As a busy parent, it can be hard to keep fresh, healthy meals on the table when life gets hectic. The lunch box is even more challenging! As passionate as I am about healthy eating, I still find it a struggle to create healthy lunches that my kids will actually eat.
So, I asked parents to share their healthy lunch ideas. Together with Kelly Lester of Easy Lunch Boxes, I launched The Healthy Lunch Challenge. Moms across the country shared their ideas for how to build a better lunchbox on a busy parent's schedule.
It turns out there are a few simple food rules to follow:
Step 1: Eat Your Colors
The same principles that we use playing Crunch a Color to build balanced, healthy dinners can be used in your lunch box. Use the Crunch a Color formula: three colors + one protein + one healthy grains. I love how Jill of Meet the Dubiens packs her boxes with a riot of color!
Step 2: Make it Easy
How do you balance busy with healthy? Make it easy! Assemble a stable of recipes featuring healthy ingredients that can be whipped up in a flash. Marla Meridith at Family Fresh Cooking is masterful at dishing up easy, family fresh ideas. Her Giddy Up Pasta was a huge hit at our house. Another way to make it easy? Leftovers for lunch! Brenda at Meal Planning Magic shows us how, along with a few more time saving tricks.
Step 3: Think Out of the Box
School lunches can be the worst offenders when it comes to processed foods. One of the keys to building a healthy lunch is to "Think Out of the Box" and remake those boxed favorites in a healthy way. Start by tackling chicken nuggets, Bent on Better Lunches style! To make it even better, choose organic meats raised without antibiotics.
Step 4: Try a New Food
I think my kids have (max) three go-to recipes for their lunch boxes. That definitely qualifies as a recipe rut! And it's a dramatic contrast to the 52 New Foods we tried last year, which makes me even more motivated to make a change. Break out by trying a new food each week in your lunch. The creative Keeley McGuire shows us a fun way to try Brussels sprouts.
Step 5: Cook it Together
"If they cook it, they will eat it!" That's true for the lunchbox too. One of the keys to getting kids to eat their healthy lunches is to get them making their own healthy lunches. Let them create a meal plan for the week. Get them into the act of preparing their own recipes. How about DIY almond butter pizzas from Organized Bites?
Remember, the key is to make it fun! Cut a few veggies into fun shapes like Deb at iPackLunch. Or put it on a stick like Kendra at Biting the Hand that Feeds You (it's always more fun on a stick!). Pop a few conversation starters or a love note in your box for a little surprise. It doesn't take much time, but it's way more fun (for you and your kids)!
A word about allergies: Many families face the challenging (and scary) reality of food allergies. Although my kids do not have food allergies, their school is 100 percent nut free so I'm always looking for easy ways to banish peanut butter from our boxes. Healthy no-bake cookies made with sunflower butter are the current favorite in our house, and they are a breeze for kids to make. We've also got a few lunch buddies who avoid gluten, which means we're happy when we find an easy gluten free alternative to our favorite lunch box treats! Check out Amy The Family Chef for a few more ideas.
Now you're stocked with healthy lunch ideas! Get out there and have fun building a better lunch box with your kids. Post your pictures on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. We'd love to sneak a peek at what you're packing! And if you're up for it, submit the recipes you create to Michelle Obama's Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. Your kids could win a seat at the Kids' State Dinner hosted by Mrs. Obama at the White House this summer. Most importantly, have fun!
Still hungry? Check out the full roundup of healthy lunch ideas from The Healthy Lunch Challenge.
What do you pack in your lunch box? Share your healthy lunch ideas!
About the author: Jennifer Tyler Lee is a mom of two children and the creator of Crunch a Color® -- award-winning nutrition games that make healthy eating fun. Like most parents, she struggled to get her kids to eat healthy, balanced meals, so she decided to make it into a healthy eating game and she's giving back to support non-profit kids' nutrition programs. Winner of the Dr. Toy and Parent Tested, Parent Approved awards, Crunch a Color® has been featured by Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Rachael Ray's Yum-O!, Laurie David's Family Dinner, Kiwi Magazine, Dr. Greene, and Yum Food & Fun For Kids, among many others, as a simple, fun and playful way to get kids to eat healthy and try new foods. Jennifer's passion is making mealtime fun and healthy for busy families. Her easy recipes, quick tips, and new food adventures are regularly featured at Pottery Barn Kids, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, The Huffington Post, and on her weekly recipe blog at crunchacolor.com. Crunch a Color is available at select Whole Foods stores and online at Amazon.