Fill those cute lunch boxes with variety

If you’re a caregiver who packs school lunches, you know it can feel tedious. And sometimes we don’t even think our kids appreciate that work because the lunch box comes home almost as full as when it left us that morning. Additionally, many of our kids want exciting foods packed in cute, individually wrapped packages in their lunches while we’d often prefer to toss some baby carrots in a sandwich bag and call it good.

The Food Bank of Larimer County and the USDA recommend a whole grain, a lean meat or meat alternative, some fruit, a veggie, and low fat milk. Some examples include yogurt and granola, cucumbers and ranch dressing, a pear, and 1 percent milk. An example of a lunch pack provided this summer through the Lunch Lab can be found at Another example is build-your-own-pizza (cheese, pepperoni, marinara on flatbread). Or, carrots with ranch dressing, peach cup, and 1 percent milk.

Luckily, the two concepts (fun and healthy) don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Lo and behold, we can choose to send kids to school with healthy lunches that will fill their bellies and be cool and fun. aiming for variety is the easiest way to do this. Michele Marquitz, Program Director at the Food Bank for Larimer County says this is easier than one might think. For example, on the whole grain option, you can use a variety of types of buns, flatbread, or use a tortilla. With meat/meat alternative you can alternate between types of deli meat or hummus.

Here is one thing that is overlooked, packing lunches isn’t just about the food, it’s about love. For most of us, packing lunches is just as much about the daily gift of love as it is about good food. As caregivers, we know what our kids like to eat, but one of the reasons companies make money with cool lunch packaging supplies and carriers is because the feelings that go along with food also matters a lot, especially for kids who are in school. And even more so during times of emotional uncertainty… such as a global health pandemic. This is one of the big reasons caregivers want to pack a lunch, even when food may be otherwise available to their child. And this takes time.

One way to lessen the amount of time it takes to prepare lunches is finding out if children have access to a microwave at their school, Marquitz says. “Most do, actually, they can make a batch of sandwich fillings or a soup, freeze individual batches, and pack one serving in the lunch.”

For families who do not have access—or have limited access to food, Marquitz says the Food Bank’s mobile pantries are excellent options. There are three:

  • Poudre High School the first and third Thursdays every month from 5-6:30pm
  • Grace Place in Berthoud on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month from 10-11:30am
  • Foothillls Unitarian Church on the second and fourth Sundays of the month from 1-2:30pm