If Instagram and Pinterest are to be believed, there are parents who take real pleasure in lovingly crafting beautiful lunches for their children to take to school every day. Fruit medleys of citrus stars studded with blueberries, kid-friendly sushi rolls with smiley faces, and bright veggie kabobs with dipping sauces fill cuter-than-cute bento boxes, taunting the rest of us with their seemingly boundless creativity.
Here’s the trick to simplifying school lunch prep: don’t do any of that. And don’t compare your turkey and cheddar on multi-grain bread and baby carrots with a side of grapes to a social media-ready spread. A lunch your child will eat is a successful lunch, and there is no reason to try to reinvent that wheel on the daily.
All those fruit kabobs and art-directed lunch boxes aren’t even really the problem. It’s the notion that lunch should be different every day, a smorgasbord of endless variety. A common parent lament is that, left to their own devices, kids would eat the same mac and cheese and cucumbers with dip for dinner every night. Use that to your advantage at lunchtime, and figure out a healthy lunch that becomes the household default.
Think of it like a work uniform or a capsule wardrobe—but for the lunchbox set. Having a lunch uniform takes a big chunk of planning and decision making off of your plate. A humdrum lunch is a life lesson in the making. Embracing seemingly boring stuff, like eating enough vegetables or flossing, is a big part of being an adult. Not everything is exciting all the time.
This is not to say that you can’t go wild with seasonal fruit or take special requests, or send favorite leftovers to school on request. But you want to have a boring baseline they’ll eat consistently and that you dedicate as little brainspace to as possible.
And hey, if packing beautiful lunches in adorable bento boxes fills you with joy, please continue to do so.