In this episode of Healthy Family Project, we talk to Jodi Danen of Create Kids Club about packing healthy lunchboxes for all ages. She shares tips on what and how much to pack for different ages, how to get your kids to eat their lunch and more.

Jodi Danen is a registered dietitian and mother of two elementary-aged budding chefs. She is the voice of Create Kids Club, a food and nutrition blog for parents who desire healthy family meals but are short on time. Her recipes are simple to prepare, have a short ingredient list, and focus on fresh foods.

With her background in school nutrition, she is passionate about getting children in the kitchen cooking at young ages & believes this is key to forming healthy habits for life.

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Want to skip straight to a hot topic? See time stamps below. But of course, we recommend listening all the way through!

  • 1:43 Meet Jodi
  • 3:37 Portion sizes for lunchboxes
  • 11:52 Lunch ideas for toddlers
  • 13:53  How to make lunches more for elementary school kids
  • 16:15 Lunchbox notes
  • 19:40 How to convince teens to pack a lunch

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Transcript for Episode 20

This transcript was produced by Otter.Ai. Please forgive any misspellings and grammatical errors.

Welcome to the healthy family project by produce for kids, covering the hot topics in the world of health,
food and family with a dose of fun. Welcome back to another episode of the healthy family project. If you
have questions about what to pack in the lunch box, and just how much to pack in the lunch box, you are
definitely not alone. Questions pouring produce for kids regularly about this topic. I myself have hit a bit
of a slump here now over halfway through the school year. And I’m really looking forward to today’s
episode to help me get re inspired. Jody Danon is a registered dietician a mom and author of create Kids
Club calm. She’s here today to help us learn more about how to pack what to pack for different ages,
encouraging kids to actually eat their entire lunch and getting our tweens and teens to get on board with
these healthy lunches. Let’s get started with today’s topic. Hi, Jodi, welcome to the healthy family project.
We of course, are so grateful for all of your recipe inspiration and the awesome content contributions that
you provide for us at produce for kids calm and of course supporting, you know, creating a healthier
generation through eating lots of awesome healthy foods. So to get started, why don’t you tell everybody
about your blog, and what inspired you to do what you do every day? Sure. Well,
first, thank you, Amanda, for having me on. I’m super excited to talk with you and share some insight with
the audience. So I am the founder of create Kids Club. And that came to be as my history I’m a
registered dietician, I ended up staying home with my kids to raise them when they were little, they’re 10
and 12 right now. So when my daughter went into preschool at 3k, I had the opportunity to become the
food service manager at their school. So that is kind of where my passion for childhood nutrition really,
really came into be. I had a three year old and a five year old. So I was obviously going through all the
struggles that every parent does that those ages, right. And I got to 10 or you know, multiply that by
hundreds of kids to see all these children eating lunch. Every day at school, it was a pre K through eighth
grade school. So I did that for about three years and then decided to, you know, go off on my own and
start my own business. And that’s where create kids club came into being because I really just wanted to
reach more families and try to help more people in a larger scale.
Well, we are certainly excited to chat with you today about kids lunches, your background positions you
to offer up some advice on a lot of these inquiries and questions we’ve been getting from families about
about what to pack in the lunch box. But one of the biggest questions we get is how to figure out portion
size to pack in your child’s lunchbox How do you know if you’re packing enough or not enough? Nobody
wants to think about their kids being hungry at school. But yet, of course, we don’t want to overpack so
that we’re wasting or having our kids over eat. Can you help us with this one?
Well, that’s a great question. And it really depends on the child. And parents probably don’t like to hear
that. But the age, the activity level, and just your child’s eating preferences make a huge difference. So
we all know our children pretty well. Especially I used to instruct my kids to not throw their stuff away at
the end of the lunchtime, but bring it back home so that as a parent, you can see what’s being eaten and
what’s being thrown away. Because seeing the behind the scenes at school. Those garbage cans are
overflowing. Yes,
yeah. We just we actually just done sorry to interrupt you. But we I was gonna say we just talked about
this in the last episode on food waste, about how crazy it is when you go into the school, even as a

