, wraps, leftovers—don't just stick to sandwiches!  

4. Have a little fun with using cookie cutters to turn food into cute shapes.  In this particular lunch (pictured in this blog) my daughter Hannah enjoyed California Rolls, Nectarines, Grapes, Cucumbers and some Annie's Graham cookies for a treat served up in her new lunch box.  We also always send her to school with a bottle of water!

bento lunch box
Image source: Kia Robertson, Today I Ate a Rainbow. 

Tip #3: Invite your kids to help pack lunches 

While lunches for the younger folk can be a tad more labour intensive, the actual prepping of the lunches can also be a great opportunity to involve your child in the kitchen, and get them excited about what they’ll eat the next day. To save time, have your lunch supplies on hand. Do a little prepping to make life easier, like chopping up a variety of veggies for the week and keeping them on hand in the fridge.

A few more ideas…

If wraps are favourites in your home, here is a great site with tons of (30 to be exact) ideas for wrap fillings from Healthy Families BC, a combination of which you’re sure to have in your fridge at some point this week! 

If your child loves sandwiches, here are 10 great ideas using everything from pancakes to pizza pinwheels to bagels. 

And finally, if you'd like to consider some new possibilities, here Real Simple offers lots of great hot and cold lunch ideas to choose from. Let us know if you try any of these! Most importantly, we want to here from you! What are YOUR best lunch ideas? Share them with us here and let's inspire each other. 

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