I never could figure out exactly what my kids would like for lunch on any given day.. and in the morning rush getting ready for school, I was not going to hold a polling session to find out. Now I totally get it.. I worked outside of the home for many years and had to bring my own lunches to work and somedays you just didn’t FEEL like eating a sandwich or TV dinner or whatever was in my lunch box. But at least I was in charge of making my own decisions. I can’t even imagine what I would have thought if lunch was a game of russian roulette every day with someone packing what they THOUGHT I wanted.
So I decided I was going to let my children pack their own lunches. (Plus.. hey.. less work for me!) They were never fans of sandwiches or little "lunchbox meals” but mostly I found they were eating the “snack” like foods. Single serving packages of crackers or yogurt or fruit. Things I knew they could easily pack for themselves.
The problem was.. if I just told them to “pack a lunch” my 3rd grader will fill a bag with cookies and root beer and my 1st grader would pack a single bag of fruit snacks. They wouldn’t be balanced or they wouldn’t be sized appropriately. So I had to come up with a system and some guidelines for them, which made sure they were getting the right mix of foods, but were also getting things they WANTED to eat.
The key to my system is diving the foods up into 4 groups and making sure the kids take a fixed number of servings from each group. I’m going to give you a TON of ideas for each group so even if you kids are really picky, you will be able to find something they will eat. Maybe your groups will only have a few items (since your child will pick it over and over again) or perhaps your groups will be full of a huge variety as your child figures out exactly what they do and don’t like. But the key is giving the the CHOICE and including things they want to eat. (Since at the end of the day, getting your kids to actually eat (and finish) a healthy balanced school lunch is the goal here!)
My school aged kids are currently in 1st and 3rd grade so the size and breakdown of their lunches reflects that. If your children are older, or if they tend to be lighter or heavier eaters, you will want to change the portion sizes and break down to fit your own needs.