Photo: Lands’ End

Back to school means back to lunch packing. The first week your kiddo’s meals will boast photo-worthy, cookie-cutter sandwiches and original sides, but as the year rolls on it can be tough to think of fresh, exciting foods to pack to keep those bellies full and those lunch boxes coming home empty. Mom of five and Pillbox Tavern‘s executive chef Shelly Velez shares 8 tips for how parents can switch things up and create nutritious lunches to get kids through the day. Read on to learn how a pro packs a school lunch.

Photo: Michał Grosicki via Unsplash

1. Make it easy for kids to eat so food doesn’t go to waste. If packing fruit, be sure to have everything cut up into slices or peeled. Peeled oranges, tangerines and grapes promote energy and prevent a crash from sugary and over-processed foods.

2. Keep in mind temperature. Usually, kids will not have access to a microwave to heat up food. My kids always loved leftover pasta, which I would heat up in the morning. By lunchtime it was still warm – that was a big hit!

Photo: Pottery Barn

3. Packing soup was also a lunch favorite for my kids. I would heat it up in the morning and then put in a thermos for them to enjoy later. I also packed crackers or toast for them to eat with it.

Side dish: See our favorite soup spots around San Diego.

Photo: Eaters Collective via Unsplash

4. Pack what they like. If they enjoy dishes like bow-tie pasta or homemade fried chicken at dinner, chances are they will enjoy eating it for lunch, too. Make extra at dinnertime to ensure enough leftovers for lunches.

Side dish: Head to these local gourmet spice shops for an array of spices that will add flavor and flair to family meals.

Photo: My Gululu

5. Don’t forget something to sip on! I always packed water or low-sugar juice, never soda or high-sugar juice boxes.

6. Get kids involved in shopping! Take them to farmer’s markets or swap meets to shop. Most have other booths besides food, so you can always find a little trinket or something to keep them occupied as you visit the produce stands/booths.

Side dish: Learn more about the best family-friendly farmer’s markets in San Diego.

Photo: Unsplash

7. If kids seem to have attention problems or ADHD, try a clean eating plan. No red dyes or sugary food/drinks. Instead, have them help make smoothies and pack them in an insulated thermos. It will seem like a cool treat!

Side dish: These are our favorite juice and smoothie bars in town.

Photo: Jamie Street via Unsplash

8. Make healthy eating a game! Teach kids what each healthy vegetable or fruit does, and make it part of the learning process. Carrots = eyes, spinach = muscles, blueberries = brain, etc. Be conscious of the fact that different foods affect mood and behavior.

Overall, be sure to teach kids about healthy foods as often as possible. With a strong foundation and good role models, this will help children make better choices when they get old enough to choose their own foods and help them maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Visit Pillbox Tavern, a “retro modern” beach bar in Solana Beach to eat a meal prepared by Chef Shelly Velez. She’s esteemed for making 14 different house made sauces from scratch every morning to go with her famous chicken wings.

Pillbox Tavern
117 W. Plaza St.
Solana Beach, Ca 92075
858-436-7016
Online: pillboxtavern.com

What are your best school lunch packing tips? Share in the comments.

––Beth Shea

featured photo: jelly via pixabay