Tips for Easy Summer Lunches

The weather is getting warmer, the sun is shining for longer, and people everywhere are outside with smiles on their faces. I love you, June! Whether your kiddos are headed to camp this summer or they'll be enjoying unstructured days, they'll still need to eat lunch. Every day. Look, I realize it can be stressful to continue to pack lunches in the summer after school has ended. I'm right in the trenches with you. Below are some tips to make that task slightly easier so you can kick back with that glass of wine and listen to the crickets. 

1. Produce is your best friend. 
My kids tend to choose more produce-heavy lunches in the summer, probably because summer produce is so ridiculously delicious (I'm looking at you, nectarines, plums, watermelon, melon, strawberries, cukes and green beans!). Lunches that showcase the colorful bounty of the summer are a treat for the eyes, the mouth and the stomach. So don't sweat it if you don't want to pack some elaborate lunch. Let the fruits and veggies do the heavy lifting for you. Plus, have you read this post about how many fruits and veggies your kids should eat every day? Eye opening. 

produce lunch

2. Prep fruits and veggies ahead of time. 
Adding lots of fruits and veggies to your kid's lunchbox is a hundred times easier if they're sliced, cut, peeled and ready to go ahead of time. Pick a day, set aside 30 minutes and get friendly with your cutting board and your favorite knife. Trust me, you won't regret this. The lunch below took all of five minutes to throw together because I had already sliced everything except the salami. 

summer lunch 1

3. Be adventure-ready! 
Some kids love unstructured time but some kids need their days to be more carefully planned. Whichever category your kids fall into, having a lunch that's already packed will make getting out the door much smoother. Best way to do this? Pack lunches at night. Whether your kids are choosing their own lunches or you're the one deciding what they'll eat, lunch packing goes much better with wine than it does with coffee. Plus, if you're packing leftovers, doing it at night makes sense, right? 

lunch 3

4. Don't forget breakfast! 
Who doesn't love breakfast for lunch? Whether it's waffles, crepes, eggs or a yogurt parfait, there are loads of foods that are delicious and fun for breakfast AND lunch. Below are three examples of brunchy lunches that my kids love. 

brunch lunch 1
brunchy lunch 2
brunchy lunch 3

Whatever you pack, be sure to include an ice pack to keep lunch contents safe and cool for the day, as well as a big container of water to keep kids well hydrated. 

For daily lunch inspiration, be sure to follow us on Instagram. Happy lunching! 

You might also like: 
Strategies to Get More Veggies in That Lunchbox
Lunchbox Favorites
Meal and Snack Planning at Your Fingertips

DIY Meals for Kids

I'm a big fan of kids in the kitchen. But I'll be honest, despite all of the reasons to get kids cooking, sometimes the reality of the giant mess that usually follows is completely unappealing. On the days that I just. cant. deal. with that kitchen mess, but still want to keep the spirit of kid involvement alive and well, I go DIY. 

Below are five ideas for you to have some fun with mealtime. They've been a huge hit in my house and as an added bonus: the prep is done by me so my kitchen isn't a complete disaster by the time the meal is served. I hope they're a hit in your house too!  

1. DIY Tacos
Who doesn't love tacos? Actually, one of my kids doesn't love tacos, so when we have DIY Tacos, he makes himself a quesadilla and eats beans and pineapple on the side. Fine by me. But for those who DO love tacos, you can make it fun with black beans, ground meat (season with chile powder and garlic), cheese, cilantro, limes, pineapple, avocado, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, peppers and cucumber. Don't forget the tortillas! 

DIY Tacos

2. DIY Bruschetta 
The inspiration for this one comes from What's Gaby Cooking. I saw it and was instantly smitten. My family went bananas for this because there are so many flavor opportunities! DIY Bruschetta is fabulous for entertaining as well. Here we've got grilled bread with: goat cheese, ricotta cheese, fresh mozzarella and a slicing cheese, grilled corn, roasted tomatoes, roasted pepper puree, bean dip, hummus, grilled mushrooms, olives, caramelized onions, guacamole, grilled steak, prosciutto and pesto. Note: when we do this for dinner for just my family, we don't have this many options! This photo was taken before entertaining some guests. :) 

DIY bruschetta

3. DIY Oatmeal  
Cook a big old batch of oatmeal and put some favorite toppers in a muffin tin for the kids to choose from. Ours include: strawberries, raspberries, coconut, banana chips, pumpkin seeds, chopped apple, chopped banana and golden berries. 

