This post was written in partnership with some of my fave companies and brands: Made with Local, Mann’s Vegetables, Manitoba Harvest, and Baby Gourmet. As always, all opinions are my own!
It’s that time – back to school! And many parents find that school lunch packing is the most daunting of back-to-school tasks…making sure that your kids have school-safe, well balanced, appealing lunches five days a week can be challenging — I can attest! Having 3 kids myself, I know first-hand how much work packing lunches is, but over the years I’ve found some products and tools that make this whole process a lot easier and less stressful. Pinterest-y, stunning, time-consuming lunches just aren’t a reality for me, so I do my best to always use my “rule of five” (2 protein-rich choices, a fruit, a veggie, and a whole grain), and offer lots of variety (and encourage other parents to do the same). But, I definitely have my go-to staples that make the process simpler and appeal to my kids too. Here they are!
See my Breakfast Television segment here, where I showcase these top 5 lunchbox essentials!
Unsweetened fruit and veggie pouches:
What parent doesn’t love nutritious, shelf stable snacks that fit perfectly in lunch kits? I love Baby Gourmet products for this reason – their school safe, shelf stable, and full of nutrition. Their two products that make for perfect school lunch additions are “Shakers”, which contains organic, whole milk lightly sweetened and full of protein, 24+ vitamins and minerals and even a little bit of pumpkin! These provide one serving of milk and come in convenient shelf-stable containers with easy-to-drink spouts. And you know those little fruit and veggie packs that you LOVED giving your babies and toddlers? Baby Gourmet has come out with “Squoosh”, which is a big kid-friendly version of the much-loved pouches. No added sugar or weird ingredients!
One of the biggest challenges of packing lunches for many parents is not being able to pack nuts (or nut butters). It’s amazing the panic that sets in when PB and J is no longer an option. Relax.
Breathe. It’s ok.
Luckily, seeds are a great school-safe alternative to nuts and nut butters, and are super versatile and nutritious too! My favourite seeds are hemp hearts—they’re truly a super plant! Not only are they rich in plant-based protein (with all 10 amino acids!), healthy omega-3 rich fats, fibre, iron, zinc and phosphorous, but they’re also super versatile and easy to incorporate into school lunches. My favourite is packing apple or pear slices, Greek yogurt for dip and a little container of hemp hearts sprinkle on top. They’re also great in a trail mix, on top of yogurt, on top of a salad or simply on their own! Manitoba Harvest is my go-to brand, because along with their regular and organic hemp hearts, they also have hemp heart “toppers” which are hemp hearts with a bit of flavour and fun! They also carry hemp heart “bites” which make for a tasty and nutritious school-safe snack too!
String-less sugar snap peas:
We all know that veggies can be a tough sell for kids – and what tends to be the one food that comes back uneaten? You guessed it – veggies. But you know which veggie never comes back uneaten? Sugar snap peas. Their crisp “snap” and crunch, and natural sweetness make sugar snap peas the best and most nutritious snack for school lunches. And kids LOVE them! As a bonus, Mann’s string-less sugar snap peas are pre-washed and ready to eat! They’re full of fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals and are best on their own or with a yummy dip like hummus!
Oh, and for those older kids who like hot meals for lunch (or busy parents who want something nutritious and easy!), you’ve got to try Mann’s new Nourish Bowls – they’ve just launched two new additions – Fresh Veggie Noodles Tomato Bolognese with vegan sausage and Fresh Veggie Noodles Basil Pesto with vegan Chick’n. Both feature plant-based protein, as well as kohlrabi noodles that cook, taste and twirl like real pasta! Best part? You microwave and eat right out of the package!
Nutritious, school-safe bars:
It’s not easy to find a nutritious school-safe bar that I approve of as a dietitian. When I first tried Made with Local’s “Real Food Bars”, I was amazed at how delicious they were, and even more amazed at how nutritious and simple their ingredient list was! There’s nothing fake or unhealthy about these bars – they’re wholesome, locally produced and really really nutritious! Bonus – my kids LOVE them! As a school-safe option, they’ve created the “Real Food Bar Mix” which contains everything you need for a healthy homemade granola bar, including oats, seeds, and dried fruit. Just add your favourite seed butter, and some honey to this mix and voila – you’ve got your child’s new favourite lunchbox snack! What I love about this company too because every bag of real food bar mix is made by a local social enterprise they’ve partnered with, that supports and employs people with disabilities Every bag of their Real Food Bar Mix is produced at organizations that support & employ people living with disabilities.
You can order this mix online here.
A good lunch kit:
I have a slight obsession with lunch kits/boxes. And I have certain criteria that I can’t compromise on, such as:
- Compact-ability (is that a word? If not, I just made it up): It needs to be compact and not take up too much room in my child’s backpack, but have enough room that I can pack a balanced lunch with lots of variety.
- Leak proof and insulated: this is a must!
- Room for an ice pack: Because… food safety.
- Easy to wash: Every parent agrees.
- Easy to open and close (for kids)
The two brands that I love the most (and keep going back to year after year) are Bentology and Yumbox. I find Bentology is best for everyday use because there’s lots of room for an entire balanced lunch, plus snacks, and there’s easy to open containers that fit into the main box (of various sizes). They also have patterned insulated lunch kits that zip up and hold the Bentology box and ice packs too. Both the kit and the box (and the containers) are easy to clean too! Bentology also has thermoses that can hold hot foods (my kids love leftover soup or pasta in their thermos).
Yumbox is my second favourite – they’re smaller insulated kits that have compartments perfect for a bento-style lunch or snack. I find that I can’t fit an entire lunch in these – there a bit too small, but they’re great for a kindergarten or preschool snack, or for most of the packed lunch. I love how compact, easy-to-clean and cute they are. And no spills or leaks!
Looking for more back to school help?! I’ve got you covered!