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Learning through Meal Prepping: Five Benefits of Encouraging Children to Pack Their Own Lunches

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Letting children assist with packing their own lunches can be beneficial. You can teach your children about responsibility and portion control and boost their creativity and decision-making skills by inviting your children into the kitchen with you for a lesson. Here are five benefits of allowing children to help prepare their own lunches.

It emphasizes portion control. Bento-box lunch containers are an easy and exceptionally helpful tool for teaching your child about portion sizes and meal organization. When your children select their lunch items with you, provide them with a bento-box container and explain what healthy meal portions look like. They can use the bento box to pack their lunches, which helps them visualize and be aware of the portion sizes they are packing.

It introduces the importance of nutrition. Your children’s favorite go-to treats, such as fruit snacks and cookies, don’t necessarily make some of the healthiest snacks. When they’re in the kitchen with you, teach them about what the key food groups are and how those food groups keep their minds and bodies well nourished. Provide different vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains and dairy products, and let them choose what to put into their lunch bags. Guide them to pack meals with all the food groups.

It aids in independent learning and decision making. When your children are preparing their lunches with you in the kitchen, give them options for what to pack. Allow them to choose from two or three different things. Do they want a chicken sandwich, a turkey sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Do they want carrots or cucumbers? Do they want strawberries, apples or grapes? Once they decide, let them gather and pack their choices, and then help them focus on the next food group. Once you establish a routine, they will make quicker decisions. Picking their own meals lets them feel independent and accomplished.

It boosts creativity and introduces the art of cooking.
Getting your children into the kitchen at a young age helps them start cooking and learning the steps it takes to create a meal. Instead of providing them with premade and wrapped turkey sandwiches, let them make some with you. Start by letting them select the bread, get out the condiments and select the meat, cheese and toppings they want on their delicious sandwiches. This shows them how much time, effort, creativity and skill it takes to make a proper lunch.

It teaches responsibility, routines and time management. Whether you pack meals after dinner or after your children get home from school, make sure to schedule a meal-preparation time that works best for your family. Meet in the kitchen at your designated time, and start preparing the lunches. By establishing a routine, such as meeting every night or twice a week at 7 PM, you will be familiarizing your children with following a schedule, helping them plan meals. If you want to make meal preparation more fun, consider getting a small chalkboard or whiteboard to keep in your kitchen. Have your children write out the days of the week and the foods they want in their lunchboxes each day. This can keep you organized, and it encourages your children to start planning meals.

Peanut-Free Snacks for School

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A peanut allergy is a serious thing and it’s become increasingly common, so more and more schools are starting to play it safe by prohibiting peanuts in kids’ lunches and snacks. Keeping lunchtime truly safe for all kids requires more than just taking old standbys like PB&J off the menu. But it’s hard to know what’s safe to send, especially when confusing labeling and sometimes unclear manufacturing practices make navigating the murky waters of allergy-safe snack foods especially tricky.

Fortunately, there are tons of yummy lunchbox-friendly packaged snacks on the market that are totally peanut-free, meaning they weren’t made with peanuts OR manufactured in a plant where peanuts have been used.

To make things super easy on you, we’ve taken the guesswork out of figuring out which packaged snacks you can and can’t send into a peanut-free lunchroom, with a monster list of goodies—some tried and true, some brand new—all of which are totally peanut-free and delicious.

Cheesy snacks:

These are so often a hit and the ever-popular Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers, Annie’s Homegrown Cheddar Bunnies, Cheese Nips, and Kraft Handi-snacks are all peanut-free and available in convenient single-serve packages. Another cheesy winner is Pirate Booty, a cheese-dusted puffed rice and corn snack made by Pirate Brands, which also puts out several other yummy nut-free snacks, such as Veggie Booty, Tings, Smart Puffs, and Soy Crisps.

Chips:

While we can’t really endorse snacking on potato chips every day, we also can’t deny that sometimes there’s just nothing better than a salty chip. Several varieties of Utz, Wise, Herr’s, Cape Cod, Pringles, and Ruffles potato chips are peanut-free, including plain/original and BBQ (check the packaging on other flavors).