DIY oatmeal

4. DIY Pasta
Pasta can be a challenge in my house because my youngest can't eat dairy, my oldest loves dairy and doesn't like too many ingredients in her pasta and my middle child doesn't love meat and eats cheese sparingly. DIY Pasta is a blessing for us! We usually have it with meat or chicken (often leftovers cut up), peas, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, basil, tomatoes and peppers. I frequently have tomato sauce as well.  

DIY Pasta

5. DIY Egg Roll Ups
I got the idea for Egg Roll Ups from Aviva Wittenberg. Essentially, it's using egg as a tortilla replacement and it's pretty genius! Scramble the egg and fry it in a pan with a little butter, flip it after a few minutes and then slide out of the pan onto a plate. Once cool, you can use it like a tortilla and roll up anything you want! For us, it usually involves cheese, quinoa or rice, veggies (below, we have purple cabbage, zucchini, green beans and tomatoes) and ham or chicken (often just cut up leftovers). 

DIY Egg Roll Ups

Are there DIY meals that you make at home? We'd love to hear about them! 

Breakfast Cookies

Okay so the words "breakfast" and "cookies" don't really go together. I'm not actually making cookies for my kids' breakfast. But these things are shaped like cookies and the name "breakfast cookies" is a really big hit in my house. 

breakfast cookies

Now that we have that out of the way, I wanted to give a shout out to Produce for Kids, whose Insta post for this recipe was an inspiration to me. (are you following them?) I've modified the recipe slightly and made it completely nut free and I can tell you, these things are an instant hit with my brood and for me. They are delicious with my morning joe. Give it a go! And when you do, keep me posted by tagging us on Instagram

Here goes: 

breakfast cookies with coffee

Ingredients
2 eggs (I used jumbo, because that's what I buy, but large will work too)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1 pear, chopped
1/2 apple, chopped
2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of flour (whole wheat or white) 
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
2. Combine eggs, vanilla, honey, oil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, banana, pear and apple in a large mixing bowl. 
3. Combine oats, flour, cinnamon and salt in a separate bowl. 
4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones until thoroughly mixed.
5. Portion out "cookies" onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, and place about 1 inch apart. Bake for 18 minutes or until firm. Set aside to cool and enjoy! 

5 Strategies to Get More Veggies in that Lunchbox

Last week we teamed up with our pals at Veggiecation to provide 5 strategies that can help parents get more vegetables into their kids' lunchboxes. We love Veggiecation because they're on a mission to promote and educate communities on the health benefits of vegetables. As part of that mission, they teach folks how to prepare them in simple, unique, affordable and most importantly, delicious ways. We were thrilled to join them on this mission and take over their Insta for a week. Without further ado, here are our top 5 best tips to get more veggies into those lunchboxes:

Dipping

lunchbox with dip

Is your kiddo a little dipper? Dipping is a wonderful way to get kids excited about veggies. This lunchbox has 2 great dips: hummus and tzatziki (a yogurt and cucumber dip), with carrots and romaine lettuce hearts for dipping. Also in this lunchbox: crackers, fruit salad and chocolate chips for a sweet treat. 

 

Presentation

lunchbox with kebabs

Who doesn't love food on a stick? Kebabs are fun and they're an easy way to get more veggie variety into the lunchbox. This lunchbox features cucumber, grape tomato, bell pepper and cheese kebabs, and a strawberry, blueberry and golden berry kebab, plus extra strawberries, cheese tortellini and a dark chocolate pretzel. 