parent stopping over at lunchtime to see the amount of food waste it is crazy.
It’s crazy. And it’s crazy what the kids will throw away and I’m open granola bar or you know, like you can
take that home. So really being encouraging your child to to just put it back in their lunchbox and bring it
home. Sometimes it’s messy, but I’d rather clean up the mess and know, you know what they’re eating
and not eating. So that’s kind of a good way of getting a feel for what they’re actually eating. Little kids
are obviously not going to eat as much as the bigger kids but I actually should take that back because
when we’re serving hot lunch in the line, some of those little kids can certainly You know, they’re growing
and their needs are pretty high. So I shouldn’t classify it that way. It’s more learning your own kid
because some days, they’re gonna eat a lot more than other days. Um, so really getting a feel for your
own kid. But, but being mindful of portion sizes too, because I think we overpack lunches a lot for
children. And they don’t necessarily need as much as we’re putting in there at some sometimes. So
learning that is, is something that’s really helpful for parents. And it’s also a cost savings and children eat
better when there’s smaller portion sizes I found as well.
Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. I know. I worry, my eight year old, I pack I swear I pack this. I mean,
it’s a healthy lunch, but I swear I pack the same thing every day. And I just wonder she has to be getting
bored of this, but she’s not and she enjoys it and it’s a healthy lunch. So I think okay, you know, I can’t
keep I guess I gotta keep going with it. But then I have some days where she comes home and she’s
starved and other days, she’s just fine. So I go through that to where I feel like maybe some days I
overpack especially if we have one of those days where she comes home so hungry at the end of the
day. And then I find it’s just kind of random hit or miss. So, definitely I know that I battle that and I know I
tend to overpack sometimes.
Well, as long as I feel as long as it’s stuff that can come home, there’s nothing wrong with that at least
then she can choose you know, if I’m still hungry, let’s eat this. But maybe let’s eat the yogurt, the cheese
stick, whatever is going to go bad first. So because I’ve had those returned home as well. And obviously
they need to be thrown away at that point in time. So I try to encourage my kids to eat the, you know, the
perishable foods first, but kids or kids are going to pick out what they want in there, I guess. But my son
wanted the same phase where he had the exact same thing every single day for I swear three years. I
mean, it varied a little bit, but it was a turkey roll up. And that’s what he wanted. And I made it every
single day. But then he hit middle school and he changed because I think the other kids were not having
something similar. So it’s interesting to watch kids, you know, as they change as they grow up for peer
pressure with some of the other kids were the little ones will eat what they like. So it’s just kind of flexing
and going with it. And you’re right, if we don’t have to rock the boat, I guess we don’t need to, you can
get a little bit more variety in at home.
Right, that makes a lot of sense. So I guess the big takeaway there on, on thinking about how much to
pack is really just tuning into your child and and asking them to not throw away. You know, even if it’s the
yogurt or the cheese stick, it’s important for parents, I think maybe to just recognize what is coming
home, or what was going to be thrown away in the lunchroom.
Absolutely, at least for a little while asking them to do that. So you can get a better feel. Because if I
wouldn’t have been there, I would have had no idea that that was going on. The amount that does get
tossed is certainly happening. And it can’t only be in that school, I’m sure it’s in schools across the nation
that children and they don’t get that much time at lunch either. So I don’t know if we’re going to discuss
that part. But as a parent that was really eye opening to me. And if the teacher is running a little late
getting down to the lunch room, well, that’s taking the time off with the kids eating as well, they don’t get
extra time, if they’re running late, it’s the same amount of time every day. So being mindful of that. And
also the packages that are at your packing, a lot of these little kids can’t open a GoGrid on their own,
they’re waiting for the scissors to come around and they’re not mindful to start eating something else.
They sit there and they wait. So it’s also a time factor on that making sure they’re easy to open packages
for especially the little kids. But you know, even up to the third graders, we’re waiting for these packages
to be opened. So something that I wouldn’t think about at home, you just pack the things and think
they’re going to be fine. But in in the lunchroom, those are the things that are happening. So trying to

