Send Them Packing.

Lunches for kids and grownups are easy to create and pack.

As kids, school lunch was the bane of our existence. Mystery meat. Stewed prunes. Mushy vegetables. The options may have been nutritious, but they weren’t that appealing to a hoard of picky eaters.

The lucky kids were the ones who brought their lunch. However, looking back on those lunches with the eyes of a mother, they weren’t so great either; full of processed meats, hydrogentated fats and high sodium.

Today, there are many options for packing a nutritious and kid-pleasing lunch and with a few alterations, these lunches can be adult-friendly as well.

Go ahead, make extra and pack a lunch for you when you pack one for your kids. It is tastier, healthier and cheaper than picking up something at a drive-through window on the run.

Before we get into actual recipes, let’s go over a few things that will make assembling a lunch more simple.

Determine if anything needs to be kept heated or kept cold. If so, there are a plethora of lunch bags, lunch boxes and thermoses that simplify keeping your food the correct temperature.

A durable favorite is the popular insulated BPA-free lunch box from LL Bean. It has a mesh pocket designed to hold a cold pack so things that need to be kept cold are still well-chilled at lunch time.

Consider food textures and how they’ll be affected by sitting for hours from the time your child leaves home until lunch time.

Some kids are more discerning about the texture of their food than others. My daughter brought home many perfectly good sandwiches at the end of the school day because they sat too long and the bread was soggy. She did not “do” soggy bread.

If this is a problem with your kids, pack lunches with components and let them assemble their own sandwiches, cracker stacks or salads when it’s time to eat. Small plastic containers are perfect to pack condiments, dips, spreads and salad dressings.

Another option is to make the sandwich a wrap. Tortillas and pita breads are heartier and hold up better when filled with ingredients. Be creative. One quick and easy wrap is to spread a tortilla with peanut butter. Add sliced bananas, drizzle with a little honey and roll it up. If you’re feeling a little naughty…or a little like Elvis, add some crisp fried bacon. The sweet, salty, gooey and crunchy combo is delicious even if it is healthier without the bacon.

Leftovers make for fabulous lunches, too; spaghetti, pot roast and gooey mac and cheese are delicious warmed over. And, once again, with the hot/cold technology available with today’s lunch boxes and bags, keeping hot food hot isn’t a concern.

Lightly salted nuts are also a good way for kids to get their crunch on.

If time is an issue, by all means add a pre-packaged apple sauce or unsweetened fruit cup to their lunch box. But, if time allows, nothing is as tasty as apples or pears you’ve sauced yourself. In fact, this is another lunch box treat that’s delicious eaten warm.

One more thought, if you are sending juice boxes with your child, make sure they are 100% real fruit juice. Juice boxes are convenient but are often loaded with sugar and artificial colors and flavors.

Mix a dab of maple syrup into plain greek yogurt for a quick fruit dip. It tastes a bit like cheesecake.

If your child is a fan of fruits and vegetables, raw is good and by far the easiest. Pack carrot sticks, snow peas, broccoli florets, and add a little dip. While ranch dressing is a favorite in kid-dom, hummus or guacamole have a better nutritional profile, with healthy fats and protein.

Apple slices, orange sections and fresh berries are also colorful and delicious additions to lunch. Avoid fruit “snacks” or fruit leathers as they usually contain added sugar.

Finally, tuck in a tiny treat. A “kiss” and a note go a long way towards having a good day at school.

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Another great way to get them to eat fruits and veggies is to send them to school with a smoothie. Make it the evening before and freeze it in a cup with a lid that seals. By lunch time the next day, it should be partially unfrozen and can be eaten like ice cream with a spoon.

Here’s one of our favorite recipes:

Healthy All-Purpose Lunch Smoothie

2 cups of chopped mixed fruit. Our favorite is strawberry, banana and pineapple

2 cups of coconut or almond milk — plain or vanilla flavored

1/2 avocado

3 cups of fresh baby spinach — washed

2 T of chia seeds

Blend the fruit, the avocado and the liquid until smooth. Add the spinach 1 cup at a time and blend until smooth. Finally add the chia seeds and blend one final time.

This should make about 5 cups of smoothie.