When you have your first child, there’s a sense of urgency in getting things “right.” Piled atop that stress is the unsolicited advice that many people give you, and I’ve heard it all, from changing to playing to holding to sleeping. With so many voices, it’s hard to know whose tips to follow. But there’s one bit of advice that I’ve wholeheartedly accepted, and it came from my mother: When it comes to feeding kids, keep things simple.
“Start introducing them to the kind of foods you eat, and start them early,” she said.
At my kids’ school, there are strict rules about what kind of lunch may be packed for a class field trip versus a regular school day. No perishables of any kind, including yogurt and milk. No nuts, due to allergies. Preferably only include items that require little to no refrigeration, items that will not get mushy if left in the sun, that sort of thing. This leaves me to puzzle out what might make an acceptable meal.
Luckily, the art of feeding kids is made easier by experience, plus a little sound advice from one’s mother. These days, whenever I have to prepare for school field trips, I keep things simple. And yes, I take shortcuts, things that will save me time and effort, and I don’t feel guilty about it. Here are my tips for packing a perfect field trip lunch.
My kids love, love turkey and cheese sandwiches. But if they’re going on a school field trip where I know there is no refrigeration to keep the turkey in good condition, I take a different approach. Instead, I opt for Uncrustables, Smucker’s individually wrapped frozen circular sandwiches with the edges crimped shut.
Uncrustables’ Thaw & Eat selection has a few varieties to choose from, and the lineup was seemingly invented for parents who dread having to figure out a way to keep lunchmeat from going slimy. While the PB&J flavors obviously contain nuts, I make a point to ask the teacher ahead of time if there are any kids with a nut allergy in the class, and if there are, to gently steer my child toward the uncured meat and cheese roll-ups instead. It’s not a perfect solution, but it removes a lot of logistical hurdles. Even if you wouldn’t normally want to spend extra money on premade, it’s a worthwhile splurge on field trip days.
Oranges and cantaloupe are fine options when you’re preparing a snack for your kids at home. But if you want to ensure that your child actually eats the meal you packed, make it easier for them to eat the foods. I’m talking grapes, plums, apples, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
My kids can easily peel a banana for themselves while on a field trip, but not all children can. Any food that necessitates asking an adult for help might be left abandoned in the lunch box.
I know there’s a culture of picturesque bento boxes that has proliferated on the internet, and I’ve followed moms on Instagram who pack their kids’ lunches with great enthusiasm and fervor, but in my experience, kids (mine, anyway) care more about how easy it is to open a product and how delicious it tastes than how it looks.
One item that is both accessible and tasty is this individually wrapped crunchy rice snack I buy in bulk at the Asian supermarket. Popcorn is another hit with my kids, so I buy variety packs of SkinnyPop or Sun Chips to drop into their lunch bag. They have to open the packaging themselves, but they’ve never complained.
One of the rules that school administrators and teachers enforce (ahem, “encourage”) is that everyone should have a water bottle. This reduces the amount of potential germs that they might pass to one another via the water fountain. While kids generally love juice, a better alternative is water in a bottle, preferably one that they can pop open easily.
Take Laura Wheatman Hill’s advice and invest in some durable, high-quality lunch-toting products for your kids. For me, this means a Hydroflask thermos bottle that can keep cold or hot for a long time. Water is best because if there is any spillage, it won’t leave your child with sticky hands or stained clothing afterward.
By now, you can tell that I’m a fan of fruit and water, two of earth’s greatest natural resources. To fuel to my fruit-and-water obsession, I generally rely on packaged items that come in single or smaller servings.
In the past, Trader Joe’s dried mangos and freeze-dried strawberries have been a hit, as well as fig cookies and fruit leather. Like bananas, these products do not require a lot of effort to open. They generally keep as well in the lunch bag as they do in the pantry. The best thing about these prepackaged snacks is that if your child decides to reject them on the day of the field trip, you can pluck them out of the lunch box and keep them around for next time—or stick them in your own bag for whenever you need a sugar fix.