From the time my boys were old enough to get into the kitchen and do a little ‘cooking’ on their own – sometime around ages 5 and 6 – I put them in charge of making their own lunches when they were at home in the summer.
Not only did this keep their little hands busy, it was also a great way for my ‘picky’ eater to expand the repertoire of foods he was willing to try. It was a great system for all of us, and I really encourage those of you looking to pass the lunch-making baton to your kids in September to get them making their lunches now.
You don’t have to send them into the kitchen completely unprepared. At the beginning of each week, I would put a list of what they could have for lunch on the fridge (this was usually based on the groceries we had available) using a combination of pictures and words for early readers. Then, I would help them out by keeping cut up fruits and vegetables in the fridge, as well as hard-boiled eggs, cooked meats and grated cheese.
To further set them up for lunch duty success, I made sure my petites chefs knew where to find the bread and bagels, because kids and carbs go hand in hand.
Here are 10 inspiring lunch ideas to get your kids on the path to putting their own lunches together:
1. Guacamole with Tortilla Chips: My two-year-old loves to make our recipe for basic guacamole, so I feel certain a kindergartener could manage to make it, too. They may need a bit of help cutting the avocados and/or removing the pit, but otherwise this is an easy meal for your littles to make.
2. Smoothies: This is one of our favourite summer lunches. Get your kids (or maybe even mom) to make DIY smoothie packets in advance or whip up one of our favourite and refreshing combinations à la minute. For little ones who can’t use a blender, add a splash of lemon juice (to keep the flavour from going bad after sitting for a while) and store in the fridge on a shelf they can reach. Voila!
3. Toast: Almost all the suggested toast toppings in our list of 25 toast toppings for toddlers could be executed by a child, or with minimal help from a parent.
4. Sandwich Skewers: Fun food is always popular with kids especially when skewered on a stick, which is why we like these chicken, cheese and strawberry skewers for kids. Grill a few extra chicken breasts with dinner, and set out the remaining components of the meal for the kids to make their own simple ‘sandwiches.’
5. Soups: Mom can make a batch or two of soup on the weekend, and then the kids can heat it up in the microwave or on the stove top when it’s time to eat lunch.
6. Baguette Slices with Banana and Almond Butter: This is my personal favourite 3-ingredient lunch that I eat more often than I would like to admit, and it’s certainly easy enough for school-aged kids to assemble. To make it, simply cut a few slices of baguette from a long loaf, slather with almond (or peanut) butter, and top with a piece of banana. Easy-peasy!
7. Parisian Platter: To this day, this continues to be my older boys’ favourite lunch and they are well into their teen years. They’ve been eating a Parisian platter (also known as a ‘picnic lunch’) since they were toddlers, and have always loved having a say in what makes it onto the board. From breads, cheeses and crackers to fruit, veggies and dips this style of lunch is ideal for kids to make on their own.
8. Waffle Grilled Cheese: The genius of using the waffle iron to cook a grilled cheese is that the stove top isn’t required, making it safer for smaller children to use. The sandwich is cooked evenly on both sides, not only saving you time, but also the hassle of flipping the bread, which is not always an easy task for small hands. However, it still gets hot, so younger kids should be monitored.
9. Baked Pizza Tacquitos: Part sandwich, part taco and so very easy to make. Pizza tacquitos are totally customizable so kids can change up the filling if desired, and if you have a toaster oven at home that’s an even easier way to get these baked without the hassle of turning on the oven.
10. Chia Chicken Nuggets: Mom can make a big batch of these healthy, homemade nuggets and the kids can pull them from the freezer and quickly reheat. Eat with watermelon sticks (keep a container in the fridge) and fresh veggies and dip for a complete meal.
11. Salads: Making salads for lunch is a great way to get greens into your kids in the summer. While it doesn’t necessarily seem like something kids can make themselves, if you keep washed greens, grapes and cooked bacon or chicken in the fridge, you’ll have what you need for a 3-ingredient, kid-friendly salad. You can also suggest your kids try to come up with their own signature salad using the ingredients available to them. We did this one year, and now we have what we call our ‘house salad.’
Here’s a bonus recipe idea: I don’t have a microwave (I know, I know) so I can’t test this myself, but this 5-minute mac ‘n cheese certainly looks like something kids could put together themselves. If you give it a try, let me know. I’m so curious to know if it really works!