think through the short amount of time that your child has and how they can easily move through their
lunchbox to get the foods that you have packed for them.
That’s a really good point about the packages. Because I think and I think it’s across the board in all
schools. I mean, you only have so many teachers or aides or whoever it might be in the lunch room to
open these packages, and they’re moving as fast as they can. But I know my daughter’s at different
phases in their lunch, lunch life have said oh, well, it’s a Why didn’t you eat this? Oh, well, you know, I
had my hand up but they were opening other things and no one got to me in time and I’m thinking okay,
well. That’s interesting. So I see you know, start putting things in different containers and but luckily they
you know, I saw those things coming home and realize that, that it was something and I know that a lot of
kids too that maybe don’t pack a lunch just talking about timing have, you know who are waiting in the
lunch line that kind of eats into some of their lunchtime as well, which leaves them, you know, not as
much time to eat either. Just thinking about that?
Yes, absolutely. Because milk curtains, a lot of times they’re going into the garbage because they’re not
open because by the time the kid sits down and tries to eat, well, they run out of time and or they can’t
open one year, we had really hard to open milk cartons, which is so unusual. But that year they
struggled, we had to switch switch the brand, because they were so hard to open that no kid could open
the milk cartons. So it’s just little small things that you really don’t think through or you wouldn’t think to
ask your child you know, are you eating that or not. And sometimes it’s it’s interesting what you’ll find out.
Also the line at the microwave if your school has a for kids who bring leftovers maybe to warm up, I
would always encourage parents to pack them in a thermos are ready to go to open and do it because
they’re going to waste a lot of time waiting for those microwaves as well.
That’s a great tip. Well, let’s roll through a no to that. That kind of gives us some background on you
know how much to pack and and maybe some insight on things to think about when we are packing. And
now what about different ages? So we get a lot of questions. What should I be packing for? My teen or
my you know, this age? But let’s start with toddlers. What do you have advice on? What types of foods?
Should we be packing for toddlers? Are those preschoolers? How do we encourage them to try new
foods when they’re not there? When we’re not there at lunch? That’s a tough one. I don’t know I kind of
you might have some great ideas, but I tend to just go the trying of new foods I probably would leave for
at home, but maybe maybe I’m wrong. So what are you thinking for the younger ones?
Sure, I would say for especially those preschool kindergarten ages is easy to eat foods, finger foods,
meat chunks, cheese, cubes, crackers, you know, things that they can open and eat, that doesn’t take a
lot of work for them. Because they’re the ones who are going to be asking for the aides and things to
help open everything because they just can’t do it on their own, or they’re overwhelmed. I would make it
fun. So I mean, it’s probably not the best time to try something new. But for my daughter, I mean, putting
a carrot in our lunch was a stretch. So what I would do is packed dips, you know, I’m all for using even
full fat Ranch, those sorts of things, anything to get the kids to dip, because that age, most kids all ages
love dipping and dunking. Yeah. So that usually helps a lot. So I would encourage that even fun shapes,
if you have time cutting out fruits into you can get little cookie cutters as makes it really easy. You can cut
cheese like that even some softer vegetables, you can cut that way, putting them in a fun little Ziploc
bags. I know I’ve seen the frozen bags and the Star Wars bags. I mean little kids get excited about that
sort of thing. So when they open it up putting fun notes in their lunchboxes, um, at that age, they can’t
really read but they can see a heart for mom, that sort of thing. So I would say making it fun and making
it easy for them to eat.
Great, great tips. I think that’s an I know you said the finger foods and the small, really small portions so
it’s not overwhelming. You know, think is really important. Okay, so let’s move on to elementary school
kids. And so what should we be packing for them? How can we make lunches more fun to encourage
them to not be throwing things away and eating their whole lunch and, and for my, for my kids how to get
them to stop talking and actually eat their lunch because that’s what their biggest problem. They’re like,
Oh, I didn’t eat anything because I was talking. I don’t know if you have any ideas, but

