When my youngest child leaves for college in two years, I'll miss her. But I won't miss packing her lunchbox every day. If only I had had the foresight to assign this task to my kids when they entered kindergarten.
If you have little ones, don't make the same mistake. Have them pack their own lunches from the get-go, and you'll save yourself a lot of time and grief. You'll also give them the sense of empowerment that goes along with making their own decisions. When they take responsibility for their lunches, kids also learn something about food preparation and healthy eating.
Before handing them brown bags and telling them to get going, prepare them, and yourself, with these tips:
SET NUTRITIONAL GUIDELINES You don't want your kid throwing a Twinkie and a can of soda in a sack before heading for the bus stop. Before they pack their first lunch, explain that a balanced meal includes protein, carbohydrates, fruit or vegetables, and a reasonable treat. Each category should be checked off mentally or on an actual checklist as they put the food in a lunchbox or bag.
STOCK THE FRIDGE AND PANTRY There are no quick and healthy lunches without the right ingredients. Once or twice a week, restock your refrigerator and pantry with the protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables and snacks that your kids like. Slice rolls in half before freezing, cut up vegetables, if necessary, stock a basket or drawer with chips, raisins and pretzels. Make a batch of trail mix or granola bars for the week.
MAKE PACKING SUPPLIES ACCESSIBLE Keep small containers for snacks and sandwiches, plastic forks and knives, and paper napkins all in one place, near the lunchboxes and water bottles. Have several icepacks in the freezer to keep lunches cold all morning.
Making lunch doesn't have to mean a lot of slicing and dicing. Even a 5-year-old can put together one of the following protein and carbohydrate combinations, no chef's knife necessary. Take a look at five easy back-to-school lunch ideas.
Turkey and hummus wraps
Hummus is easy to spread on a flatbread or tortilla. Top with a few slices of turkey and maybe some lettuce leaves, roll up and -- voila! -- lunch is done.
Pictured: Quinn Cole, 8, from Sag Harbor, makes a roast beef and hummus wrap for lunch in Sag Harbor on July 27, 2015.
Goat cheese and salami on a roll
Slice crusty sandwich rolls before freezing them, so they're always on hand. Your child can spread goat cheese on one side, top with salami, wrap in plastic, and let the sandwich defrost in the lunchbox. For a vegetarian alternative, skip the salami and spread some pesto on the other side of the roll.
Peanut butter and ...
A spread-and-go option: If your child doesn't like jelly, provide something like honey, banana (easy to cut with a butter knife), bacon (precooked by you in the microwave), pickles. There's a combination for everyone.
Picturd: Quinn Cole, 8, from Sag Harbor, makes a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch in Sag Harbor on July 27, 2015.
Guacamole, black beans and corn chips
Buy chips designed for scooping, so your child can pack them along with small containers of guacamole and drained canned black beans.
Ham, cheese and mustard on whole-grain bread
Whole-grain bread, with lots of seeds, gives any sandwich a nutritional boost. Keep a loaf in the freezer. A slice or two of ham and real cheese (I like Cabot's Cheddar slices) make a hearty filling.