For an equally delicious and super nutritious chip choice, check out Beanfields bean and rice tortilla chips, available in 1.5 oz single serve bags. They’re full of protein and fiber and come in seven yummy flavors (Sea Salt, Nacho, Pico de Gallo, Barbecue, Ranch, Salt & Pepper, and Unsalted). And no need to worry about peanuts—they’re so careful about contamination at Beanfields they don’t even let their team read Peanuts comics in the break room.

Applesauce and Packaged Fruit:

Of course, we all know that fresh fruit is an ideal choice when it comes to healthy snacking, but there are times when prepackaged produce just works better on the go. Motts individual packages of applesauce, GoGo Squeez pouches, and fruit cups by DelMonte, are all sweet peanut-free options. We also love the convenience, crunch, and fruity deliciousness of Crispy Green freeze-dried fruit. With fun flavors like Asian pear, cantaloupe, and tangerine (as well as the usual suspects, including apple and banana) it’s a fun, peanut-free way to snack.

Pretzels:

A school snack staple, pretzels are a great, safe option for a peanut-free lunchroom. Many popular brands such as Newman’s Own, PepperidgeFarm, Herr’s, Utz, Bachman, and Rold Gold are peanut-free and come in convenient lunch-sized packaging.

For a fun twist (get it?) on pretzel snacking, try Pretzilla soft pretzel bites. Available in a 12.3 oz tub or convenient 4 oz single-serve packages, they’re a great choice on their own or paired with a nut-free dip, such as hummus, ranch dip, or alongside Sunbutter’s on the go single cups (it smells like peanut butter, it spreads like peanut butter, it even tastes a whole lot like peanut butter—no wonder it’s the only non-peanut butter that’s part of the national school lunch system). Pretzilla also makes mini buns, which are perfect for snack-sized sandwiches.

Popcorn:

Whole grain, high fiber, and super munchable, popcorn rarely fails the kid test. Individual-sized bags in tons of flavors from brands like Utz, Herr’s, Smartfood, Divvies, and SkinnyPop are handy, school-safe lunchbox toss-ins. And popcorn chips, which are more or less what they sound like—popcorn turned into a chip (well, kind of; they’re corn chips that are air-popped)—are also a great nut-free snack option for popcorn lovers. Look for Popcorners, Safe + Fair Popcorn Quinoa Chips, and My Super Pops, adorable mini popcorn chips in Honey BBQ, White Cheddar, and Kettle from newcomer My Super Foods, a company founded and run by two moms, who were inspired to create nourishing snacks for their own children.

Bars:

Granola bars and snack bars are such a no-brainer when it comes to packing snacks for the school day. They’re portable, single-serve, and usually chock-full of fiber, protein, and healthy fat. But, more often than not, they’re a veritable nut fest or, at the very least, are manufactured near other products that contain nuts.

So what kind of granola bars or snack bars are okay for nut-free snacking? Lots, as it turns out! Cascadian Farm Granola Bars (Chocolate Chip or Vanilla Chip), Don’t Go Nuts Energy Bars (Boogie Board Bash, Gorilla Power, Whitewater Chomp, Blueberry Blast, Celestial Campout, Lift Service), Enjoy Life Baked Chewy Bars and Soft Baked Bars (Caramel Apple, Mixed Berry, Sunseed Crunch, Cocoa Loco, Caramel Blondie, Carrot Cake, Lemon Blueberry Poppyseed), Made Good Granola Bars (Mixed Berry, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Banana, Apple Cinnamon, Strawberry), and Envirokidz Granola Bars and Crispy Rice Bars (Strawberry, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate, Berry Blast) to name but a few!

Zego, another company offering tons of snack bars, including Fruit + Chia Bars (Blueberry, Raspberry, Strawberry), Just Fruit Bars (Blueberry, Cherry, Pear, Raspberry, Strawberry), and Organic Seed + Fruit Bar (Apple Cinnamon, Fudgy Chocolate, Lemon Ginger, Sunflower Date) not only excludes the most common allergens from all of their products, they also test every batch at the end of production for traces of allergens and pesticides. They even include a QR code on all of their packaging that consumers can scan to see results of their testing.

Dairy Snacks:

 Yogurt, cheese, and bottled smoothies are great for growing kids. They’re packed with calcium and are usually peanut-free. Look for string cheese by Horizon Organic, Kraft, Organic Valley, Sargento, Sorrento, Land O Lakes, Tilamook, and Finlandia, all of which are safe for peanut-free schools.

