Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Art and Science of Packing a Lunchbox

How to pack a lunch

Article author photo. Natalia Stasenko, MS, RD, CDNThis featured post is by Natalia Stasenko, MS, RD, CDN. You can follow this blogger @NataliaStasenko.

Forget the perfect family fantasy for a second—we all live in the real world where mornings are hectic, kids are choosy and lunch periods are short. This makes knowing how to pack a nutritious and attractive lunchbox—even on those less perfect days—an important part of a parent's box of tricks.
I have been packing lunchboxes for my kids for almost five years. When I became a full-time working/lunchbox-packing mom, I really had to start planning ahead and work on staying away from the "another PB&J" rut.
For novice lunch packers, keep in mind these three important tactics: strategy, balance and variety
Balance: The Anatomy of a Lunchbox
A balanced lunchbox consists of:

  • "Filling" food, such as something with starch and protein in it—a ham sandwich, tuna salad, pasta salad, chicken noodle soup
  • Fruit
  • A vegetable
  • A serving of yogurt or cheese on most days—especially for kids who do not like drinking milk
  • Something sweet to finish the meal with—it does not have to be in the lunchbox everyday and it does not have to be full of sugar; raisins or flavored yogurt fit the bill perfectly
  • Dip, such as hummus or ranch dressing to keep kids engaged

Strategy: Key to Success
Prepare what you can over the weekend. I typically spend about 45 minutes every Sunday boiling eggs, cutting veggies and fruit, and cooking rice or noodles.
Keep your fridge, freezer and pantry stocked with the lunch staples that will make putting a lunchbox together easy and fast amidst the morning havoc:
Keep these items in your fridge and freezer:

  • Fruit and berries
  • Pre-sliced cheese and string cheese
  • Frozen edamame, corn and peas
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Nut butter and jam
  • Pre-sliced deli meat or smoked salmon
  • Yogurt
  • Dips such as hummus, pesto or ranch dressing
  • Steamed or raw pre-cut vegetables
  • Vegetable soups frozen as individual servings that can be reheated and placed into insulated cups

 Keep these items in your pantry:

  • Whole grain sandwich bread, wraps or mini-bagels
  • Canned tuna
  • Whole grain pasta, noodles and brown rice
  • Whole grain crackers or tortilla chips
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Granola bars or small cookies to use as small treats (I usually divide one bar between two lunchboxes I make for my kids)
  • Nuts and dry fruit such as raisins and cranberries

Variety Is Important: Lunch Is No Exception
It is easy to get stuck in a rut and pack exactly the same thing every day. Parents may find it especially challenging to serve a variety of foods to a child who is picky or has a small appetite. Uneaten food in the lunchbox makes parents naturally worry that their child may be too hungry at school to learn well. But exposing kids to a variety of foods should not stop at lunchtime.
Here are a few tips on how to increase variety without scaring children away from their lunchboxes:

  1. Plan ahead and do not repeat the lunchbox entree more than two days a week. Involve children in planning their lunchbox menu and encourage them to come up with a different idea for an entree, fruit and vegetable components of a balanced lunch.
  2. Start with what your child already eats and build upon it. If your child ate a ham and cheese sandwich on Monday, make a ham and cheese wrap using a whole grain tortilla on Tuesday, or a ham and cheese quesadilla on Wednesday.
  3. Be creative with dinner leftovers. Soups definitely work great in lunchboxes if you invest in a good-quality insulated cup. Leftover rice or pasta can be used the next day in a quick salad with some vegetables and cheese or canned tuna. Leftover chicken or turkey can be recycled as a component of a fun "sandwich on a stick."
  4. Pack a very small serving of less liked or new foods. Just a couple of slices of cucumber or a few grape tomatoes are enough to provide the important exposure and facilitate food acceptance. I like the small compartment in the middle of these lunchboxes made by PlanetBox. Originally designed for a treat, it works great for tiny servings of fruit, vegetables or anything else that would intimidate your child in a bigger amount.

You can see many of my morning creations on this Pinterest board where I post pictures of the lunchboxes my kids take to school.

Natalia Stasenko, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian in a private practice in New York City and blogger. Read her recipes and advice on weight management, prenatal and pediatric nutrition at TribecaNutrition.com/blogspot, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Edit Module

More Stone Soup

Recipe-following Tips for International Cuisine

Recipe-following Tips for International Cuisine

You can always jazz up your meals by making authentic recipes from other countries.
Make Your Own Veggie Burgers

Make Your Own Veggie Burgers

My sister has been raving about this burger recipe and she and her boyfriend — neither of whom are vegetarian — make it often. It is filling and satisfying. I made is for a few friends and it got rave reviews. The original recipe is adapted from Eat Live Run but I tweaked it to make it my own.
My Family's Favorite Vegan Chocolate Mousse

My Family's Favorite Vegan Chocolate Mousse

This simple, no-cook, vegan dessert recipe can be whipped up in a matter of minutes and will satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth. It was the go-to snack for my children when they were young, and it remains a family favorite today.
5 Food Hacks Using Potatoes

5 Food Hacks Using Potatoes

You know them as a kitchen staple, but potatoes are about so much more than the baked, mashed and fried of everyday potato preparation. Here are five new ways to explore the humble potato both in and around the kitchen.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Advertise with Food & Nutrition
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags

Stone Soup

Guest bloggers from around the world share with Food & Nutrition Magazine.

About This Blog

Stone Soup is a guest blog written by members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Content — including information, recipes and views expressed — is that of the authors and does not reflect the positions or policies of Food & Nutrition Magazine or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Bloggers are required to pledge they will not write for Stone Soup on topics, companies or trade organization they currently represent or have represented at any time.

Learn about our guest blogs!

Comments Policy

Food & Nutrition Magazine provides this forum to exchange ideas, opinions and contributions within a positive community. Diverse viewpoints and constructive, respectful dialogue are welcome. Rudeness, misinformation, self-promotion and abuse are not. We reserve the right, without warning or notification, to remove comments and block users we determine violate this policy or our Terms & Conditions. You must include your name or be logged into a personal account on Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to comment.


Edit Module

Get Stone Soup in Your RSS

Use your RSS reader's instructions to add Stone Soup to your list:

Atom Feed Subscribe to the Stone Soup Feed »

Get Our Blogs in Your Email

Stone Soup
Student Scoop