With school season already in full swing, we are sure many parents are looking for useful tips to help make packing lunch a breeze.
Being an entrepreneur, restaurateur, and celebrity chef, Donatella Arpaia knows what it’s like to be a mom on-the-go and is sharing her tried and true tips for creating fun and healthy school lunches!
1. Control portion size.
Portions should be the size of an adult palm. Sweet dinner rolls have helped me control portion size for my son’s lunches. They are the perfect fit for my son’s little hands!
2. Get creative with the bread.
Children get tired of the same bread day after day. Switch it up! Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes! In addition to sliced bread, try mini sub rolls, in flavors like honey wheat— sweet, but healthy!
3. Include some protein and healthy fats.
I always like to include a protein in my son’s lunch because it keeps hunger at bay and provides him with the energy needed to get through his school day. To save time, I like to roast a boneless turkey breast on Sunday and use slices throughout the week in a variety of sandwiches.
4. Involve your kids in meal preparation. Make him or her your little sous chef.
Sit down with your children and ask them for their input. Let the kids mix and match and even help with the preparation. When your kids help with preparation, it opens them up to trying new foods. Have your child come up with fun names for their lunches! I developed the ABC sandwich trio, which features three types of kid-friendly lunches.
5. Packaging matters
Children can pack their lunch themselves. Here is where age matters – cute lunch boxes will not work for your middle-school child, so ask them how they want their lunch packed. Your younger child can pick out their lunch box featuring their favorite character or superhero.
6. Updated PB&J.
Due to nut-free school policies, a traditional PB&J is no longer a viable option for an easy lunch. However, there are great ways to swap out ingredients and your little one won’t taste the difference! Almond Butter, Wowbutter (soy), Sunbutter (sunflower seed), or another peanut substitute can save the day when you need to make lunch in a pinch. For extra deliciousness, toast the bread and slather on a touch of butter. This takes it to a whole new level!
7. Leave a little surprise.
A note, sticker, or temporary tattoo makes your child excited for their lunch! I go to the dollar store to get little things my son really looks forward to, and makes him feel special that his mom is thinking of him.
8. Sweets in small doses are OK.
A small piece of good quality chocolate, for example, is a much healthier option than a Twinkie. My son knows he may eat his sweet only after he finishes eating his lunch!
9. Update your mac and cheese.
Get the organic brands and add some carrots or the one vegetable that you child will eat that week! You can also add some chopped up organic chicken apple sausage or ham for added protein.
10. Variety and changing things up is important.
Keep rotating recipes and let your kids try out different veggies or fruit. After rejecting everything but carrots, my son now loves edamame!
By Donatella Arpaia, celebrity chef, mother, restaurateur, and entertaining expert. Donatella is best known for her role as head judge on Food Network’s Iron Chef America and Next Iron Chef. She is also author of the cookbook, “Donatella Cooks: Simple Food Made Glamorous.” In October 2016, Donatella opened the first upscale quick service pizza concept in Grand Central Terminal, Prova Pizzbar, to rave reviews.