Packing cleaner lunches

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Fruit, Veggie, Protein, Treat*. Appealing display, nice to eat.

Whether you’re a Stay-at-home or a I’ve-got-another-job-too Mom, it feels good to have a handle on lunches. The sense of accomplishment attached to knowing that I fed my children, husband, and myself WELL really boosts the level of energy I apply to the day-to-day grind.

Over the years, our food culture has changed on many different levels; even in my little family. We have discovered allergies, intolerances, and made a handful of conscious choices regarding our personal well-being and the way we want to eat/live: There’s the adrenal fatigue diagnosis that I’ve been working to address for the past eight years (which I’ve noticed I’m recovering nicely from!). There’s the wheat/gluten thing, and the gross fake sweetener and high fructose corn syrup thing. There’s the avoidance of the big GMO crops, MSG and nitrates, processed foods (especially in the dairy family), and steering away from plastics toward glass and stainless steel.

Three “magic” areas – groceries, containers, and color – have really helped me in the lunch department.

Groceries

Improving the foods I have available for lunches makes me a better lunch packer. I keep a list of “The Clean 15” and “The Dirty Dozen” in my purse so I can refer to it when I shop. I can’t buy EVERYTHING organic, but I buy as wisely as possible. Grocery Outlet is my friend, because I can get a lot of the foods we like for a lot less. Our local Wenatchee store tries to stock a lot of gluten-free products because the owners have some celiacs in the family, and they understand. I REALLY respect and appreciate that about them.

Where I go depends on my current shopping list and mood. I usually always go to G.O. first, but of course, there are some things I like to get at the bulk section at Wenatchee Natural Foods, the Stemilt store (did you know if you take your kids, they get a free apple?), Rhubarb Market, Pybus, Lemongrass, the south end of Fred Meyer, URM, etc…

And, NO; I don’t go all those places with my three children in tow. And I never make more than two stops in an outing. EVER.

WOW…THAT was a rabbit trail…I think I’m trying too hard to make sure no one is intimidated by my perfectionism like I usually am by all those amazingly perfect looking “bloggers” — many of whom I’m going to introduce to you when I plunge ahead and share some lunch ideas.

On the other had, in order to have the food you want to put in those great lunches, you really do want to consider where you shop. Did you know that shopping around the edges of the store, rather than in the aisles, can even help you decrease the amount of processed foods you buy?

Sorry. Stepping off platform now…

I highly recommend the careful use of slow, deliberate baby steps into the realm of clean eating. One subject or concern leads to another, since our food is part of a system, and it usually gets the juices of injustice flowing. This can often lead to feeling overwhelmed and eating a whole bag of __________.

OK. Moving on.

Container

How I pack the lunch actually matters.

The container has truly helped me be more successful at building healthy, balanced lunches for my family. It doesn’t have to be a Bento box, but it’s nice if it has compartments. There are two reasons I like compartmentalized boxes. Presentation and Nutrition. Unless goulash is a regular at your house, then my experience is that kids like to have their food separated a bit; deconstructed, even! Presentation is helpful when trying to help them eat well. Seems like a pain sometimes, but in the end it saves time and emotional energy for me. Because I hate watching kids pick at their food.

Hate.

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Three or more compartments helps me make sure I have a balanced lunch. Vegetable. Fruit. Meat. Our family diet is “open paleo” (yep, that’s a real thing) or “primal” (because we still consume dairy), with some gluten-free goodness thrown in on the occasion. Tortilla chips are a must. Yes, I know. We’re evil. You should probably stop reading this post right now. We’re total hypocrites.

Wow! Hate and hypocrisy. Stay away from me!

My lovely teacher-friend has several really cool ones for her son (I’ve been watching him before school starts up) that even have a spot for the ice pack.

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Even when we’re at home, I compartmentalize my kid’s foods. Today I whipped out the leftover melon balls (toothpicks are great for fruit harmless, violent fruit chunk stabbing) from a BBQ we went to, carrot sticks with dip, cherry chia bar…They each have a plate they got as a gift, and I love them. The lily pad plate came with three turtle bowls (with lids) originally. I’m down to one. It’s sad. But like I said, those sections helps me remember to put the food groups I want them to eat on there. I usually use that pizza cutter for the quesadilla. It’s handy.

Color

Veggies and fruit are so important for earth dwellers like us (so are good oils/fats and proteins). Overflowing with essential nutrients, we really don’t eat enough of them. The American tendency toward carbs in the form of bars, breads, crackers, cookies, and other convenience foods can easily be measured with the naked eye; just check for color.

You’ll see a whole lot of tan on your plate.

Aim for more of a rainbow for optimal lunchbox results (and Skittles don’t count! Dang!). My kiddos can be just as picky as your average kid. I usually just go with the veggies that they like right now, and then try to stretch their experience at dinner on occasion. I’ve tried to sneak veggies into smoothies and eggs in the morning and the result was a lot of uneaten food. I was totally excited…”Look, baby! Green eggs!” But what looked like a fun Dr. Seuss inspired meal became an exercise in distrusting mom. Who knew we really eat with their eyes and nose?!

Hence, during this season of life with a 6- and 2-year old, we eat a lot of cucumbers, seaweed, and Olaf noses…er, carrots in my house. But I just encourage you to keep trying to introduce different flavors and colors as much as possible. I’ve revived “ants on a log” with great success in recent lunches.

Here’s a veggie tip that revolutionized my fridge: Buy a big back of carrots. Cut a ton into sticks in advance and place in a large jar. Fill jar with water. Close lid. Refrigerate. They’ll be delicious and crisp for DAYS. You can do that with celery and a few others too.

Make refrigerator pickles. You can also put hard boiled eggs or a mixture of veggies like cauliflower, radishes, carrots, etc. in the leftover pickle juice from any pickled veggie you’ve finished. Pickled beet juice will turn them a pretty purple shade, too. Yum.

Here are a few links to blogs that inspired me in my lunch making journeys. Don’t freak out because they all say paleo; especially if you or your child lean away from meats. I get you. The meat industry leaves much to be desired. I put direct links to their “school lunches” posts. Just look at the beautiful pictures of the lunches with delicious whole foods…You’ll get some ideas. Of course, you’re free to wander and wonder once you get to the blog…One interesting fact that I read somewhere is that the average “paleo dieter” eats more veggies/color than the average vegetarian. Say what?! It has something to do with the avoidance of grains/legumes…so the result is a lot more carbs are being consumed through fruits, veggies, sweet potatoes…these kinds of carbs are less empty than the average rice or cracker. And based on my experience as a teacher, they also take little humans a lot farther during the grueling school day.

Take what you will and leave the rest. Seriously. No offense.

The Paleo Mom

Paleo Parents

The Paleo Mama

Oh yeah, and moms (and dads) need to eat too. So what do I eat?

Lately, I’m pretty addicted to any kind of cooked meat/veggie leftovers on a bed of greens, with seeds and nuts, feta, and cranberries drizzled – no, DROWNING – in balsamic vinegar. Have you been to D’Olivo in Pybus yet? Oh. My. Mmmmmmmm. So very worth the investment…

There are a ton of salad-in-a-jar ideas out there. So you can take them with you most anywhere. I even have really big jars that I’ve started sending to people when I sign up onto meal trains. People love them. Very refreshing after all those frozen meat loafs and lasagnas in tinfoil trays.

Lunches can be fun to eat and even fun to make. What little tip will you apply to the next lunchmaking extravaganza? Visit a new market? Find a different container? Replace something brown for a pop of bright color?

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