I want to talk about lunchbox snacks today.
As a mom of three and an almost-always-working substitute teacher, I see a LOT of lunches. I also see a lot of lunches captured and shared on social media. (Newflash: those are not representative of the average lunch. This is not to say there is anything wrong with them. I think it’s great– but maybe don’t spend too much time comparing the lunches you pack unless you really aspire to master Instagram-worthy lunchbox shots.)
What people pack in lunches varies dramatically. That makes sense. There are innumerable factors that go into what makes it into a lunchbox:
- Regional availability
- Picky eaters
- Temperature stability
- Dietary concerns, including alleriges
- Family preference
- … and on and on
I get this. And I’m not here to judge whatever you’re packing in your kid’s lunch.
But, in case you’re struggling with balancing fun, convenience, health, and nutrients, I thought I’d share what works well in our household.
Here are some things you should know about our family right up front:
- We have no food allergies in our family.
- Allergy-triggering foods (such as peanuts and tree nuts) are permitted in LUNCHES in our district, as we have measures in place to keep all the children safe, but must not be sent as snacks to be eaten in the classroom.
- My children are not overly picky eaters.
- We are, like so many, a very, very busy family with tons of activities and obligations.
- We eat mainly fresh, nourishing foods, but are absolutely not opposed to some convenience and treats here and there.
Okay, now that you’ve got the scoop, here’s our favorite way of managing lunchbox snacks in a balanced way:
That’s the snack bag.
Each day, when I pack the kids’ lunches, I add a sandwich or protein-packed salad, yogurt or cheese, a fruit, a veggie, and a bottle of water. After all those are in there, I ask each child to choose a snack from the “snack bag.”
They love this part.
What’s in the snack bag? Oh, all manner of things I pick up when I’m out and about:
- fruit snacks
- cereal bars
- crackers with PB or cheese
- sandwich cookies
- fruit bars
- jello cups
- ??? (depends what I find!)
Each kid picks one thing and I add it to their bag. My kids who still get “snack” during the day are advised to choose something else to eat at snack-time, since junky food doesn’t fill the belly well. They know this and don’t object. They’re just excited to have a treat as part of their lunch haul.
Why am I a fan of this method?
Well, I’m a firm believer in balanced nutrition. And I am also convinced that part of why my children never balk at the healthy stuff is that I don’t restrict them from all other foods.
Giving them a choice in the matter makes it exciting for them. It’s also interesting for me. Those chips in there? I bought one package of those bags back in August and there are still many remaining. The dried fruit bars and peanut butter crackers go really fast. The fruit snacks have gone largely untouched, but the Jello is gone. These are things I wouldn’t have predicted, to be honest.
Are these foods healthy and nourishing? Nope. Can’t say that they are. But, as part of the larger picture, they also don’t concern me. They’re portion-controlled treats. That’s really all they are. Do my kids need a bag of goldfish crackers, a pack of Oreos, and a bag of fruit snacks each day? Of course not. And they never ask for it. They know they have the opportunity to choose something that looks fun each day and that fulfills their craving.
I don’t spend a lot of money on these things. Many of them are items I found on markdown at ALDI and grabbed just for fun. I periodically toss something new in there and they’re always excited to discover a new choice.
The best lunch is the one that your kid will eat. That’s first and foremost. But, if you’re striving to send healthy options, while also allowing for a little indulgence and fun, I highly recommend the snack bag.
It’s how we do lunchbox snacks in a balanced world.