Kids will be back in school before you know it, so now would be a good time to start brainstorming about your family’s September routine. Why not make this the year that you start incorporating kids into the lunch planning process? After all, learning how to make school lunches is a great way to encourage kids of all ages to become more comfortable and confident in the kitchen.
With this in mind, we turned to one of Canada’s most talented young chefs and this season’s Junior Chef Showdown winner, Nazaree, to give us some of her tips and tricks for packing better school lunches.
1. Get Kids Involved
Inspire kids to get excited about eating lunch at school by offering them a variety of options, making different recipes or taking them grocery shopping. As most parents can agree, just because their child likes a particular type of food or recipe at home – does not always mean they’ll enjoy eating it at school.
“I love eating pizza, but not if it’s cold,” Nazaree says, explaining that her microwave in the cafeteria isn’t always the best. “Instead, I like to bring a pizza-inspired sandwich to school,” to which she adds marinara sauce, shredded cheese and her favourite pizza toppings.
2. Pack Better Sandwiches
There are many reasons why people love packing sandwiches for lunch: they’re portable, budget-friendly and the variety of ingredients that you can pack inside are endless. But there’s one aspect about sandwiches in your lunch box that’s hard to love – they can get soggy quickly.
“Soggy sandwiches are worse than soggy pizzas,” Nazaree says with a laugh. Keep lunch box sandwiches from getting too soggy by packing the ingredients in individual containers and assembling the sandwich once it’s time to eat, she says.
Another way to keep lunchbox sandwiches interesting is by rotating from your go-to sliced bread to bagels, pitas or baguettes. Kids with a more adventurous palate can taste test different cheeses or experiment with various sandwich toppings like mustards and dressings. If you or your little one isn’t a fan of sandwiches, check out these portable lunch ideas.
3. Switch Things Up
Busy families know that it’s all too easy to get into a rut when packing lunches for school. Add more excitement to your lunchbox by thinking how different ingredients can be incorporated into multiple meals and snacks. “I love bringing sliced mangoes to school,” Nazaree says. But to add more variety to her lunchbox, she eats them plain some days and uses them in her fruit salad on others.
4. Buy Proper Supplies
Stocking up on proper lunch supplies like reusable snack containers, thermal food jars and reusable water bottles makes packing lunches for school much easier.
For many students, bento boxes are the must-have accessory in the cafeteria table. “Bento boxes are really popular for kids in the first or second grade,” she explains. For middle school students like herself, Nazaree recommends using bento boxes for more exciting lunches like build-your-own tacos.
5. Bring Shareable Snacks
After many students experienced virtual learning during the past year or so, eating lunch together in person will feel even more special for kids that are returning to in-person learning. Nazaree says that nut-free desserts like donuts or ice cream sandwiches are always a big hit, if parents want to bring in treats for special occasions such as birthdays.
“My friends and I like to swap juice boxes, and we always like to share cookies and chips,” she adds. So the next time you’re packing a special snack like homemade granola bars, ask kids if they want to pack a few extras to share with their friends at the lunch table.
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