10/14/2014 12:00 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2015

The Questions We Should Be Asking Ourselves When We Make School Lunch

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Making school lunch used to be so simple. I seem to recall having two options as a kid; Bologna and Cheese or Cheese and Bologna – both on white bread. Now, there are tons of choices and considerations for making our kids delicious, fun and filling meals.

To help ensure family harmony, as well as nourishment, I’ve broken down the process into three important questions.

What Can I Pack That’s Wholesome?
Let’s be honest: A super-nutritious lunch can run the risk of being a super-boring lunch. However, kids these days are surprisingly aware of – and interested in – better options. Balance is the key. If you’re giving them a wholesome foundation then there’s no reason to skimp on the occasional treat.

  1. Stay stocked. We all can slip with our food choices when we’re in a pinch. Keeping your arsenal of good, real foods well-stocked will help ensure that you are consistently packing the kinds of meals that you’d like to.
  2. Choose produce wisely. Buying only organic can get pricey, and not every fruit or veggie carries the same risk. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s list of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” to learn about the 27 fruits and vegetables with the most and least amounts of pesticide residue.
  3. Buy worry-free meat. Teach your children the importance of treating all living things humanely, and reduce overuse of antibiotics and the potential for resistance by supporting brands that commit to animal welfare standards and sensible, antibiotic-free raising practices. Applegate is one such company.

What can I pack that my child will actually eat?
There’s nothing worse than getting back a neglected or suspiciously empty lunch box. Finding a simple way to involve the kids in lunch preparation can help save items from getting tossed in the cafeteria garbage bin. Also, their tastes seem to change frequently…or maybe they’re just messing with me.

Before I go food shopping on the weekends, I always check in with my kids. Here’s a typical exchange:

“Enough with the ham,” he says, “I’m into turkey now.”
“I hate grape,” says grape-jam girl, “Raspberry, please.”

Now I don’t know what to believe.

As confusing as this banter can be, I like that it both empowers my kids to make decisions, and ensures they will actually eat what I pack for them. Please let me know if anyone wants to buy six jars of grape jam.

What can I pack that’s easy for me to make?
Let’s be real - as important as the more philosophical food questions are, I can’t spend the whole day prepping and packing lunch. These techniques make the process a lot easier:

  1. Have a plan. I always write out a grocery list, check it twice (with my kids), and make time to shop on Saturday or Sunday for the week ahead.
  2. A little prep time goes a long way. I spend a few minutes on Sunday cutting up veggies and hiding the week’s supplies. Otherwise, those monsters will eat everything by Tuesday.
  3. Operate under the cover of darkness. Hats off to those of you with the patience to have the kids actually help make lunch. I prefer to involve them further up the supply chain and handle assembly myself - when they are sleeping. This dad is into nutrition, efficiency and a lack of 11th hour complaints!
Lunchtime is tough but not impossible -- even for a busy dad.

What are your tips and tricks for filling, fast, and fun school lunches? Let us know below in the comments.