They want to eat: Peanut butter and fluff. Cupcakes with squiggles. Zero veggies.
You want them to eat: Turkey on whole wheat. An apple. Pretzels.
After dealing with back-to-school battles over homework and bedtime, many moms would rather surrender than fight over what kids eat (or throw away) in the school cafeteria. The good news: It's easier than ever to think outside the lunch box when it comes to food. It doesn't have to be a choice between what's good for your kids and what's fun to eat.
To help you out, we have our 10 favorite packable lunches that your kids will actually eat.
1. All-American Favorite
Kids love turkey. Try a half of a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with mayonnaise or mustard and you'll find only crumbs in the lunch bag at the end of the day. Add a small juice box or water bottle, baby carrots and you've got a lunch that will get gobbled up.
2. Make Your Own Lunch
Pre-packaged lunches are loaded with fat and sodium, but you can make your own for less money. Invest in a few sectioned leftover containers (a small, plastic fish tackle box will also do) to pack the food. For mini pizzas: Arrange round crackers, shredded cheese, pepperoni slices and a small amount of tomato sauce packed in doubled plastic snack bags.
3. Quick Lunchbox Sesame Noodles
Instead of sandwiches, send kids off to school with a plastic container filled with sesame noodles. It's an Asian-inspired pasta salad that's perfect to eat at room temperature. Make sure your school doesn't have a zero-tolerance policy on peanut butter, due to some children's allergic reactions. Try this recipe:
- 1 pound spaghetti or linguine, cooked
- 4 tablespoons parsley (or cilantro)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup sesame oil
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons cooking sherry
- 3 tablespoons white or brown sugar
Blend parsley and garlic in a food processor until fine. Add soy sauce, oils, vinegar, sherry and sugar. Add enough peanut butter to make slightly thick. Blend until smooth. Add to pasta. Can top with chopped scallions, sesame seeds, and/or peanuts.
Note: Add a dash of orange juice if sesame/peanut sauce is too thick.
4. Fruit Kebabs
When it comes to pleasing kids, how things look often matters as much as how they taste. A child who won't touch a plain old apple might well eat a fruit kebab with chunks of cantaloupe and grapes alternating with mini marshmallows on a wooden skewer.
5. Mini Dinosaurs
Order low-fat deli meats and cheese sliced extra thick; then use dinosaur or farm animal cookie-cutters to cut the slices into kid-friendly shapes. Pack with crackers or bread. Remember: Less is more. Children like mini-sized waffles and doughnut holes, so use the same concept in packing lunches.
6. Peanut Butter Power Balls
These are packed with protein; just make sure your school doesn't have a zero-tolerance policy on peanut butter, due to some children's allergic reactions. Try this recipe:
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup non-fat dry milk powder or soy protein powder
- 1/2 cup raisins or chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup honey
- Graham cracker crumbs
Mix all ingredients except the graham cracker crumbs in a large bowl. Shape mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll in crumbs and refrigerate (or freeze; balls will thaw by lunchtime).
7. Eat by "Color Code"
Cookbook author and lifestyle trainer Jyl Steinbeck of Scottsdale, AZ, has trained her own children to eat at least one orange, red and green food each day. Let children make lunch choices according to color. Ask them to choose carrot sticks or a navel orange, green pepper strips or a Granny Smith apple, etc. Sometimes kids are more receptive to eating fruits and veggies if they helped make the selections!
8. Retro Jell-O
Remember the gelatin salad molds of yesteryear? You can adapt this 1950s classic for today's lunch box and sneak in some veggies without your kids even noticing. Just add grated carrot and tiny chopped pieces of celery to Jell-O; mold in small plastic containers.
9. Stuffed Apples
Scoop out the core from an apple; stuff with peanut butter, cream cheese or other spread. Top with raisins or chocolate chips.
10. Post-It Lunch
Similar to eating by a "color code," this strategy encourages kids to think in terms of food groups. Together, make a chart with four columns and the headings: Sandwiches, Fruits, Snacks and Desserts. Have children fill in each column with items of their own choosing. Then tell them that each day, you'll pack one item from each group. Remind them that they will be eating foods they chose themselves! Looking for more great lunch ideas? Check out 7 Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas Your Kids Will Love!