Ask any parent their least favorite thing about school & they’ll likely tell you it has to do with packing lunches. I get it. I don’t especially enjoy packing lunches either. It’s not on the same level as like, a massage or a beach vacation. But I’ve learned to make it manageable over the past few years. And since my kids are either too young for school or still elementary school age, I see a long period of lunch packing in my future so I figured I’d better go ahead & prepare for the long haul.

I’ve collected some handy tips for both packing a healthy lunch & also transitioning your picky eaters away from processed food. And because we are asked frequently where our lunch boxes are from, they are from Planet Box.

How to pack a healthy school lunch

1. PICK A PERCENTAGE

Trying to get your kids away from so much processed, pre packaged foods? Pick a percentage of your kiddos lunch that you’ll allow to be processed & a percentage that will be whole foods. Count anything that comes from a package you buy at the store (gummies, crackers, bread, yogurt, chips) as processed if it has more than 3-4 ingredients. Start with 50% of the lunch being whole foods (fruits, veggies, home made trail mix, chopped turkey or ham) & then 50% being processed (bread, yogurt or crackers). Slowly, over time, you can move to a smaller % of processed foods. 40%, 30% 25%, etc. Thinking of your kid’s lunch box in percentages instead of food groups will quickly give you an idea of how much processed food they are really eating.

2. MAKE THE THINGS YOU’D BUY AT THE STORE

Snacks are expensive. Instead of spending so much on fruit snacks, trail mix & granola bars, start making some of those things yourselves. My kids love my Mixed Berry & Beet Fruit Leather. We have even dehydrated organic, sugar free apple sauce for fruit leather! This is our favorite dehydrator. Buying nuts & coconut chips in bulk is a great way to create your own trail mixes. When you start making the things you’d buy at the store, not only are you likely saving money, more importantly you have complete control of the ingredients that go into your kid’s food. You won’t have to worry about shady, sludgy vegetable oils, food dyes or preservatives.

3. GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED

My kids love being in the kitchen. They will find any excuse to help me make something. Their passion for cooking is enthusiastic if not a bit overwhelming at times. I’ve found the best way to harness their enthusiasm is by giving them specific tasks in the kitchen. And I’ve also found the best way to get them to try new foods, is to have them help make them. If you want more advice on this check out 7 Tips to Get Cooking with Your Kids. Kids who are involved in meal preparation & planning are more likely to eat better, recognize healthy from unhealthy foods & also benefit from kitchen independence, meaning they know how to prepare their foods so they aren’t either asking you to do it or just opening a bag of chips. This last statement isn’t based on any study or scientific research. It’s based on my experience, specifically with my 9 year old son, who comes home from school to fry up some sardines for a snack instead of eating a bag of chips or box of cereal. Purely anecdotal.

4. USE A SURE THING & THROW IN A WILD CARD

I’m not saying you need to overhaul your kid’s entire lunch box. Don’t try & cut them off cold turkey from the things you’ve been packing for so long. There’s no sense in making everyone miserable & healthy eating isn’t a sprint. We’re working on a marathon here. Start by slowly introducing things that are new to your kids or not particularly popular with them, your ‘wild card’ item. Pair those things with your ‘sure thing’ items, the tried & true things your kids love & will eat without fail. Hopefully, over time your kids will get used to seeing the wild card items, maybe try them & eventually love them? One can hope anyway & it’s definitely worth a try to exposure your kids to a wider variety of foods.

Want more lunch box inspo? Check out 8 Great, Grain Free Lunch Box Ideas or 18 Easy Sandwich Ideas or my Time Saving Tip for Packing School Lunches!

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