How to spice up healthy school lunches

For Catherine McCord, packing school lunches for her two children does not consist of just throwing an apple and a PB&J in a brown bag.

“Food should be fun, so kids can play with it.”

— Catherine McCord, founder of the blog Weelicious

The lunches McCord prepares are a perfect mix of nutrition, easiness and fun—and she’s never packed the same meal twice.

“Food should be fun, so kids can play with it,” McCord told “I’m always thinking of how you can change up the everyday boring sandwich. I’ll do some wacky things to change it up instead of just putting a banana in their lunch.  And I also try to get the most nutrition.”

McCord, the founder of the baby and toddler food blog, Weelicious, has a new cookbook called, Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box With More Than 160 Happier Meals.  She said she is on a mission to make sure that her children’s lunch boxes come home empty every day, and wants to do it as simply as possible.

What are her secrets?

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Get the kids in on the process

“The more you get kids involved, the more they are interested in what’s in their lunch,” McCord said.  “Picky eating can come from not knowing what foods are.”

McCord suggests going to the grocery store with your children and telling them that they can pick any fruits and vegetables that they want.  She also recommends purchasing a kid-safe knife and cutting board so that they can participate in the preparation.

Recipe: Strawberry Cream Cheese Sushi Rolls

Less containers and fun lunch boxes

“When my son was in preschool, I got to go watch him eat lunch for the first few weeks,” McCord said.

She found that the teachers preferred when kids had fewer containers because it resulted in less waste.

“It’s better when kids can see everything,” she said.

McCord suggests the stainless steel lunchbox from Planet Box (It’s super durable and fits right in the dishwasher) and the colorful Bento-Ware boxes from Laptop Lunches.

With both brands, there are simple, neat compartments for each food item, the presentation is nice, and less goes in the trash, McCord said.

Size and texture

“[Food] texture is important,” McCord said. “Some kids do better with crunchy foods.  You can have something cool like yogurt and then something crunchy.”

McCord also recommends switching between hot and cold meals, and slicing up an apple into bite-size pieces instead of throwing a whole one into the lunch.

Recipe: Italian Tuna Melt with Provolone and Arugula

Remember the food groups

McCord has an easy solution to making lunches healthy.

“The principle for me is always a carbohydrate, a protein, a fruit and a veggie,” she said. “If you have all of that then you know you have done your job as a parent.”

Reinvent food

McCord -- who includes a meal leftover item in her kids’ lunches almost every day -- says you should reinvent items so they’re new and exciting for your children. She often takes something like brown rice from dinner and uses it to make burritos or quesadillas the next day.

“Leftovers are such a great way to utilize what you made the night before,” she said.

A creative food repurposing ended up in one of McCord’s most popular recipes—tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons.

“Growing up, I loved tomato soup with grilled cheese – I loved dipping it in,” she said. “I thought it would be a fun idea to cut up a grilled cheese and throw it back in the oven to make croutons for the soup.”

Recipe: Silky Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Crouton Bites

Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box With More Than 160 Happier Meals is due out Sept. 3.