Have your kids told you they’re bored with their lunches?
I like to ask parents this question because it’s normal to project our own feelings onto our kids. I’ve done this before, thinking the lunches I was making were redundant, since I like a lot of variety in my diet. My boys, on the other hand, would be just fine if I rotated a few items every few days. They don’t require anything too elaborate, and I think you’ll find most kids are that way. So, first check with your kids before making any assumptions. If they are truly bored, and you both feel like some diversity and variety would make lunch more interesting, then here’s a fun game to play.
Sit down with your kids and get out a piece of paper. Fold the paper into thirds to make three vertical columns. On the front-side of the paper at the top of the first column, write the word PROTEIN. At the top of the second column, write the word STARCH, and at the top of the third column, the word FRUIT. Then turn the paper over and on the backside, write the word VEGGIES at the top of the first column and TREATS at the top of the second column. You can use the third column for BEVERAGES, but I usually keep this column blank because kids should really just have water with their meals.
Now, go through the list of categories and ask your kids what food items they would like in their lunch that fit into each column.
Turkey (this could also be chicken, tuna fish, etc.)
Whole grain tortillas
Whole wheat pita bread
Whole grain crackers
Whole wheat pasta
Whole wheat bread
Treats – these are not candy or sugary treats, but rather ‘Slow’ foods that are packaged foods that contain less fat and sugar and no dyes or artificial ingredients.
Yogurt tube – natural brands with no food coloring (i.e. Stonyfield Farms or Horizon)
Whole grain cereal or nut bar – we love the KIND, Lara and Kashi bars
PopChips – my kids love the new Thai Sweet Chili and Sweet Potato flavors!
You can make your list much bigger if you’d like. In fact, having 10-15 options under each category is a great start. You can then play the Mix ‘n’ Match Game, where you take a food from each category and include it in your child’s lunch to represent the chosen food groups.
Here are some meal ideas using the above list:
Meal One: turkey wrapped in a tortilla, grapes, tomatoes, yogurt tube
Meal Two: peanut butter on an apple, cheese stick, carrots, pretzels
Meal Three: hummus w/pita bread, applesauce, edamame, cereal bar
Meal Four: hard boiled egg, pasta salad, peppers w/salad dressing, raisins, PopChips
Meal Five: Milk, tangerine, celery w/peanut butter, crackers, fruit leather
What’s great about this process is that your kids come up with their own choices. You can then fall back on this when they say they don’t like their lunch or that it’s getting boring. When this happens, just add to, or change the list! You can also make your grocery list directly from the columns, which makes shopping simple and quick. Many times moms feel encouraged to expand the list when they have the Mix n’ Match format in front of them at the store. Possibly you’d add a new vegetable or fruit to the column, or explore with some new sources of protein like black bean soup, almond butter or tempeh.
Remember, if you only come up with four or five items per column, that may be plenty for now. You can keep using these four or five items and just switch things around. Then when your kids start asking for different options, sit down and refine the list.
Save candy, cookies and other dessert items for just that…dessert or a treat outside of lunch. Having sugar in school can cause all sorts of problems with focus, energy and blood sugar, so I like to teach kids that these items are better saved for after school.
Remember, as are all healthy habits, it’s all in the planning. Enjoy!