You can go to a lot of effort and make a really healthy lunch, but if your kids won't eat it, it's a wasted effort. Today I'm going to focus on young children. These little people can be tricky to please. Here's a few tips to keep in mind:
Little kids don't like food touching
They like bite size finger foods
Plain, simple foods are usually most appealing for young children
Most kids like to dip food in something: for example, they are more likely to eat a carrot dipped in ranch
If you take just a little time on the weekend to cut up a few vegetables, make some dip, roast or braise a chicken or beef roast, boil some eggs etc. It can make packing lunches a snap.
A cute container like a Yum Box works wonders to help healthy food look appealing to kids. It also keeps the food separate, which is a win for kids.
Children are very self conscious about their food! If it looks different from the goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, Capri Sun, and Oreos that are in everyone else's lunch, a child will get teased. Sad, but true. Kids are immature and very aware of anything that is different. They are also quick to point out anyone who is different. I have a friend who's mom is an excellent Thai cook. She would pack him an amazing lunch full of delicious homemade Thai food each day. Other kids would point out that it was different and make fun of him. As a result, he dumped his lunch in the trash every day, preferring to not eat, than to be ridiculed.
Sit down with your child and make a list of healthy foods they like in different food groups, such as fruit, vegetable, raw dairy, protein, etc.
Use the list of foods they like to serve as inspiration when packing their lunch.
Get them involved. They'll be a lot more willing to eat it if they have choices and help pack it.
Get feedback when they come home. Ask what they did, or didn't like. Use it as a time for you to learn and adjust, not to lecture them on not wasting food, or what they should or shouldn't be eating.
You'll likely find out information such as: something may be too hard for them to open; something may be troublesome for them to eat; and often they just don't have enough time.
They are excited and often anxious at lunch time. The easier you can make their food choices for them to eat, the more likely they'll be to do it.
Below is a list of foods that may or may not appeal to your child. Talk it over together, mark what they like and add ideas of your own. It's ok, if there's just a few things they're willing to try. Start with that.
Healthy Lunch Options and Ideas
Red, Yellow or Orange Bell Peppers
Tomatoes, especially grape or cherry tomatoes
Green Beans- very lightly steamed to make them easier to eat
Broccoli- very lightly steamed to make it easier to eat
Roast sweet potatoes
Sugar or snap peas
Beets - some kids like them roasted. Some kids will eat them shredded raw and beets are a no go for other kids.
Green Smoothie (see beverage)
Mixed Veggies in a small mason jar with ranch, similar to the picture below, but your jar will have a lid and the veggies will be trimmed shorter.
Orange; Kids are not likely to peel an orange and wedges are awkward to eat. For a better option, slice a thick or thin slice in 4ths. It makes for a nice bite size piece.
Dried Fruit: my daughter loves dried mangoes. Apples and apricots are other kid friendly dried fruit.
Frozen Fruit When you are low on groceries, frozen fruit can come in handy for packing in lunches. Keep in mind, it will release juice as it thaws, so pack accordingly.
Fruit Smoothie (see raw dairy below)
Plain raw milk, read about raw milk here, under the Raw Dairy heading
Chocolate raw milk
Banana Nut butter raw milk
Maple Vanilla Milk
Fruit Smoothie; follow the mango lassi recipe, substituting other fruit for the mangoes.
Green Smoothie; follow the mango lassi recipe, substituting other vegetables and fruit for the mangoes. Puree leafy greens yogurt or kefir, until smooth, before adding other ingredients.
Raw Yogurt Top with fruit, a drizzle of maple syrup and granola, if desired.
Flavored Kefir: In a blender, puree 2 cups raw milk kefir, 2 Tbsp. of pure, maple syrup and 1/4 cup fresh or frozen fruit.
Raw Cheese: I generally do little bite size cubes. The shape tends to appeal to kids more than a slice. You could also cut it out in fun shapes. Some kids might like it shredded.
Flavored Raw Cheese: Toss cheese cubes in favorite seasoning.
Legumes: Kids don't always like beans, but they often enjoy hummus, white bean dip, and pinto bean dip. Follow same instructions for hummus, substituting a different legume for chickpeas and omitting the sesame seeds.
Whole grain, sourdough Einkorn Crackers
Whole grain, sourdough pancakes, cut in bite size pieces with pure, organic maple syrup to dip it in.
Tip: If your child doesn't like pure maple syrup, add some vanilla to taste and a little cinnamon, optional
Whole grain, sourdough waffles, cut in bite size pieces with pure, organic maple syrup to dip it in. See tip above.
Whole grain, sourdough crepesWhole grain, sourdough banana muffins
Oatmeal in a thermos
Popcorn Omit honey for a savory version.
Also see, Deconstructed Salads below
Kid friendly Combinations
Nut butter, banana crepe roll-up
Egg salad crepe roll-up
Chicken salad crepe roll-up
Raw cream cheese and fruit roll-up
Hummus or white bean dip or herbed raw cream cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, raw cheese, roll-up
Herbed cream cheese, cucumber sticks, shredded carrot, sprouts, tomato, and roll-up
While I can pack the same lunch for my high school kids as I do for my husband and myself, it just doesn't work for a younger child. This is where deconstructed salads come in. Often, I pack the fixings for a salad, that I am making for the rest of the family, in separate compartments in my daughter's Yum Box. Below are a few examples.
Brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat with taco meat and fixings packed separately
Brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat with bulgogi meat and fixings packed separately
Brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat with teriyaki meat and fixings packed separately.
Kid friendly chicken salad: cubed chicken, cubed cheese, cubed apples and/or grapes, diced celery, wild rice all packed individually.
Nicoise: tuna, egg, tomato, green beans, olives, diced roasted or steamed potatoes, and any other veggies child might enjoy and creamy Italian dressing for dipping.
Honey Mustard Chicken: diced chicken, tomato, carrots, and any other veggies child might enjoy with honey mustard dressing to dip vegetables in.
All nut granola
Raw nut trail mix
If you're trying to convert a fruit snack addict to healthier fare, try something like this.
See my post on How to Pack it all Up