 

Roasting

lunchbox with roasted veggies

We all know the struggle is real when it comes to kids and veggies. But roasting them can be a game changer. Just chop or slice, drizzle with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees and then take a victory lap when your kids gobble them up! Roasted carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini are staples in my house. This lunchbox contains leftover roasted carrots and zucchini plus egg, crackers, raspberries and passionfruit. 

 

Get the Kiddos Involved

lunchbox meal planning with LaLa Lunchbox

Our #1 strategy: involve them in meal planning! The LaLa Lunchbox app makes planning school lunches deliciously simple. When kids have a say in what they eat, they're more likely to get excited about their food. Our app is loaded with healthy options to choose from, it's totally customizable and here's the great news for parents: no more wasted, smelly uneaten foods at the end of the day. You can hand over the reins completely, or plan meals alongside your child - that's up to you! The foods that kids choose for lunch become a handy grocery list for parents, so you'll be organized for the week. 

 

Patience

have patience with that lunchbox and veggies

While we never force kids to eat anything, studies show that repeat exposure to veggies is key. So go ahead and serve veggies that you aren't sure your kids will enjoy, and do it knowing that it may not be an instant hit. Know that you're on the right path, and have faith that you're doing a great job. For daily lunchbox inspiration, be sure to follow us on Instagram or check out our School Lunch Gallery. This lunchbox features a favorite in my house: breakfast for lunch! It's got waffle with mini maple syrup, strawberries, broccoli, apples with sunflower seed butter to dip and chocolate chips for a sweet treat. 

Tips for Preschool Lunches

Getting out the door on school mornings with young kids can be tough. Believe me, I know - I have three kids of my own. While mornings can be hectic, packing lunch to send off with your little one doesn't have to be. Over the years, I've discovered some tips for packing lunches that help mornings run a lot more smoothly. I hope these work for you too because let's face it, having an extra few moments to enjoy that morning coffee can make all the difference in your day ahead. Feel free to let me know if this helps in your home - I love hearing from you! 

Packing lunch at night saves time in the morning.

Packing lunch at night saves time in the morning.

1. Pack lunches at night.
I'd scream this from the rooftops if I could. Packing lunches at night when the day is done is way more relaxing than doing it in the morning. When we're in the midst of dinner clean up, I take the extra 10 minutes to pack their lunches for the morning. Think about it: the kitchen is still a mess. The dishwasher hasn't been turned on. The timing couldn't be more perfect. 

Meal planning for kids.

Meal planning for kids.

2. Get input from your kids. 
Ponder this: you're at a restaurant thinking about what you're in the mood for and before you get a chance to order, the food is brought to you. It may be delicious, but it may not be what you wanted. This is what kids experience regularly - especially preschoolers. It's part of the deal of being a kid, with experienced, responsible adults doing the planning for you. I get that. I decide what my kids eat for dinner every night. But lunch is different. There are several reasons why I let my kids plan their own lunches. One of the big ones is that it makes them feel independent and in control of a small part of their school experience. The lunch room is a social place, and that begins the moment they start eating as a group. I want my kids to feel empowered there, and letting them use the LaLa Lunchbox app to have a voice in their food makes it easy for everyone. Here's an added bonus: it takes the guess work out of my job. After a long day of work and parenting, I simply don't have the creativity to magically come up with something each kid will enjoy. By letting the kids plan their foods in advance (from choices that I've approved and selected), I don't have to reinvent the lunch wheel night after night. Phew.

Simple lunches are best.

Simple lunches are best.

3. Keep it simple. 
There are unbelievably lovely lunches to peruse on Pinterest and Instagram. I love to look at those, but I also know that keeping things simple is my reality. Most of the time, our lunches are straightforward foods, simply packed into lunchboxes (here are my favorites). Look closely at this lunch: there's nothing fancy here. Those eggs are on a couple of lollipop sticks, and everything else is just plainly placed into tidy sections. You really don't need to bust out your cookie cutters and sharpen your knife skills to send your preschooler off with a lovely lunch. Need a little inspiration? Here you go

What are your strategies for packing lunches for your preschooler? Let us know by tagging @lalalunchbox on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram