WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST LUNCHBOX FEARS?
Let me guess!
Is it that The Lunchbox will come back as full as it left?
Is it that you fear they aren’t getting enough nutrition at school?
Is it the lack of inspiration you have — you think it’s going to ruin your little one’s appetite?
Do you feel like you don’t have the kitchen skills to get creative?
Well, THAT’S PRETTY NORMAL. I go through the same thing myself. Maybe not as often as some people, but I still do regardless.
SO WHAT IS THE REMEDY to this back-to-school time of misery? Well, that is simple. It’s AAAAALL about ideas, with HELPFUL yet REALISTIC tips. A place where everyone will UNDERSTAND what you’re experiencing. And now you’ve found it.
This book is meant to be your guide. A guide to eating in a seasonal way, using real food, that will inspire you, and maybe even inspire your kids. It is NOT everybody’s perfect answer. Just like grown ups… all kids develop differently, have different needs, different tastes and desires. But their food journey should be positive regardless. They need to feel like food is safe. And understand what real food is.
SO WHAT IS REAL FOOD?
Real Food = something that comes from the ground or has a mother.
A friend of mine once described this to me. And I’ve embraced it. You see, it really is that simple. And it’s difficult to imagine there was once a time when that’s all there really was. THIS is why it’s so important we embrace traditional food methods. The way your grandmother or great-grandmother did it? THAT’S what is missing now. There is a reason people are moving (slowly) away from the world of processed foods. Stripped of its nutrients, full of unpredictable ingredients and preservatives we cannot even pronounce, and lacking the life force we require to keep us healthy. Slowly we are beginning to understand why people ate and fed their kids the way they did. It was NOT primitive. It was intuitive. It was not through a lack of understanding. It was wisdom passed on over many generations, and it made sense.
HOW DO YOU GET KIDS EXCITED ABOUT REAL FOOD?
This is simple: You empower them.
These small connections with food give them back their power. Then it’s no longer a “power struggle” when it comes to school lunches. These simple experiences may not appear to have impact, but that’s even better…then it’s less overwhelming and more likely to instil.
WHY ARE THE SEASONS IMPORTANT?
Fall and winter are the seasons when the foods you consume are meant to ground you, nourish you, build your system up, and prepare for the cold months ahead. These foods should build your immune system, keeping those bugs at bay and your wee ones safe and strong. The last thing any babe needs is a cooling cucumber (at least all the time) or a frozen smoothie pop. A small body in rhythm with the seasons is doing what it is SUPPOSED to do. That ALSO means you need to consume foods that are insulating, like fat and animal protein.
If you arrived at school tomorrow…the air cool and breezy, fall jackets out, maybe the sun is out a little — would it make you think of apples? And fall squash? And tomatoes finally ripe from the sun?
What if the weather dropped below freezing, it was super chilly, the wind catching the back of your neck? Would you want something that made you feel light and cool or something that made your tummy feel grounded and your body warm?
Seasonal foods are not just about location. However, it’s very important to source food grown close to you. Their nutrient levels are higher and they’re often the nutrients your body requires for that time of year. It’s also important to support your local farmers. If it weren’t for them you would be dependent on everything being grown in California — or China. We need them. And they need you. So shop local as often as you can.
FALL/WINTER SEASONAL FOOD IDEAS
Veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, pumpkin, winter squash, swiss chard, brussel sprouts, beets, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes
Fruits: cranberries, citrus, apples, pears, dried fruits
Our bodies also require more animal protein and fat in the colder months. But source them carefully. While I am NOT against the consumption of some animal protein, I DO believe optimum nutrition and energy comes from animals that have NOT had a horrendous life or have spent it in a cage. Also consider the animals diet. While commercially raised cattle fatten up on corn and soy, their natural diet is still (or should be) grass and hay. Chickens are meant to roam free in the warmer months — eating bugs and soaking up the sun. Pigs are intelligent, beautiful creatures and should be given the life they deserve, if we decide to consume them eventually. The inflammation created by the consumption of these animals should ALWAYS be taken into consideration. Always!! Saturated fat can be a very important source of fuel — but only if it is sourced from a good place.
WINTER IMMUNE BUILDING
In the wintertime, kids get sick more often. PEOPLE get sick more often. It’s an important (and healthy) part of being human — and it slowly builds our immunity against things we would otherwise be incredibly susceptible to. There are some strong bugs out there. And you can prepare your kids for it by helping them be healthy and strong. So when they ARE exposed, their little bodies suffer a lot less.
