It's that time again, when we start the school year fresh, inspired, and full of ideas, right? I bet we all can use an annual refresher on some ideas to apply to the endless routine of packing lunches. Let's be prepared so that we avoid the unhealthy options that await just around the corner from work or in the school cafeteria.
I will be packing lunches 3-4 days a week this year for my children (yay, less than last year!), and I am going for keeping it simple. I like to use these containers - they are sometimes hard to find. I've found them at Target, Hy-Vee, and Walmart (in the cooking section).
I tend to think that if I were single and minus kids, I wouldn't really need a list of lunch ideas because I would just make more food of whatever I was making for breakfast or dinner. Paleo food isn't really constricted to "breakfast food", "lunch food", or "dinner food". As someone who loves leftovers (it feels like a free meal that I didn't have to cook!), that is what I would eat for lunch if I were in an environment all day with access to a microwave or toaster oven. Well, sometimes I am, but sometimes I am not. And my kids are not. It is most practical to send them something that can sit in their lunch bag with an ice pack for the majority of the day and that they can eat cold with their fingers without getting super messy. Sometimes leftovers fit into that category, sometimes they do not. So, I am going to brainstorm beyond that.
I cook dinner most evenings. I don't really like having to cook lunch for the next day in addition to that. So, I gravitate towards precooked lunch meat and sausage options. Not the healthiest option, but it is the truth. I usually throw them under the broiler to brown them a little if they are a sausage type item, but then I chill them again. Gross? Sorry. Costco is my favorite place to buy lunch meat with less additives and fillers and junk. And the selection varies some so it gets us out of ruts. Trader Joe's is another option, but they are slightly pricier, I find. P.S. - I was a PB&J sandwich kid every single day growing up, and probably still would be if it were paleo :)
They key to getting my kids to eat what I make them is to let them get hungry. Not to fill them up with other junk before mealtime. If they are hungry, mealtime goes much better. They don't get a lot of options at each meal, but they do get a lot of food. And, I think they do get a good amount of variety/exposure across the board when it comes to foods, at least compared to most kids I know.
Enough rambling. Here's my list for this fall, for my reference and yours.
My kids get 3-4 main things in their lunch.
1. cold meat item (we usually have eggs at breakfast so I try to avoid them at lunch for variety's sake)
- deli roll-ups (endless varieties, my kids like them a lot, but I find them tedious to make)
- hamburgers, chicken burgers, turkey burgers w/ something to dip them in: mustard, BBQ
- gluten free meatballs (these tend to be out around the holidays)
- chicken sausages
- nitrate free hotdogs
- roasted chicken thighs* These require cooking ahead, but are SO easy. We like to get the boneless ones from Costco.
- chicken or tuna salad with chopped veggies to scoop w/ (this is almost too involved for me, but it is good for some variety)
- cold mini chicken tacos from Trader Joe's (not paleo, but gluten free)
2. raw veggies
...but sometimes chips win out.
4. a dip (optional. for either the veggies or fruit. I like adding some more fat to sustain them.)
- guacamole (usually store-bought)
- homemade sour cream ranch (add salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried onion, parsley and/or chives)
- cream cheese (slightly sweetened) or hard cheese (dairy is not paleo, but my kids eat some)
- if you are hardcore and don't do any dairy, how about this creamy italian or ranch, instead? (that's a little more prepping involved)
- sunflower seed butter or almond butter
- sunshine sauce
...or some trail mix (we have no allergy restrictions on nuts this year).
I really want to try to keep it basic. Sure, I could make it all cute (for example, they like kabobs), but that takes more time and usually doesn't fill them up as well. Sometimes I am feeling inspired and bake some special muffins or make some special paleo-ish dessert, but only if I really want to. That takes more time and money and is not that nutritious. Plus, I like to keep the "special" foods for when we are at home and can all relax and enjoy them together.
OK, that's it for now! I'm happy to add more ideas to the list so feel free to share ideas in the comments!
*One morning over the summer my little boy saw me putting this chicken in his lunch, and he wrinkled his nose and told me he was only going to eat his carrots for lunch. His teacher told me later that when he opened his lunch he exclaimed, "YES! I LOVE this chicken!" Kids are weird :)