The Secret to Lunch Kids Will Love

If I preach about anything, it's the importance of balance in the lunch box. Too much of anything isn't good. It's the same way I feel about life. A little bit of this and a little bit of that can help keep you centered-and hopefully happy and focused as well. When it comes to what goes into making the "perfect" school lunch, balance is key. Put a fruit, vegetable, protein, and carbohydrate into your child's lunch box every day, and you've done your job. If we parents can focus on consistently providing our kids with nutritious foods and getting them excited about eating them, time will do the rest of the work. You can't ask for much more.

No matter what else I send my kids to school with, the fruit always disappears. I'm a big fan of buying fruit in season, so every few months my kids are revisited by old favorites they haven't eaten in a year. Aside from tasting better than their counterparts flown in out of season from thousands of miles away, buying in season is good for the environment, and if you buy local, it helps support your local economy.

View Mother Nature as your best friend when it comes to keeping your lunch rotation fresh, rather than boring and repetitive. Look forward to apples, pears, pomegranates, and oranges in the fall and winter and apricots and blueberries in spring. Even if your child only loves strawberries, in January they won't be as fresh and delicious and nutritious as those grown during the summer, and they'll generally be grown far outside the United States and sprayed with chemicals. Furthermore, a variety of colorful fruits in lunch not only brightens up the meal and gives you that much needed visual appeal, but also adds a ton of valuable nutrients to your child's meal.

Instead of sliced melon (which is perfectly fine, by the way!), use a baller to make fun, bite-size melon balls. Add two fruits to your child's lunch instead of just one to give your lunch box layout even more eye appeal. Never underestimate how seductive a colorful lunch can be to kids.

Buy fruit in small batches so you can change things up every few days and you're not just sending an apple a day, every day (I promise the doctor won't be offended and will likely be even happier with you for offering a wide array of fruits!).

Be brave and buy a fruit your kids have never tried before.
Years ago I put dragon fruit in Kenya's lunch and it made him the most popular kid in class on account of the color (it's purple), novelty, and name (I mean, could kids get more excited about dragons?). I buy it all the time now-at both of my kids' insistence-and am guaranteed to always have at least one mom come up to me the next day saying that their child came home talking about wanting to get the purple fruit from Kenya's or Chloe's lunch.

Banana Dog Bites
Makes 4 servings

Have you ever thought about how many peanut butter-and-something sandwiches you've made for your kids? I lost count about two years ago. To alleviate the monotony of day-in, day-out sammie making, I started whipping up these Banana Dog Bites. Kenya couldn't stop laughing the first time I asked him, "You wanna make banana dogs?" He just kept shrieking, "What's a banana dog? That's so silly!" But he loved spreading the nut butter on the tortillas, peeling the banana, laying it in its "tortilla bed" (that got another big laugh), and rolling it up so the banana could "sleep tight" (still more giggles). Then I simply sliced the banana dogs into adorable half-inch sushi-style pieces and sent him off to school with them. But it wasn't until his lunch box came home totally empty that I realized just how yummy they were!

2 tortillas (any variety will work; see Note)
¼ cup peanut butter or almond or sunflower butter
2 bananas, peeled

1. Place 1 tortilla on a flat surface and spread 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on the tortilla to coat it evenly.
2. Place one whole banana near the edge of the tortilla and roll it up.
3. Slice the banana dog into ½-inch rounds.
4. Repeat to make a second banana dog and serve.

Note: If your tortillas are stiff, you can put them in the microwave between 2 pieces of moist paper towel and heat for 15 to 20 seconds, or until softened.

Recipe from Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals by Catherine McCord; William Morrow Hardcover; $29.99

After her son was born in 2007, Catherine McCord sought out resources to teach her how to prepare fresh, healthy, appealing meals for young kids-but she came up empty. With culinary school under her belt and a hungry baby to feed, Catherine started, a website that has since grown into a comprehensive offering of kid-friendly family meals. Catherine teaches parents how to turn their kids into great eaters who appreciate food and are open to exciting new flavors.