I’ve often read paleo school lunch posts and swooned at the photos. But as I’ve done so, I’ve also felt a sense of failure. My kid’s lunchboxes don’t look like that.
My kids are 12 and as different as bacon and berries but they don’t have shiny, expensive lunch containers. Photos of the contents wouldn’t grace the cover of any magazine. And sometimes their lunches aren’t even nutritionally balanced!
Instead, the kids carry whatever insulated lunch package I’ve managed to pick up from the drug store. They get snacks in cup-size baby food containers (sometimes the ones they ate from when actually they were babies) and their food is kept cool by frozen gel packs that once accompanied the fertility drugs I took to become pregnant with them. The circle of life has never seemed so strange.
Keeping it real
So as part of my paleo mission to be transparent and honest, I thought I’d write about how I compiled my kid’s school lunches. My kids eat them quite happily but they aren’t beautiful to look at (the lunches, not my kids –they’re gorgeous! :-))
Sometimes I have misses but mostly we have hits and I work on the basis that if my kids are hungry enough, they’ll eat the food I give them. Not because it’s pretty but because it’s tasty.
No longer hungry
When we transitioned to paleo school lunches well over a year ago, I noticed a huge change – my kids stopped coming home hungry. They often last until dinner with no after-school snacking. None. It really amazed me. Another reason to feed kids good food, as if we needed one right?
I’m a big believer in keeping things simple and being efficient – we all have too much to do. I don’t want to spend much time preparing lunch day after day for 180 days so here’s how to hack paleo school lunches:
1. Take a modular approach. I like to automate everything I do in order to keep it easy and happening so I made up a system because I don’t want to think too much. I want to take the creativity out of making a school lunch, not add it in. So this is what I did: I made up a list of main dishes consisting of proteins and a list of sides (mostly raw veggies.) It’s on my fridge. You can see an example of my list below. Pull one item from the ‘mains’ column and at least two sides for every meal.
School Lunch Menu
Tuna or Salmon, Capers, and Mayo
Tapioca Bread Sandwiches
Trail mix with nuts, coconut shreds, seeds
Fruit, especially berries
2. Plan your school lunch week. Just like for dinner, make a meal plan for school lunches. This takes out the what-are-they-going-to-have-for-school-lunch-today questions and the wasted energy and worry output. I’d like to say I have a form I fill out but in reality I scribble on a Post-It note and stick it on my school lunch food list.
3. Consider the nutritional balance of a whole day, not just one meal. In my house, if you look at any one school lunch, it might not seem well-balanced when viewed in isolation. My kids don’t like warmed up veggies (and I don’t blame them, me neither) and they don’t like veggies that have wilted, got mushed up or otherwise been altered from their original state. And sometimes at the end of the week, I may be low on veggies that will meet that criteria. On those occasions, lunch might be a little protein-heavy or veggie-light but that’s okay, we make up for it at breakfast or dinner.
4. Prepare in the morning. This is a personal preference but I find that spending ten minutes in the morning is easier, especially if you take this systematic approach. Making them at the end of the previous day can be a right pain particularly if you’re tired or tend to eat while you’re prepping food. But another reason to do it first thing is that you really want the food to be as fresh as possible.
5. Buy a thermos and use leftovers. Leftovers are a school lunch staple in my family, they probably comprise 50% -75% of the boys lunches. Leftovers cut down on effort massively and obviously you need a thermos to be able to send them warm. If your kids aren’t used to taking leftovers for lunch, it might take a while to transition them and in that case do it slowly, say one lunch of leftovers a week to start with. Gradually increase the number until most of their lunches are yesterday’s dinner.
6. Plastic cutlery. Send them to school with plastic cutlery but impress upon them that they must bring them home for you to wash. We’ve made one box of plastic cutlery nearly 3 years that way.
7. Give generous proportions of each selection. This is to cut down on the number of different items you have in their lunch – less stress and mess. I aim for three to four total.
8. Get the kids involved. If you have only paleo food in the house it’s easy as they get older to have them more invested in their lunch preparation. Have them roam your fridge and shelves to select what they want or have them choose from the ‘menu.’ They’ll eat more if they have more choice in the matter. Even if they are little they can still make choices such as ‘Carrots or celery?’ As they get older give them more and more responsibility. At 12, my kids get their own ‘sides’ while I prepare the ‘main course.’
9. Have a water only rule. Juice boxes are sugar water by another name. Have your kids get used to drinking water. After a while they’ll stop asking for anything else. Water bottles have become something of a status symbol at my kids’ school – a fad I’m willing to indulge. They like these Camelbaks.
10. Desserts only occasionally or not at all. My kids rarely get dessert. I worked to move them away from expecting something sweet at the end of dinner for a long time and thought it was self-defeating if I didn’t do the same at lunch. If they do get a dessert, it is something like a paleo muffin or a fruit and nut ball but only if I happen to have them made or if I’m a little light on the ‘sides.’ What can I say? I’m a tough-love kind of mom.
Do you make paleo school lunches? How do you do it? What do you ‘serve’? Tell us in the comments!
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