Laughing Cow and Mini Babybel cheese wheels are another convenient, single-serve cheese option worth seeking out. Yogurt in its many forms—squeezable, drinkable and spoonable—works, too, especially when you shop for brands with less sugar, fewer artificial ingredients, and no high fructose corn syrup, like Annie’s Homegrown, Happy Family, and Stonyfield Farms. Keep an eye out for Stonyfield’s newest peanut-free lunchbox-ready snack packs. They’re yogurt and dippers in 5 delish flavor combinations: Strawberry & Chocolate Chip Cookie, Vanilla & Chocolate Cookie, Strawberry & Graham Crackers. Chocolate & Graham Crackers. Chocolate & Pretzel. No spoon required!

Treats:

From cookies to cupcakes to candy there’s actually plenty to choose from in the peanut-free treat universe. Good news if you have a classroom birthday party coming up! Enjoy Life Foods, a leading brand in the “free-from” category, makes popular soft-baked and crunchy cookies in enough flavors to please just about anyone. Fig Newtons, Nabisco Ginger Snaps, Oreos, and Barnum’s Animal Crackers are also safe choices.

Smashmallow has recently introduced Smash Crispy crispy rice treats (Strawberries & Cream, Cinnamon Churro, and Mint Chocolate Chip), a better-for-you lunchbox treat that’s non-GMO and gluten-free. School Safe and Divvies are reliable for cupcakes. And as for candy, there’s definitely something for everyone.

Gummy and jelly bean devotees can look for Black Forest gummies and fruit snacks, Jelly Belly Jelly Beans, and Surf Sweets, which offers a lower-guilt product that’s made with natural, non-GMO ingredients, free from harmful additives. There’s good news for little chocolate lovers, too—Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops, and Junior Mints are all completely peanut-free as are all of the products manufactured by Vermont Nut Free Chocolates (their chocolate covered pretzels work well as a little lunchtime treat) and No Whey Chocolate, whose products are free from all 8 of the most common allergens. Give their Pea “Not” Butter Cups a try!

Just one note: be sure to pay close attention to the wording on snack packaging, since most brands print a warning statement or allergen list. Keep an eye out for phrases like: “May Contain Peanut or Tree Nuts”; “Manufactured in a plant with Peanut or Tree Nuts”; “Contains Peanut or Tree Nut Ingredients”
 

 

This article was written by Suzy Scherr from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

School Lunch Timesavers

  • Involve your children in making lunches. After dinner, gather in the kitchen to prepare sandwiches or leftovers and snacks for the next day’s lunches. If they’ve helped make their lunch, children are more likely to eat and enjoy it.
  • Make a weekday lunch calendar and ask your children to help decide what they will have for lunch each day. This will also make grocery shopping for the week that much easier!
  • Consider using divided lunch containers. With separate sections available for each food group, they’ll help you easily put together healthy, balanced lunches.
  • Prepare a variety of fruits and veggies and place a serving of each in separate containers in the fridge. When packing lunches, have each child choose one item from each group and place in their lunch bag with a sandwich and drink.
  • Prepare large meals like pasta or stew over the weekend and then divide into single-serve portions to pack for lunches throughout the week.

Pack a Healthy Lunch…that your child will enjoy!

Introduce your children to healthy eating by involving them in the lunch preparation.  Children have a tendency to eat and try new foods that they helped to prepare.  And children who help in the kitchen build their confidence which makes them feel important and proud.

Avoid brown bag boredom and try the following healthy, easy and fun options.  Bonus – your children will want to eat these choices!

Turn lunch into an adventure:

  • Cut sandwiches into playful shapes with cookie cutters.  Children are more excited about eating a star- or dinosaur-shaped sandwich because it makes the experience fun!  Choose cheese or deli meats to replace breads and cut them into fun shapes, too.

Make lunch fun by including a dip:

  • Yogurt is a great dip for fruit.
  • Provide hummus for veggies.

Use a variety of ‘sandwich’ options:

  • Bagels, pita bread, wheat wraps or crackers.

Consider packing applesauce or yogurt as a treat in lieu of a ‘sweet’ dessert.