I have a few standbys that I pack in my kids’ lunch boxes like turkey wraps, black bean soup, and of course leftovers (anything from roasted chicken and veggies to quiche). I try new foods and sometimes they really surprise me. One of their surprising favorites this summer was baby spinach salad with all kinds of goodies thrown in – sliced eggs, pieces of chicken or turkey, fresh mozzarella balls, carrots, cucumbers, dried cherries, crumbled goat cheese – you name it!  And no dressing per their request! Spinach salad with no dressing? I couldn’t believe it. But they loved it and all the flavors and textures must have made up for the lack of dressing. They ate it all every time I packed it and asked for it regularly.

Lunch salad for kids Trader Joes

 

To make it special, I cut out shapes out of bell peppers and cucumber slices using sharp little vegetable cutters that I found on Amazon. I wish I had time to do the crazy-elaborate cutouts and shapes that I see in bento books, but my kids appreciate the little bell-pepper-flowers and those just take seconds to do.

Another way to add a special touch to lunch is to add a family photo (great for kids that get homesick at school), a sudoku puzzle (just tear a page out of any sudoku book), or add a joke.

 

I did an entire TV segment on special touches we can add to kids’ lunches. Our kids LOVE getting jokes in their lunch boxes and that’s what inspired Lunchbox Jokes books.  Kids love reading the jokes to classmates, and it’s a very easy way to add a fun note without the time it takes to write one yourself.  You can buy them at this website or on Amazon.

As far as general pointers go, we get asked all the time how to make the overall lunchbox process easier and less time-consuming. Assembling nutritious lunches is easier than you might think. To make this daily routine stress-free, we offer the following pointers:

  1. Pack the night before.  This is the single best way to reduce the morning chaos of trying to get everyone out the door in time. Leave only last-minute necessary prep for the morning, such as warming up food for the thermos, if serving a warm lunch.
  2. Keep things simple.  Young kids tend to like simple foods, and it’s also less messy to stick to foods without a lot of fancy sauces or layers. If you want to get fancy, cut foods into fun shapes. Or make deli meat & cheese roll-ups instead of always sandwiching them between bread.
  3. Try foods multiple times.  Kids’ tastes change, so before you give up on a food that you’d like for your child to eat, try offering it several times, perhaps in different forms. For example, if she doesn’t like carrot sticks, try carrot coins. Or perhaps he doesn’t like steamed broccoli, but crunchy raw broccoli may suit him better. The best way to get kids to eat well is to model it at home, so incorporate healthy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains into family dinners.
  4. Keep things fresh. To keep cold things cold, use ice packs that fit your lunchbox. These thin ice packs from Amazon work great for me and keep lunches cold without weighing down the lunchbox. Teach your kiddos to empty their lunch boxes after school and to place the ice packs back in the freezer.

 

We have two Trader Joe’s cookbooks devoted to lunch: 

Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Easy Lunch Boxes (Best bento lunch recipes – assemble and go).

Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Pack A Lunch! (Easy French-inspired lunches that are a big step up from the ordinary).

Enjoy!