You can do this by feeding them foods that BUILD their immune systems. And there are many foods that can ALSO be send in the lunchbox that do just that:
Lacto-Fermented Vegetables: I don’t often see kids ferociously gobbling up bowls of sauerkraut, but introducing them to these sour tastes will eventually attract them — believe it or not. A good way to start is by taking the juice of these ferments and pouring a bit on their food — or using it in salad dressing. They won’t even notice. Why fermented foods? Cause they contain the good bugs — and those good bugs are there to protect you against the bad ones (to put it simply).
Sour Pickles: What kid doesn’t like a good pickle??? Well, not all pickles are created equal. Lacto-fermented pickles, also known as Kosher pickles, are done naturally in a brine. That means there is no vinegar or sugar added to their prep process. These sour pickles may not taste EXACTLY like the dill pickles your kids are used to…but they are pretty darn similar — and the ONLY pickle my kids eat anymore. I chop them up and put them in tuna salad or send them on their own in a ploughman-style lunch.
Other Fermented Foods that benefit kid immunity includes high quality yogurt and kefir, water kefir drinks, and even some kombucha.
Fruits & Veggies: All those nutrients. All those antioxidants. All that fibre. You can’t go wrong with fruits and veggies — raw, cooked, hidden. They area also fabulous when juiced for this purpose.
Bone Broth: As far as super foods go this is my FAVOURITE. Bone broth is the ultimate superfood and immunity builder. But it’s also great for the gut. Don’t just think of bone broth as a liquid for soup. You can cook legumes or grains in bone broth or add it to anything that requires liquid. Even smoothies — why not?!
Liver: I KNOW. It’s not an easy thing to throw at them. But it’s VERY easy to shave pieces into things they already eat. Liver is crazy high in Vitamin A & D, which are two vitamins that are super immune-building nutrients. This is also why a food Cod-Liver Oil should be consumed daily.
Coconut Oil: Rich in lauric acid, which is known for its immune-building properties — anything can be cooked in coconut oil. But it can ALSO be used raw in plenty of things (like smoothies or other recipes.
Garlic: Anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal. Throw it in everything you make. Heck, I even throw it in my kids juice when they’re coming down with something. It’s so easy to cook with or add to dips like hummus.
Raw Honey: Of course, too much of any sugar is going to take its toll on your immune system. But the most soothing and fast-acting item for my throat is ALWAYS a spoon full of honey.
Mushrooms: Many varieties have long been known for their immune-building properties, but they are NOT loved by all kids. Find ways of incorporating them in where they won’t get noticed. Soups are good for this.
Hand Washing: Don’t forget the power of hand-washing (not obsessively) and drinking lots of water and healthy liquids.
A word on sugar…
Sugar dulls the immune system. If you child is coming down with a bug, there is no better way to bring it on full-force than a spoon full of sugar. It essentially shuts down the body’s ability to fight. More on this and why you should keep sugar out of the lunchbox:
PICKY EATER = SIMPLE PALATE
I get asked about feeding the picky eater — a LOT. And THAT is why I’ve written about it often.
Real Food Lunchbox: The Picky Eater -
Real Foods Witch (guest post): 5-Step Guide To Packing a Picky Eater Lunchbox -
The biggest point I have to make about this is: Please, focus on what they DO eat.
I realize it’s not easy. I have a picky eater, too. But fussy eaters are simply developing their palates. They are not turning their nose up at certain foods to be controlling or to get attention. It’s likely a pain for them, too. So focusing on all the things they won’t eat will only create a negative food reality for them. It took me some time to learn this — and apply it. But wow…what a difference.
And it turns out…those picky eaters choose to eat a lot more (healthy stuff) than you may realize. Make a list. A list of EVERYTHING they love and like. And see how you can make it healthier. Or sneak things in it. Or use it as part of your 80/20 rule system (80% good stuff, 20% whatever stuff).
Other things you can do:
For other ideas, read the above links.
HOW TO SAVE TIME IN THE LUNCHBOX KITCHEN
OH YES…and then there’s this. Families are BUSY!! There is no doubt about it. Double-working parents, sports, homework, school play, your second job…the list goes on.
So how on earth do you remedy this? By thinking ahead…
There are so many ways you can save time when it comes to food prep. But I want you to think about how it works with YOUR family. What strategies will actually allow you to save time — and avoid stress. Because everyone is different. Packing lunch the night before works for many families. Not me! I’m a morning person and I am THRILLED to do it the morning of.
