It's officially summer, when my kids seem to excel at the game "How many water bottles and pair of goggles can you lose?" and "Where did that tube of sunscreen go?" I’m a working mom who works through the summer, which means fun summer camps (with a hefty side of working mom guilt) for my family. This past school year, I got quite used to the big boys buying hot lunch every day at school. But now that summer is upon us, it’s up to me to pack them full lunches again . . .and to keep it interesting and varied enough that they’ll actually eat.
Are you facing the same challenge? Dreading the mornings of trying to think of what to pack, ultimately landing on a deli sandwich . . . again (which, by the way, my kids only eat DRY — they refuse to have mustard or mayo or anything delicious on it! Just bread and deli — no wonder they get sick of it!), only to have the kids complain and come home hungry?
This year, I’ve planned ahead for how to KEEP IT SIMPLE: My general rule is to pack something as the MAIN lunch item, two sides — usually one healthy snack and one maybe less healthy — a drink, and a little treat. Here is my handy list of options that you can mix and match, that are hearty, healthy (well, healthy enough!), and SIMPLE. [Note: My kids eat a ton of healthy snacks like fruit and yogurt and veggies, so I”m OK with also adding to their lunches a little treat or pretzels, etc.. If you’re not, then just double up on the healthier options to make sure you’re sending enough food.] [Also note, boys are HUNGRY!!! So sometimes I load up on 3 or 4 snacks/sides instead of just two.]
Simple summer camp lunch ideas
The main part of the lunch is the one I struggle with most. I want it to be filling, to stay fresh on the ice packs in the lunch box, and be something my kids are willing to eat. A few notes on how I handle mains:
- For my son who isn’t into sandwiches, I rely on cheese and crackers — thin slices of Colby Jack or cheddar or pepperjack, packed in a baggie and crackers in a separate bag. And, thanks to one camp counselor asking me years ago, “Did you know R throws out the bread every day and only eats the deli from the sandwich?” I started packing him instead some “deli roll-ups.” It’s our fancy name for turkey or ham rolled up with cheese. Basically a deli sandwich, minus the bread. For the son who does like sandwiches, I find that varying the bread keeps him interested — sometimes whole wheat, sometimes Italian, sometimes a big roll.
- Pasta salad. I admit I haven’t been successful with this one yet, but I”m trying again this year. My kids aren’t into cold pasta . . . but how could that not enjoy the dressing and other yummy things that go into this? Let me know if you have a favorite pasta salad recipe your kids are happy to eat.
- If you go the hardboiled egg route, it’s best to peel the eggs before packing the lunch. It makes it easier for the kids, and it avoids those grungey little hands rubbing all over the egg in case they “forget” to wash or to use Wet Ones before lunch.
- For the bagel and cream cheese – probably a no-brainer, but we pack the bagel in one container or bag, and send the cream cheese separately in a little plastic container.
- If your camp is nut-free, or if you are a nut allergy family like mine, we substitue Wow Butter instead of peanut butter on sandwiches. It tastes just about the same, but is made from soy instead of peanuts.
- As for the cold chicken sandwich, this is great if you have leftovers from dinner . . . and if your kid is willing to eat cold meat. Only one of mine is.
- Other main ideas that I rely on that aren’t on the list: cold pizza for one of my boys, and a Greek salad (cucumber, feta, kalamata olives, tomatoes) for one of my others.
Sides are my favorite part to pack, because I can think of these much more easily! My boys devour fruit, so that’s always an easy go-to, but I try to vary the healthy sides to prevent them from getting bored of any one thing.
For the trail mix, sometimes I have the boys make it with me, to give them some ownership and excitement over it. We like nut-free granola, chocolate chips. popcorn, and Cheerios. And for the similar, but not identical “snack mix” on the list, we mix Cheerios, Chex mix, popcorn, mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, and Goldfish crackers. Really, anything goes!
Drinks are pretty easy, too. My boys always go to camp with a water bottle (see first paragraph – they lose them all the time, and it makes me crazy!), but sometimes I put something additional in their lunches. Our go-to additional drinks are Horizon Organic milk boxes(regular or chocolate), or Honest Kids juice boxes.
It’s nice to surprise and delight the kids with a little extra something. I usually put a cookie, a Hershey’s Kiss or a chocolate-covered granola bar like Quaker Dipps.
Happy summer and happy lunch-packing! I’d love more ideas, so be sure to comment with what your go-to lunches are.
I’m off to label water bottles and sunscreen now . . .