We get a LOT of questions about packing lunches. As often as I can point people to this post, or this post, or tell them there’s a chapter in the book devoted to lunches… I knew we needed new, fresh material on the site. That’s where the Primal Kitchen: A Family Grokumentary comes in. I’ve been following this blog for quite some time. How can you not?! The name is genius. And the lunch picture compositions are beautiful, inspiriting and fun!
I was SUPER thrilled when Primal Kitchen agreed to do a post for you all – a guest post on getting your family’s buy-in for eating real food packed lunches. Whatever, or whomever, your obstacle may be – this post will help. There are brilliant directions here, directions that are VERY similar to our own book. So you know we’re on-board. I hope, if nothing else, this post will alleviate the near daily e-mails we get from people asking about packing lunches.
- Don’t be afraid to compromise sensibly, especially in the name of initial buy-in – doing this gracefully can help you to dodge protests. Learn the art of the meatza. Make some paleo bread for a die-hard sandwich fan. Find some good quality coconut wraps to make a wrap. That said, be sure to mingle your compromises with some classically paleo meals over the course of the week, which brings me to the next idea.
- Try to do mostly “meat and veggies” lunches each week. A lunch that is predominantly high quality animal protein, with some veggies included and some healthy fat, is the kind of lunch that will satiate and keep you and your loved ones humming on even blood sugar for the whole afternoon. Remember, protein keeps you awake, sugars make you sleepy. Lots of wonderful, nourishing paleo foods are nonetheless higher in carbohydrates, so keep the lunchtime carbs low to moderate (unless you’ve just worked out or are just about to work out and your muscles could use them right away!). Hurdle that afternoon slump by emphasizing quality protein!
- Involve them, if they want to be involved. This one has absolutely been key for our household. My daughter – who is almost 5 – is greatly interested in making suggestions for her lunchbox, and she always wants a sneak peek before it gets zipped up in its case before we go drop her off at preschool. Here’s how to involve your kids and spouse::: Solicit grocery list and grocery shopping input. Your kids and spouse are more likely to eat lunches made of ingredients they’ve selected themselves. The bonus here is that – if they are skimming grocery ads for produce deals and accompanying you to local markets or farmers – they become more aware of seasonal crops and prices::: Discuss a quick preview before the packing starts. Tell your kids or spouse the night before what you have in mind for the next day’s lunches. If they aren’t up for what you’re planning, you can ask them to survey the fridge and pantry and come up with a healthy plan of their own::: Have them do the packing. You can pre-prep some ingredients or set out some options and help them along the way, but getting your family to put their own effort into packing the lunch helps them to get mentally invested in the process. Keep things age appropriate in the packing process – an adult should slice fruit and veggies ahead for younger kids, for example, but the same younger kids can possibly spoon almond butter into a dip container by themselves.
- Serve a rainbow. No, not only for the oft-touted benefit that foods of various colors have a wide variety of phytonutrients. Packing lunches with a rainbow of color is also very appealing to kids and results in them eating more of these healthy foods.
- Mix up a selection of leftovers, fresh foods, and non-perishables. Having a good mix of these three categories means that your packed lunch will come together faster. It also generally provides a good variety and a nice selection of textures for your lunch eaters to explore. Examples: ::Leftovers. Last night’s chili, or slices of the beef roast. Pieces of cubed leftover chicken::: Fresh foods. Cut fruit and vegetables. Boiled eggs. Sliced cheese or whole fat unsweetened yoghurt (if you do dairy)::: Non-perishables. Nuts and natural nut butters. Sea Snax. Freeze dried unsweetened fruits. Coconut flakes. Paleo Kits. Canned tuna or salmon. Beef jerky.
- Make fun shapes. If you’re looking for buy-in from kids, getting familiar with bento lunchbox art is a great strategy. In one case for us, I learned about a four pack of stainless steel mini bento cutters that was around $5 – and they’ve been so durable and versatile for us, creating all kinds of adorable flower-shaped fruits, veggies, liverwurst, and cheese pieces in my daughter’s lunch.
- Make dips and dressings available. Dips are magical in their ability to win over reluctant lunch eaters! Here are a few ideas::: Read your labels and try straight mustard or mustard horseradish for dipping steak or chicken pieces::: For veggies, try combining coconut cream or sour cream with a bit of tamari (wheat free soy sauce) or coconut aminos and a little onion powder – this makes an onion dip!::: Almond butter is a great dip for apple slices or celery sticks::: Tahini dressing could be a nice change of pace, or even try a cauliflower hummus::: You could also make your own ranch dressing at home and be dazzled by the taste that fresh ranch can provide::: Homemade mayo is stunningly simple to make, and could be a nice addition to a BLT salad as well::: For a premade option, Wholly Guacamole makes some very handy and (last I checked the ingredient label) paleo-compatible guacamole that comes in a 100 calorie pack option – pre-sealed pre-made guac that isn’t brown by the time your kids get to it? That’s convenient.
- Finger foods! Who doesn’t love a hands-on lunch? Roll quality lunch meat (additive and preservative free when possible) around a pickle, or a piece of cheese if you do dairy. Serve up fresh snow peas, sliced up sticks of squash, cucumber coins, and baby carrots (don’t forget the dip!). Stuff mini peppers with tuna salad (use the homemade mayo!) or another protein filling. Make muffin-size quiches with meat and colorful veggies added in.
- Treats can facilitate buy-in. Yes, as mentioned above, conscientious carb consumption can keep you from plotzing mid-afternoon, but it’s also true that a small treat can make a surprisingly big difference, especially to family members who are not totally sold on a lunchbox overhaul. Some ideas here::: A trail mix with your spouse’s favorite nuts, dried fruits, and unsweetened coconut flakes::: A square of high quality dark chocolate::: A coconut manna cup::: A honey straw. These hold a teeny amount – about 1 tsp. – of honey, so they’re more about the novelty factor::: A lightly-honey-sweetened grain free coconut macaroon, or::: A delicious chocolate mousse made with (yes!) overripe avocado.
Relearning lunch-packing can be challenging – there’s no question about that. But be encouraged – it does have a learning curve, and before long the practice of doing it adds up and lets you pull together lunches very efficiently.