I’m not sure that we can tackle that one. Enough, they’re gonna have to eat or they’re gonna learn the
next day. But that one’s hard because you know, kids school during class time that it’s tough these days,
they have to be listening and paying attention and lunchtime is one of those few times that they get to
socialize with their friends. So as they get older, that’s more important to them. So. So I would say the
same for those aged kids is making it easy to eat. Don’t overpack. They can always, you know, tell you
hungry and they can have more the next day or making it those foods that you can bring back home that
if they are hungry that day. But things to consider if they’re finding they’re not having enough time is
maybe consider packing higher caloric foods for them, maybe putting a little extra peanut butter on their
sandwich or an extra slice of meat. Adding a slice of cheese something that’s adding a few more calories
to the foods they’re already eating can be helpful if you’re trying to make sure they’re getting enough food
in a short period of time. Other things I like to do for them is still the hips dip is a huge hit for kids. It
encourages them to eat some of those vegetables if they’re not just playing I have found, but also at that
age starting to ask them what they’d like to see in their lunchbox. I kind of pulled some friends in what
they a lot of people, I was actually surprised by how many of the people that I know let their kids pack
their lunches, but they’re saying was that, you know, they get to pack what they have in the house. So
they just make sure that they have options that they’d like for the kids to pack in their lunches and
following some guidelines that they need to have a fruit or a vegetable and protein. So that sort of thing.
So at that age, they can start to be involved. And sometimes that can help too if they get to voice their
opinion and what’s in their lunchbox. They might be more likely to eat it as well.
Yeah, I think that’s a good a good age. Both of my girls hit or miss I haven’t or an elementary and middle
school or middle school or she loves packing her lunch my elementary. She it’s just whatever mood she’s
in that day. But right now would probably be a good time to mention you have an awesome product. You
mentioned the the notes in the lunch box. So can you talk just for a minute about your your lunch bites?
Absolutely. Yeah. So those came to be after working at the school and putting notes in my kids
lunchboxes and seeing how excited they were. I mean, now No, my middle schoolers beyond this. So it
was like the second to fifth grade range that this is a hidden from my experience. But so then I for made
developed lunch bites, so their lunchbox note cards, they have jokes and fun facts, riddles, love notes,
that sort of thing on a little note card that goes into the lunchbox and the kids watching them pass it
around to their friends every day and trying to figure out the answers to the joke or the riddle. I got to
actually witness them doing this at school so you could see the reaction. And it was really, really exciting
to me to see how positive just a little note could be in a lunchbox. And it kind of started because they
wanted treats in their lunchbox. So the other kids might have been getting, you know, cookies every day
or chocolate or whatever. And I’m fine with that once in a while. But it wasn’t something that I wanted to
give them every day. So to me, this was kind of an alternative, something fun in their lunchbox. And
that’s kind of what I use as a tagline on the notes is that the only treat a lunchbox needs so kids get
really, really excited and they feel special when they have that little note in their lunchbox. So those are
available on Amazon if anybody’s interested in them. And there’s they’re they’re really fun for kids. It’s
really fun to see how excited they are. And they feel a little special. And a little note for mom can go a
long way for a kid.
Yes. And I have to say I know you sent sent some of those over to us and my kids now if I don’t put a
lunch bite in their lunchbox. They’re like, Where was my joke? Where was my you know, the other kids
are waiting for it to you know that. And so now i i roll through the pack, you know, and even for my for my
middle schooler, I’ve pulled some out of the pack that I know that you know, or it could just be a topic
that’s going on in our house kind of like something that we talked about, or she’s kind of down. And I
know there’s one it says when in doubt dance it out. She’s like, Mom, you really like that one like Yeah.
And if they’re, if they’re still in the lunchbox, I usually just like put them at the bottom of the pile. So I just
go through and reuse those and the kids really enjoy those and we’ll link actually link up in the show
notes to that to those on Amazon. So if anyone wants to, to grab those, but I can I can vouch that they
do make a difference they have for us too. Okay, so now on to the the teens in the tweens, I have an
almost 13 year old in our house and every day is an adventure. So how do you convince a teen to take a
lunchbox and carry a water bottle around I should buy stock and water bottles. reused the reusable water
bottles. I don’t want to send the throw away the plastic but I can’t even tell you how many water bottles
we’ve lost. Or I guess these are all like things I need help with clearly or remember that they remember

