There are plenty of good reasons for wanting to pack a healthy, nutritious school lunch your kids will eat. Consider this: if fueling their minds isn’t inspiration enough, it’s inevitable that one of these days, someone is going to forget to clean their lunchbox, only to discover that come Sunday evening (or worse, Monday morning), the uneaten contents have sprouted new life. Save yourself the trouble with these keep-it-real tips for packing school lunches with ease from real parents.

Train Your Sous-Chef Early. These are the two most-commonly cited reasons for including kids in the lunch process: they learn useful life skills and strip themselves of the right to complain. When kids choose the foods that go into their own lunch boxes, they’re more likely to actually eat them. “If they pack it, they own it,” writes Family Cook Off host and mother of three, Trish Magwood. She suggests laying out rules, such as ‘each lunch must include a fruit and a protein,’ then letting the kids choose the items within your pre-set categories. Best of all, studies show that kids who participate in home cooking are more likely to choose healthy items.

Make a List. Family life can get so hectic that sometimes we even forget our own bright ideas. By keeping a running list of favoured lunch items, you’re creating a grocery list and packing day inspiration.

Involve your children in the listing process so the options are parent and kid-approved; if they can read, they can use the list you’ve created together to guide their choices and do lunch on their own.

Mix It Up. Cut-up portions aren’t just cute — they’re practical, too. Kids have limited time to eat their lunches, and bite-size bits are easier to manage. They also create space for a greater nutritional variety.

That said, don’t get too upset if even the best packed food rainbows are occasionally returned home. “

Remember: It’s Elementary School, Not Top Chef Canada

Many of the parents we spoke to recommended cutting and arranging foods in cute shapes. It can be a fun way to bond with your kids while taking care of a necessary task.

Milton mom Lisa Weaver reminds parents to test out a lunchbox before buying, as some are easier to operate than others. “They don’t get a lot of time to eat,” she says, “and little hands need to know how to open latches and lids.”

Stay On Track. Above all, try not to stress. Yes, good nutrition is important, but dietitians frequently advise taking a weekly approach, rather than daily. If your kid is getting the right balance of fruits, veggies, proteins and fibre-rich complex carbs throughout the week, an indulgence here or there is totally fine.

When your kids inevitably do return with uneaten items, instead of asking why they didn’t eat a particular item, approach them with a neutral statement, like: “I see there’s still a lot of rice in here…” If you’re lucky, it might lead to a conversation about their current food interests, or their lunchtime social lives. Besides, at the end of the day, it’s just lunch.

source: Food Network