One of the most effective ways to reach children is to exploit their desire for control. Putting them in control of the food (with proper guidance, of course) gives them a sense of empowerment and ownership, making them more likely to want and enjoy what they eat. Gardening and cooking with children are well-known ways to foster such agency, but the possibilities don’t stop there. Every step of the meal process is an opportunity for engagement – the more practice, the better.
These lunch box ideas are designed to maximize that involvement, putting the power in the child’s hands by making the meal itself a fun, action-oriented experience. Each is based on an activity they need to do just before or while they eat, but there are tons of ways to get them involved long before that point. Everyone gets the kids ready when they open their lunch boxes and the real fun and delight begins.
Squeeze: Here, a savory sunflower butter sauce (think peanut sauce but nut-free) is packed in a small bottle to squeeze as much (or as little) as you like over the noodles and vegetables wrapped in separate containers. . The sauce is so good you might be tempted to squeeze it straight into your mouth! An empty teddy bear or small ketchup bottle works great, or you can buy a small condiment container – just make sure it has a resealable lid. The sauce is easy to prepare, so it is ideal for preparation with children. And they can customize their lunch by choosing any type of noodles or vegetables they like.
Make the recipe: Vegetables and Noodles with Sunflower Butter Sauce
Roll: Rolled sandwiches are always a win, but they somehow taste better when you can roll them yourself in the moment, with whatever ingredients you choose. Let your child decide which items to include. You’ll need some sort of wrapper – a large tortilla or two small ones, or a few slices of whole-grain bread flattened with a rolling pin. (Make sure to wrap the wrapper in a zip-top bag to keep it collapsible.) In another container, pack the fillings — all thinly sliced or shredded for easy layering and rolling — such as slices of turkey or ham, cheese, shredded vegetables like carrot, cabbage and lettuce leaves with the ribs removed for easy rolling. Add a small container or packet of your child’s favorite sandwich condiment, as well as a utensil to spread it. Also include a paper plate or large square of aluminum foil where your child can layer and roll up their creation.
Soak: One of the best things about dipping is that the ladle becomes the utensil, so you can eat with your hands. This lunch box centers around a creamy chili-lime seasoned black bean dip that can be as sweet or as spicy as you like. The dip itself is fun to make with kids – it’s especially eye-opening for them to see how it turns out in the food processor. You can use another type of bean, such as pinto or kidney, to make this dip, or you can substitute store-bought hummus. As for divers, the sky is the limit. Let your child choose their favorite range of vegetables, as well as crunchy whole grain chips or crackers.
Make the recipe: Black Bean Chili Dip
Stack: Create a homemade Lunchables-style box with a variety of foods all cut roughly the same size so they’re easily stackable. (You can use a small cookie cutter or glass to cut many items roughly to the size of the cracker.) Some ingredients to include: whole grain crackers and/or cucumber slices, cheese, hard-boiled egg, turkey, ham, roast beef, marinated tofu, green apple, strawberries, etc. Stack each in individual muffin tins in the lunch box so they’re ready to mix and match come lunchtime.
Shake: This lunch is a layered salad in a transparent container, so it looks like a work of art. Encourage your child to make their own colorful creation, choosing the vegetables and proteins that inspire them. The Italian dressing here is a sure win, but it’s also easily swappable. When your child opens their lunch box at school, they can pour the dressing over the salad, seal it tightly (tightly!), and shake, shake, shake to combine, then eat it straight out of the container.
Make the recipe: Layered Salad with Italian Dressing
Along with these ideas, as you get into the rhythm of the school year, keep in mind that another effective tool marketers use to reach kids is role model influence. You may not feel like you can compete with cartoon characters and professional athletes in commercials, but the example you set has a deeper impact than you might think. With that, when making lunch for your child, consider making one as well, and if possible, sit down and eat lunch together.