to actually take it that’s the thing. Either she packs it or I pack it and a lot of days I’ll get home from work
and it’ll still be there on the counter. So what advice do you have around the teens and tweens in the
lunch room?
Sure, no, that does get harder. I have a 12 year old as well. So seventh grade grade are turning into a
team here shortly and and again when I was in the in the building. The middle schoolers would walk over
there to separate buildings and that atmosphere in the lunchroom changes 100% between elementary
and middle school. So this is a whole new game. I think those kids, you know, they’re they’re trying to
figure out where they fit in and that sort of stuff. So peer influences a huge role on kids. My advice, what
I’ve been doing with my son is trying to get his input, he knows that we need to pack certain things in his
lunch, I still do packing for him. So I feel like I kind of get to slide in some of the stuff that I want for him.
And he’s a certainly a growing child with a huge appetite. So I’m assuming he eats most of it, you know,
he could fall into the category of tossing it into the trash can to I’m not sure. But I’m hopeful that that’s not
the case. But, you know, for those kids, it’s, they’re learning their independence. And I think we can’t
force things upon them as much as when they’re little. But we can certainly influence them in a positive
way and encourage and try to keep healthy foods in our house, if they want to pack their lunch, let them
do that, as long as they’re, you know, making wise choices. We can do the same as a high schooler. The
same if they want to, you know, I heard from friends that they give them a certain amount of money if
they want to buy some lunch at school. I’ve heard it’s also not the cheapest thing. I’m not sure I haven’t
gotten there yet. But you know, giving them an allotment and then the rest of the week they need to bring
their own lunch, I’m going to assume that most kids do get hungry. So they’re going to want to bring a
lunch with them. The water bottle thing I did here, most schools they are allowed to bring that it was
interesting learning in high school setting that sometimes they have to carry him in in a clear bottle,
which is probably a lot harder for us that I don’t I don’t have too many clear water bottles like the keep the
non disposable ones. So looking, but I guess it made sense. But I did hear that a lot of high school
students are certainly bringing in water bottles into the high school buildings as well. And I guess, you
know, it’s trying to encourage them to stay well hydrated, if they’re into sports, hopefully, their coaches
and things are encouraging them as well. I feel like that goes a long way, at least for my child. And I
might be a dietitian, but he’ll listen to his coach over me any day, I think so. It’s trying to get the other
people to influence them in a positive way as well. So I’d say trying to get them involved in what what
they’re doing. And also as a parent, making sure you’re showing them that you’re doing it yourself
because I think they they’re watching you even when you think they are not so setting a good example
yourself is probably one of the most important things we can do.
Yes, you’re very right. I know I pack my lunch to bring to the office and even today I did a soup I made a
soup yesterday and I I packed mine and then this morning I heated my middle schoolers and put it into a
thermos and said a prayer that hopefully it makes it to the lunchroom. I mean, she swings that thing
around and I think oh my gosh, no thermos can stand up to whatever you do with this lunchbox between
now and lunchtime. So but yes, the clear water bottle that is actually something that they I was surprised
when my daughter went to middle school. She came home probably day two, I think her water bottle was
purple. You know and I know there’s a lot of people that do the water bottles with their names on it on the
different websites, the personalization, and she came home and said that you know, one of the the
teachers in the hallway had stopped her and said you have to have a clear water bottle don’t bring that
back to school. I’m thinking oh my goodness, I can’t believe it. So now then I was on the hunt for for the
clear water bottles and I put her name on each and every one of those clear water bottles and they they
don’t ever really make it I resorted to looking at for some from some less expensive options at different
stores that have reusable water bottles and and kind of trying to go that route. Because like I said, it
breaks my heart to send the throw away. I hate to be wasteful, but sometimes sometimes I get to do what
I have to do with her.
Right Yeah, that’s a challenge so far. My son’s pretty good. My daughter is the one that’s a little bit more
does not keep track of her things as well. So maybe
well and funny story my my middle schooler so this is a this is a good tip for parents. She what we do
have been doing or tried to do I guess is that I’ll say on Sunday before I head out to the grocery store, or
my husband heads out to the grocery store. What would you like in your lunch this week? And so she’ll

say oh, you know, I would want wraps or turkey or you know pineapple or something shows like chatter
Shout out a couple of things. So I’ll be sure to, to include some of those things that she mentioned. So
that way she has that selection to put into her lunchbox. But also, she is a big teriyaki chicken fan. And
so I did a slow cooker chicken teriyaki on a Sunday a couple weeks ago, and she put it into a rap and
with some coleslaw and took it into school. And she said, because she likes to spin a traps better than
the regular rap. So she said we have when I took it to school, people at my lunch table said, Ooh, what’s
that green thing? And she said, then they smelled the chicken teriyaki and everyone was jealous. So I
think we’re in a different era now maybe where some of these kids are even like little foodies, where it’s
interesting to them to see the different things that people bring into the lunch room because she was she
was excited. And so I think even the next week, she wanted to see what else you know, she could make
to impress, impress, impress the kids at the lunch table.
Yes, that is a good point. You know, kids are changing people or parents are, you know, not sticking with
the kids menu for kids are certainly expanding their their palates. And that’s, that’s awesome.
Yeah, that was a good story. So well, awesome. I think that we’ve we’ve rolled through a lot of good tips
we’ve covered off on those preschoolers Elementary and the the tweens and teens. So we’re excited to
have you on today. And maybe you could just let people know where to find you on social media.
Sure, I am at create kids club on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, if anybody’s over there. You can find my
blog at the same create kids I have a newsletter if anybody’s interested in weekly updates
there. I’d love to have you. And yeah, so that’s where they can find me there. I’m most active on
Facebook, I’d say but Instagram as well.
Wonderful. Well, we will be sure to link up all of the to all of those in the show notes so people can find
you. And then we hope to have you back on the healthy family project again very soon. And of course,
you can you can find many of Jodi’s recipes on produce for and her content on our blog as well.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Jody.
Thanks, Amanda.
Well, I’m feeling a little better about getting back on track and making it through the year of of packing
lunches. We’ll be linking up to lunchbox inspiration in the show notes and you can always check in at
produce for and our sister site power your For more ideas. We have a great
infographic you can use with your family to help build a better lunchbox, which we will be linking to in the
show notes, as well as some lunchbox items that will help make your lunchbox packing life a little easier.
Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite podcasting site. We do have a mission for nutrition
meal planning three part series kicking off in our next episode. If you’re interested in meal planning, want
to learn more about meal planning, you definitely want won’t want to miss out on these upcoming
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And then check out are more than 400 Registered Dietitian approved recipes on produce for kids calm
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