Nutrition is something to instill as early as possible and having your child pack their own lunch is part of the learning process of what will make a healthy lunch. You can’t just throw them in it without guidance of course; they will wind up packing chips, cookies and even ice cream possibly as lunch choices. So guide them in with ideas, supervise and eventually let them do it. (You will check it of course).
Chips and cookies are fine sides if they are healthy so get the kids to help make them a head of time or purchase ones that are made with a few ingredients. Things like Kale Chips are very healthy, tasty and travel well. Cookies made with wholegrains, peanut butter and natural sweeteners can be more like a breakfast substitute and won’t spoil, either. These are made out of food, not typical conventional prepackaged types like chocolate chips or sandwich creams (though you can make healthier versions). Think more like oatmeal, carrot and such. Cookies baked with vegetables and natural food have vitamins.
One of the biggest challenges is the fact you cannot warm up food, so it limits some of the choices for packing. And if you are dealing with a basic lunch box or brown bag, you can’t keep the food cold so it doesn’t spoil. This may limit your options, but when the weather is mild cooked food will keep for the few hours from the time it leaves the refrigerator until lunch. There are insulated lunch boxes and bags on the market which run $7-$15. You slip in a frozen icepack to keep whatever you pack cool. Because the reality is kids leave the house pretty early for school, sometimes before 7 a.m., and lunch may not be until 11 or 12. That is a long time for the food to hold up. Bento Lunch Box containers also give you separation for your food so isn’t touching a set of four will cost you about $14 from Amazon.
The Sandwich gives unlimited variety so kids don’t get bored, and they are easy to assemble. You can vary the bread, or even buy wraps to roll up their food, and slice. Typical choices are lunch meats like ham, chicken, turkey, canned tuna or salmon and cheese. Keep this in one section for the kids to assemble, and then pick vegetables like spinach or kale, tomatoes, onions, olives. Whatever fresh veggies they like. If they like broccoli you can mix broccoli with onions, raisins and a light mayo and you have an instant Amish Broccoli salad. There is, of course, variations of the classic PB&J.
You can purchase hummus, or make it at home over the weekend for more fun. This can be used on sandwiches, wraps and just as a side that can be scooped out into small lunch box container or as part of a bento style lunch box. You can dip veggies in hummus, as well as crackers, pita, pretzels.
Children have varying tastes just as adults. They may not be willing yet to try things you have grown accustomed to that seem normal. Remember their taste buds are much more new, and therefor much more strong and sensitive. So spicy curry and hot sauce just may be too bold, as would be blue cheese. Always give them options to select from, so they pick a few different sides. Examples for grains are the sandwich or wrap, crackers, chips. For fruit it can be sliced fruit, dried fruit or prepackaged applesauce. Other sides might be pudding or yogurt, cookies and trail mix.