Tired of spending time and energy putting together creative, healthy lunches only to see the food come home untouched? Handing lunch-making duties over to your kids might be the answer.
You’ve got the chart on your fridge. You’ve laid the ground rules for packing a balanced lunch. Your kids are on board. Ta-da! Everything’s perfect now, right? Okay, maybe not quite perfect. Each family has different routines, and figuring out how to work kids making their own lunch into those routines can take a little trial and error. So this week, we’re going to get into the details of implementing this new system.
Planning the Week
Before you go grocery shopping, discuss the possibilities with your kids and decide on an anchor dish that you can make ahead and they can experiment with throughout the week, like a pot of plain noodles. Does one of your kids have a passion for pesto? Either pick up the ingredients for this super-easy version, or add a container of prepared pesto to your list. Consider what else might go into that lunch, like bocconcini or cherry tomatoes. Maybe peanut sauce is your daughter’s jam, as it were. Buy a jar, or get the ingredients for this kid-friendly recipe. (Substitute sunbutter if your child’s school is nut-free.) Add crunchy vegetables to go with, like carrots, snap peas, or cucumbers. Apply the same concept for kids who like pasta salad, with creamy vinaigrette or this super-simple lemon vinaigrette.
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Pre-Cooking in Action
If you’ve never cooked with your kids before, the pesto and peanut sauce I mentioned above make perfect launching pads—neither one even require the use of a knife. On Sunday, bust out the measuring spoons and cups, and demo how to measure accurately. (Pro tip: if you’re making the peanut sauce, spritz the measuring cup with nonstick spray before adding the peanut butter, and it’ll slide right out.) Once you’ve measured the first ingredient, hand over the tools and let your kid do the rest. And just like that, they’re learning to cook! Let them help you prepare the noodles too—that big pot of boiling water might be a bit much for them to drain on their own, but they can learn how the stove works, how to stir safely, and how to tell when the pasta’s ready.
To Pre-Pack, or Not to Pre-Pack
Here’s where your family’s (and even your individual kids’) preferences really come into play. If you’re super-organized and have the time on Sundays—plus ample storage containers—you can pre-portion the week’s lunch items. Have your kids scoop half-cups of pasta into individual containers (they can toss it with a bit of olive oil first, to keep it from sticking). Help them trim carrots or sugar snap peas, and pack several servings. On the other hand, if you’re a bit more on the frazzled side (like me), you might prefer having your kids prep lunch daily. Do this the night before, because morning-of prepping and packing tends to make everyone late.
One bit of pre-packing both planners and procrastinators can do: As soon as you come home from the supermarket, have the kids portion out any shelf-stable lunch elements you buy, like pretzels or crackers or dried fruit. This’ll work with just about any entry on the “Grains and Snacks” section of the chart. Now you’ve got one less thing to worry about come lunch-packing time.
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More Mix-and-Match Noodle Ideas
Want something even easier than making pesto or peanut sauce? Suggest these combos to your kids:
- Picky-eater special: Toss pasta with olive oil, shredded Parmesan, and green peas.
- Tuna pasta salad: Stir pasta into canned tuna mixed with diced celery, chopped chives, mayonnaise, and lemon juice. Serve with crackers or pita.
- Southwestern pasta salad: Combine pasta with diced turkey, diced cheddar, chopped bell peppers, corn kernels, and a drizzle of ranch dressing.
Coming up next week: helping your kids get creative in the kitchen.