First, the food itself is a challenge. Second, getting our kids to eat the food, especially when they walk into a school cafeteria that is a virtual sea of temptation, is another challenge. Finally, there's finding the time to put together delicious AND nutritious lunches. I have not perfected this process myself, but with one school year behind me I did learn some tips and tricks. I want to share them with you today and also talk about lunches/food compromises for the older kids. There is lots of advice out there about packing up food for the little guys and gals, but the bigger kids gotta' eat too. (*If your kids are AIP, follow these same basics, just adapting to AIP standards.*)
Feed them breakfast. I know, I know. The morning is such an insane rush. Seriously though, slogging through the first part of their day will go much better and they will actually retain some of that valuable instruction they are receiving if their bellies are full.
Make some meat and egg meals on Sunday and store them in the fridge for the week. Also be sure to have easy fruit available. All that needs to be done is some reheating. Recruit your older kids into heating and serving breakfast, while you get the younger ones ready.
And . . . (gasp!) consider some compromise with the older kids. My daughter is about to turn 13 and, after a year without it, she desperately wanted cereal in the morning again. We agreed with the following compromise: cereal must be a gluten-free, Mom-approved brand, milk must be grass-fed, organic, preferably raw (we haven't sourced any yet) or a Mom-approved almond or coconut milk, and she must also have a big serving of protein. I don't advocate this same compromise with the younger set. I think they are likely to fill up on just the cereal and if you continue to slowly work with them they will probably adapt more readily to strict Paleo. I would say with kids 10 and older, some very carefully regulated compromise may be a more appropriate way to acknowledge their developmental need for some decision-making independence and still win the majority of the nutritious food battles.
-Prosciutto-Wrapped Mini Frittata Muffins
-Paleo sausage links or patties (I buy ground pastured pork & make patties ahead of time)
-Bacon Burger Mega Meatballs (my own recipe, see below)
Plan lunch with the kids. We use a process much like The Paleo Mom uses with her daughter. Sit down all together and give each child a piece of paper. Have them list their favorite meat, veg, fruit, and Paleo treat. Each week let them pick one thing from each category and prepare a very simplified lunch from their choices. For example, this week my daughter wanted roast beef slices, cherry tomatoes, peaches, and Paleo chocolate chip cookies. She also takes a water bottle.
If they list foods that need to be kept warm or cold, make a special effort to find containers that will keep everything at the right temp. If they don't like plain water, try adding fruit or ginger slices or get fun shaped ice trays and freeze berries in the ice. Consider iced, non-caffeinated herbal teas. And make sure the lunch box is both functional AND cool. Dress up the lunch event and your kids will get into it more.
I think it is important to keep your sanity in this process. If sourcing Paleo versions of some of the foods your kids choose is difficult or not in your budget at this time, do the best you can. For instance, we found sliced roast beef that had no gluten, no msg, no nitrates, and no sugar, but was not grass-fed and did have some added sodium. We felt it hit most of our ideals and it was worth the compromise to allow our daughter to have the protein she wanted to eat this week. Look for ways to save time too. I make a double batch of whatever Paleo treat my daughter has chosen each week. It takes no extra time in the kitchen and then I have extras frozen for later or I can skip making treats the following week. Finally, as much as possible, pack lunch in the evening with the whole family involved. Make this an after dinner routine, so you cut down on time stress in the morning.
-finger-food veggies (cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices, etc.)
-easy fruit (banana, berries, sliced peaches, etc.)
-nut butter "dips"
-Real-Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies
-Banana Brownie Cupcakes
-Mexican Chocolate Macaroons
Have food ready for after school. That ravenous time right after school needs to be planned for, it doesn't take much extra effort, and it will definitely ease the evening crunch (remember, steady blood sugar levels!!). If your kids go to daycare or an after school program, put a little something extra in their lunch boxes. Maybe just more of the same lunch they chose. If they come home, you can be a bit more flexible. For instance, our daughter loves Grass Fed Girl's One-Pot Paleo Chili. I encouraged her to learn how to make it last year and she's got it perfected. Cook up one batch of a favorite food on Sundays and have it available for them to snack on all week. In her current growth spurt, my daughter can eat a full meal after school and still be hungry for dinner a few hours later.
Bacon Burger Mega Meatballs
These can be served for any meal, even breakfast. My daughter ate them every morning this week.
-1 lb. ground beef (grass-fed is best)
-3-4 slices bacon, chopped & fried
-onion & mushroom, chopped (optional)
-salt & pepper, to taste
Fry bacon (& onion & mushroom, if using) and set aside to cool. Preheat oven to 350. Mix bacon and salt & pepper into burger by hand. Roll up into large meatballs. Pop each meatball into the cup of a muffin tin. Place in the oven & bake for 30 mins. Done & yum!
I hope this guide helps all of you. Whatever you do, take it one step at time, doing the best you can to feed your kids great-quality foods. Low stress is also important in a Paleo lifestyle. Don't make school lunch part of the daily freak out.