How is that it’s only November and I’ve already found myself in a rut….the dreaded what to pack in the school lunchbox rut?? I mean really… two and a half months into school and I’ve lost all creative juices and ambition to pack a nutritious lunch for my kids?

Here’s what I know. First, I’m not alone. It seems we all have picky little eaters at home that would rather socialize at the lunch table then consume the lunch we have all labored over in the kitchen. Second, we all need to give ourselves a break.

I’ve done some research, I’ve talked to some of my mom friends with kids of all ages and I’m here to share….because if you know anything about me yet, you know that’s what I love to do!

My nutritionist self wants to tell you all that no matter what, you should include the following in every school lunch: A protein and a starch, a fruit, a veggie, a snack and a water. My mom self wants to encourage you to do your best, share some ideas that will hopefully make it a little more fun to make (and for them to eat) and to remind yourself constantly to give yourself a break.

We’ve all read the studies that show that children that eat a well-balanced lunch at school have better focus, get into less trouble and have better grades. Brain food equals brain power, right? Totally agree. I also have read the studies (and by studies I mean the research I’ve done amongst my friends and their kids and my own children), that say to include items that you know your children enjoy, to make their lunchtime fun and to include a little treat for consuming the lunch you labored over.

Let’s start with the actual vehicle…the lunchbox. This is my current favorite.

It’s a little expensive but in my opinion, totally worth it. It’s all dishwasher safe, it never leaks and those little compartments make it easy to provide some variety. Think…slices of lean turkey rolled up, some carrots and ranch dressing for dipping, a little yogurt, and see that tiny compartment in the middle, a treat! Reward your kids with a little something they love. A cookie, a small sweet, something that will get them excited about finishing their meal and ending on a good note.

I have friends that go all out in an effort to make lunch fun. An example… lunch meat kabobs. One friends kids refuse to eat a turkey and cheese sandwich, they’re experiencing a complete sandwich boycott over there…but slap that stuff on a stick like so and wa-la!

My friends with younger kids entice their children to eat sandwiches by creating them using fun cookie cutters. Whatever works, right?

I’m also well aware that we parents that are creating these lunchbox masterpieces are also wearing a lot of other hats. We are busy!  When I was a kid, my Dad and I used to pack our lunches together at night. It was our little “bonding time”. He always told me that he loved packing a “bag lunch” because he knew he was going to have something that he loved to eat the next day, that when lunch time rolled around, he wouldn’t have to think about what to go and get and that he really found it to be a great money saver! I’ll never forget those little moments with my Dad.

Try having your children help you make their lunches. Talk to them about the importance of eating a good and balanced lunch and let them pick their little treat for the end. This can help hold them accountable for eating the healthy stuff first.

As a nutritionist, and as a mom, I am a huge believer in water only as the beverage of choice. Other options such as juice boxes offer unnecessary sugar, empty calories and just limited health benefits. Skip them altogether.

My last piece of advice is a little “out of the (lunch) box”. Leave them a note—my dad always wrote something silly on the front of my brown lunch bag and my friends and I always got a good giggle out of it! Trust me, no matter how old they are, a little heart with their name on it, a joke attached to a banana, or a little one word inside joke can make their day. And hey, someday we’ll all be empty nesters and wishing we were hanging out at home with a house full of kids, making turkey kabobs at 10pm. Enjoy them while you can. We can’t keep them little forever.