Here are some “think-ahead” strategies:
LUNCH CHART: This is like meal planning, but for Lunch only. In my lunch chart I make three sections: Protein, Fruit, Vegetable. As long as I’m including those three things SOMEWHERE, then my lunchbox is complete. You can create a lunch chart for the entire week, and shop where you need to on the weekends. OR…you can make it two days ahead, the day ahead…whatever works for you. Put it on the fridge so it’s easy to reference, or download a fun app onto your phone.
MASTER LIST: This is my ALL-TIME FAVOURITE #1 Planning Tool. When I’m feeling stuck for ideas I reference the Master List. This could be during the Lunch Chart creating phase. OR when I haven’t bothered with a lunch chart. What I do is list EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY ITEM my kids like. Obviously their lists are different, so I have a list that applies to BOTH, and a list for each of them. If I’m feeling Type A I sometimes take the list, type it up and place items in categories. But it has to be updated regularly. This is also helpful for your back-up lunch packer, in case you’re unavailable to pack.
MAKE YOUR LUNCH, TOO: This is a mini-time saver. Of course, if you’re making THEIR lunch wonderful then it’s only fair that you make YOURS wonderful, too. And you’re more likely to have the time to do it when it’s all happening at once.
PREP LITTLE THINGS THE NIGHT BEFORE: This could be as simple as making sure their lunchpail is washed and in the drying rack. Or their thermos is in the freezer cooling for smoothies that day. Or the soup you wanted to send is thawing. Or you make the tuna salad up ahead and store in the fridge for quick packing.
And for some of you this will mean doing the lunches the night before. I discourage this because fresh IS best. And things do get mushy and weird. Again, what works for your family is what’s important.
WEEKEND PREP: Ah the good ol’ weekend prep. Again, this does not have to be elaborate. If you decide to make it big then your week will go smoother. But even if you choose ONE THING, like making a batch or muffins or a pot of soup to freeze for the week, then you’ve saved time.
Sundays are often family dinner night. This is a perfect opportunity to make a roast of some kind to use the through the week for soups or sandwiches.
Being prepared, eating seasonally, using real food…these will all save you money in the end. Remember, kid food does NOT need to be elaborate. Work with what you’ve got. Use your leftovers. Think big picture. And it ALWAYS benefits everyone to stay away from processed food.
WHAT TO SEND AND WHY
There is no secret formula to packing the perfect lunchbox. There is no way to really break it down because every item you send has its own unique properties. What I WILL tell you is why certain things to consider are important.
This is important. Not only is fat a great potential source of energy, but it’s also a potential source of inflammation. We have been so inundated with the wrong fat-facts, no one knows what’s right or wrong anymore.
Saturated fat is not bad, if sourced from healthy, happy animals or a good vegetable (coconut, avocado) base. Unsaturated fat is often the source of inflammation and goes rancid very quickly. The reason we need a good fat source is because, when its stable, helps build brain cells, allows the body to absorb wonderful minerals, and is the one thing that could possibly keep kids satiated until the next snack break. While oils are wonderful, whole food fat sources are even better. (With that said, a good fish oil can be mind-blowingly beneficial to your kid’s moods, body, immune system and brain.)
FAT IN THE LUNCHBOX — some suggestions:
A very good reason to avoid processed snacks and foods is to avoid the nasty, rancid, inflammatory (like canola) oils they use to make them. Using quality fats to make the best kind of snacks is key to a healthy lunchbox. If you are purchasing snacks, READ THE INGREDIENTS on the box.
Also important — those amino acids are the building blocks for your child’s system. And though not considered a great source of “energy”, will help them go farther and longer, as it helps stabilize blood sugar.
Parents tend to panic when they feel their little ones aren’t getting enough protein. You’d be surprised where sources of protein lie. With that said, a small bit of animal protein will go a long way. If you are raising a vegetarian child, it is essential you watch their diets and immune systems carefully. If you kid eats meat, fish, or eggs, to some degree, then they are likely getting enough protein.
Your source of protein is also very important. As I mentioned earlier, your best source for animal protein is from a grass-fed, happy animal. It may end up being slightly more expensive, but the amount you require really isn’t much.
You can make certain types go a long way. Like a whole chicken, for example. You can use EVERY SINGLE PART of a chicken — even the feet if you’re lucky enough to find some. Bone broth is one of the elixirs of life.
PROTEIN IN THE LUNCHBOX - some suggestions:
Oh carbs! So completely misunderstood. Funny…most people still associate “carbs” with “starch” — but they are so much more than that. Fruits, vegetables, legumes should all make up the majority of the diet. And these are CARBOHYDRATES.
Incorporating them in as much as possible and in any tricky way you can will only increase your child’s energy levels, and help keep them pooping enough (fibre), feel a sense of satisfaction you can only get from carbohydrates, and of course receive all the wonderful nutrients and mineral they bring.
CARBOHYDRATES IN THE LUNCHBOX - some suggestions:
Yes, include treats. This ties into the 80/20 rule. It’s all well and good to have a “healthy lunchbox” — but few adults go without indulgences (coffee, wine, chocolate cake) — and your kids know this. Don’t think they don’t. Instead of avoiding treats, consider how to make them BETTER. As long as the treats aren’t too high in processed sugar, and the only thing they’re eating, then a bit here and there fits nicely into the 20 part of the 80/20 rule.
TREATS IN THE LUNCHBOX — how to make them best:
WHY GO LITTER-FREE?
Our local elementary school started an initiative a few years ago…for Earth Week every student was encouraged to bring a litter-free lunchbox. If they DID NOT, the packaging from their lunch would return home with them. This was meant to give parents a way to feel the impact, and therefore (hopefully) understand the impact as a whole.
Then…the idea stuck! It’s been a lunchbox “rule” at the school ever since. Not really a problem for me, as I so rarely send processed or packaged foods. For parents sending a bag of chips with kids for lunch — likely they don’t feel the impact for obvious reasons. But those Lunch-able senders, cans-of-whatever purchasers — SURELY they will see a difference. Do they? I’m not sure. But it’s a start.
There are two very good (and obvious) reasons for sending a lunchbox litter-free…
The most obvious reason is the impact it has on the environment. We are simply living in a time where EVERYTHING (and I really mean most food) comes in a package. Whatever we can do to reduce must help. It’s got to!
The less obvious reason, but with a greater impact on your child, is the effect it has on their health. My mother didn’t take a brown throw-away bag to school filled with plastic and god-knows what else. Sure, she sometimes took ketchup sandwiches (gross) but ketchup was rather a luxury in the 40’s and 50’s. Not something slathered on EVERY SINGLE HOT FOOD. Her generation was simply healthier. Growing up on a mixed-family farm helped keep the earth safer — and allowed for a whole lot of real-food consumption. And a big part of that was the lack of processed foods.
Another really cool thing that comes out of feeding your kids from a litter-free lunchbox is the forced creativity. You don’t really have much choice. And in the end kids WILL enjoy it more. It’s all part of becoming a Lunchbox Warrior.
BECOMING A LUNCHBOX WARRIOR
Don’t let bad school room habits dictate what your family eats when you’re not around. REBEL against the bad food norm, the processed foods, and the expensive but convenient choice. More importantly, have you KIDS rebel against nasty, processed foods and sugar-laced everything.
Because they deserve more!
PICK A MOMENT
Go back to those moments when you were growing up, sitting at your desk with your lunchpail in from of you. Open it up and peer inside. What was in there that made you happy? What made you feel good? Did you make it to the end of each day without being tired — or insanely hungry when you returned home?
I remember my lunches like they were yesterday. I remember my grade two Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox. The thermos filled with tomato soup, served with crackers and butter. The salad container I got once a week filled with lettuce, carrots, celery and cheese. Always an apple. Always a homemade treat. Often a sandwich made with meat from a roast or cheese and homemade mayonnaise. These were not fancy lunches. And my mom dreaded making them as much as you do. But they were fuelled with love. And I remember envying the kids that got Wagon Wheels and KFC. Until I tried it. And yuck! I guess I was a little foodie at a young age, thanks to my traditional-foods mama.
Our parents were likely all brought up in the age of the Lunchbox Warriors. Where the options were (thankfully) limited and our grandparents had no choice but to send real food. Being a lunchbox warrior is not about turning your sandwiches into pieces of art or hard-boiled eggs into bunnies…and it’s not about outdoing the other parents from the classroom, or codling your kid so they never, EVER make their own lunch.
It’s about being realistic and real. It’s about doing the best you can. It’s about sending an abundance of love and leaving guilt out of the equation.
Let’s do this, warriors. Let’s pack these Fall and Winter lunchboxes in style. And I’ll see you in the Spring with another round of real food lunch recipes. xo