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School has officially started and my kids can no longer stand in front of the open fridge looking for food to eat for lunch. They actually have to pack a lunch. Yes, they pack their own lunches. They are both teenagers, but even when they were much younger (like elementary school-aged) they packed their own lunches.

There are a few reasons for this:
1. They are perfectly capable of doing so at a very young age (maybe with a little help)
2. They need to learn how to choose healthy foods for themselves
3. We felt giving them independence and autonomy is important for their self-esteem and teaches them self-reliance
4. I didn’t want to do it anymore! Seriously, I love making food for my family (as you can see from my recipes) but having them pack their own lunches allows me more time in the morning for, well, me!

Finding healthy foods for lunch, whether you are packing or your kids are, can feel challenging. I feel immense pressure from my son to find healthy foods that don’t make him feel like a freak. He does not get Lunchables or fruity snacks and unfortunately, kids look at his whole foods lunch box and tell him that he eats weird. What a shame that some kids don’t even know what real food looks like! My kids have definitely come across classmates that don’t know what a bell pepper or avocado is. Regardless, I stick to my guns (with a few compromises) and encourage a healthy lunch every day.

My husband and I rely heavily on leftovers for lunch. Unless I under-estimate dinner, as I am cleaning up, I grab two glass tupperwares and arrange our dinner leftovers for our next day lunch. If there aren’t enough leftovers, I make a quick salad, stuffing as many greens as possible into my tupperware, add a few chopped veggies, some nuts, and dressing. My daughter, on the other hand, makes fresh soups full of veggies that she heats up in a pan on the stove and carries in a thermos. When we don’t want leftovers, salad, or soup, we construct a hodgepodge.

The following components make up a healthy lunchbox:
Fat: hopefully everyone knows by now that fat is not the enemy! A good healthy fat promotes a healthy brain, can help with focus and concentration, and also helps fill you up. Go for fats like olives, avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil or avocado oil based dressings and dips. I like to make dips for fresh veggies!
Protein: kids especially need a lot of protein because they are growing. Whether you are vegan or Paleo, choose a nice tasty, transportable protein source for your lunchbox. I will often roast a whole chicken for the week for the kids to grab off, or they will take smoked salmon or sardines (if they are feeling daring- that one is sure to gather some comments at the lunch table)
Growing Food: They must have something alive in their lunch. Whether a fresh vegetable or fruit or both, we go through a lot of raw veggies each week. I usually buy cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, jicama, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, and snap peas. Each week, I wash and chop these veggies, put them in a big glass tupperware, and store it in the fridge all week. Do you see how I just made vegetables a convenience food?

Whether you are packing lunch for your kids (or teaching them how to pack their own) or yourself, you can make eating healthy fun, interesting, beautiful, and delicious. Happy packing!