Sally Kuzemchak is a registered dietician and creator of the blog Real Mom Nutrition. Kuzemchak, who has two children, shares her tips on packing nutritious lunches kids will actually eat -- even when you're in a pinch for time.
1. Don't strive for perfection: In the age of Pinterest, it's easy to get caught up in what other moms are packing their kids. Kuzemchak says it's important not to pressure yourself about packing a picture-perfect lunch, as long as you strive for balance. "Parents are increasingly pressured that everything has to be homemade and perfect, but it's okay to have some convenience foods or processed foods, like fruit cups or yogurt," she says.
Kuzemchak says nutritional balance is most important to her, and she's satisfied as long as she packs her children a whole grain, a fruit and vegetable, as well as a calcium and protein source, like Stonyfield YoKids Squeezers. "It's processed, but it's made with wholesome ingredients and it's organic," she says. "Be a good label reader -- it's okay to use those items. You need to take the pressure off yourself."
2. Skip the sandwich: Keep an open mind about what lunch should look like. Kuzemchak says packing leftovers in a thermos is a fast and easy way to pack a tasty, balanced lunch.
"You can put things into the thermos like last night's mac and cheese or ravioli, leftover Chinese takeout -- all you do is heat up the food and put it in the thermos," says Kuzemchak. "You can pack your kid sushi or cold pizza. It doesn't have to be a sandwich and an apple or carrots."
3. Use a bento box: You don't have to make it pretty, but packing food in a bento box will help make lunch more appetizing to kids. "It can be a couple pieces of leftover roast chicken and a couple of strawberries and some celery and you can put them in the compartments," says Kuzemchak. "It immediately looks appealing and kid-friendly because you have different portions of a lot of food."
Kuzemchak says kids like to pick at their food while they're chatting with friends, and compartmentalizing it makes it more fun for kids to snack.
4. Veggies are versatile: You don't have to just send your kids carrot and celery sticks. Kuzemchak says it's important to find a way for your kids to enjoy their veggies. "They might like broccoli raw, or they might like it pureed in soup," she says. "They might like it roasted -- that makes it sweeter. And I have no shame about using ranch dressing to get them to eat their veggies." Kuzemchak says her youngest child dips his vegetables in ketchup. "Those things are vehicles for kids to learn about new foods," she explains.
5. Don't overpack: Kuzemchak's trick to getting her own kids to finish their lunch is slightly underpacking. "If you pack a whole bunch of pretzels and some vegetables, they'll eat all the pretzels and no vegetables, but if you pack a few pretzels and vegetables, they'll eat it all," she says. Kuzemchak says packing slightly less than what she thinks her children will eat encourages them to finish their meal.
Bonus tip: Kuzemchak loves to freeze Stonyfield Squeezers in the summer time for her kids. "It feels like a popsicle but it has calcium and Vitamin D," she says. She also likes to make green smoothies for her kids when the temperatures rise. "I'm not a fan of sneaking things in, so have them help you make it -- let them see you put the spinach and kale in and add pineapple so it's sweet," she suggests. What do you do with the leftovers? "Freeze them in a popsicle mold."