Is it just me, or are summer mornings somehow even crazier than school day mornings? Even though it’s summer, parents often still have to pack lunches for summer camps, picnic outings or beach days. Picky eaters, ingredient rules, and sweltering days make packing camp lunches harder than ever. As a mom and Registered Dietitian that packs a lot of lunches, I know it can be hard to come up with summer camp lunch ideas for kids that they will actually eat and we can feel good about packing.
I’ve got five tips to help make lunch prep easier to ensure you and your kids have a great summer.
Try a Snack Lunch
When my kids are hungry and hot, they don’t want a full meal, but I know they need those calories to keep them going for several more hours of play. Instead of packing a heavy lunch, I serve up their favorites, snack-style. Bento boxes are great for this. Fill each compartment with a fresh fruit (grapes keep well and always taste good when it’s hot out! ), crisp veggie, flavorful dip, or easy protein, like nuts, nut butter, cheese, or rolled deli meat. Don’t forget to include crackers for a balanced carb (like these homemade Lunchables!). Bento boxes not going to cut it at camp? Use snack-sized baggies and a paper bag so that everything can be recycled or trashed after lunch each day.
Skip the Bread
Bread can get super soggy in a steamy brown bag. Skip the slices and upgrade to a wrap. My kids love PBJs on a tortilla. I can slice it into pinwheels or leave it whole depending on how jostled their lunchbox will be. Or, consider turkey-and-cheese roll-ups, with or without the tortilla. Hungry summer campers want cool, refreshing foods, so pair those chilled roll-ups with sliced cucumbers and a fun dip.
If your kids love sandwiches, but you’re worried about soggy bread, try separating out the ingredients for a DIY sandwich – like this Deconstructed BLT Bento Box.
Don’t Be Afraid of Pre-Packaged Products
I do my best at home to be environmentally aware. We pre-portion our own snacks from bulk bags when we can, and always recycle any packaging, but when it comes to lunchboxes, sometimes prepackaged is the better choice. If your camp won’t let you keep any products after lunch (likely due to cleanliness and trying to keep ants at bay), look for individual squeeze yogurts or applesauce packets without added sugar. Cheese rounds, cheese sticks, freeze-dried fruits and single-serve hummus packets are also favorites of mine.
Break Out of the Lunchbox
Lunch doesn’t have to be cold cuts, chips, and fruit (though it totally can be!). Think less about “lunch” and more about what your kids love to eat. I love packing Bento boxes with my kids’ favorites, just deconstructed. Pasta becomes pasta salad with veggies tucked separately with a dip in its own container so everything stays fresh. Here are 125 of my favorite healthy lunchbox ideas.
Pack a Lunch Anyway
Even if your kids aren’t going to camp, you’re likely hitting the park, playground, or pool early in the day before the heat settles in. Don’t discount how much exercise your kids are getting; earlier mornings (thanks, longer days) mean they expend more calories by mid-morning, so they’ll want lunch earlier. Save your kitchen and serve them al fresco. I prep easy meals the night before that I can stuff into a cooler in my car in case the craving for lunch hits. This saves us from hitting the drive-through at least once a week. Keep squeezable yogurt in the freezer; it makes a great mini ice pack for a few hours.