Primal Kitchen: Getting Buy-In for Real Food Lunches

We get a LOT of questions about packing lunches. As often as I can point people to this post, or this post, or tell them there’s a chapter in the book devoted to lunches… I knew we needed new, fresh material on the site. That’s where the Primal Kitchen: A Family Grokumentary comes in. I’ve been following this blog for quite some time. How can you not?! The name is genius. And the lunch picture compositions are beautiful, inspiriting and fun!

I was SUPER thrilled when Primal Kitchen agreed to do a post for you all – a guest post on getting your family’s buy-in for eating real food packed lunches. Whatever, or whomever, your obstacle may be – this post will help. There are brilliant directions here, directions that are VERY similar to our own book. So you know we’re on-board.  I hope, if nothing else, this post will alleviate the near daily e-mails we get from people asking about packing lunches.

For many of us who resolved to do better with our eating this new year, the biggest obstacle to conquering that resolution is making packed lunches that we and our loved ones look forward to eating. This is especially true if you have a spouse or kids who are determined that lunchtime means a trip for some fast food, or a sandwich, or a slice of pizza from the cafeteria. Here’s a few suggestions on dodging those pitfalls:
  • Don’t be afraid to compromise sensibly, especially in the name of initial buy-in – doing this gracefully can help you to dodge protests. Learn the art of the meatza. Make some paleo bread for a die-hard sandwich fan. Find some good quality coconut wraps to make a wrap. That said, be sure to mingle your compromises with some classically paleo meals over the course of the week, which brings me to the next idea.
  • Try to do mostly “meat and veggies” lunches each week. A lunch that is predominantly high quality animal protein, with some veggies included and some healthy fat, is the kind of lunch that will satiate and keep you and your loved ones humming on even blood sugar for the whole afternoon. Remember, protein keeps you awake, sugars make you sleepy. Lots of wonderful, nourishing paleo foods are nonetheless higher in carbohydrates, so keep the lunchtime carbs low to moderate (unless you’ve just worked out or are just about to work out and your muscles could use them right away!). Hurdle that afternoon slump by emphasizing quality protein!
  • Involve them, if they want to be involved. This one has absolutely been key for our household. My daughter – who is almost 5 – is greatly interested in making suggestions for her lunchbox, and she always wants a sneak peek before it gets zipped up in its case before we go drop her off at preschool. Here’s how to involve your kids and spouse::: Solicit grocery list and grocery shopping input. Your kids and spouse are more likely to eat lunches made of ingredients they’ve selected themselves. The bonus here is that – if they are skimming grocery ads for produce deals and accompanying you to local markets or farmers – they become more aware of seasonal crops and prices::: Discuss a quick preview before the packing starts. Tell your kids or spouse the night before what you have in mind for the next day’s lunches. If they aren’t up for what you’re planning, you can ask them to survey the fridge and pantry and come up with a healthy plan of their own::: Have them do the packing. You can pre-prep some ingredients or set out some options and help them along the way, but getting your family to put their own effort into packing the lunch helps them to get mentally invested in the process. Keep things age appropriate in the packing process – an adult should slice fruit and veggies ahead for younger kids, for example, but the same younger kids can possibly spoon almond butter into a dip container by themselves.
  • Serve a rainbow. No, not only for the oft-touted benefit that foods of various colors have a wide variety of phytonutrients. Packing lunches with a rainbow of color is also very appealing to kids and results in them eating more of these healthy foods.
  • Mix up a selection of leftovers, fresh foods, and non-perishables. Having a good mix of these three categories means that your packed lunch will come together faster. It also generally provides a good variety and a nice selection of textures for your lunch eaters to explore. Examples: ::Leftovers. Last night’s chili, or slices of the beef roast. Pieces of cubed leftover chicken::: Fresh foods. Cut fruit and vegetables. Boiled eggs. Sliced cheese or whole fat unsweetened yoghurt (if you do dairy)::: Non-perishables. Nuts and natural nut butters. Sea Snax. Freeze dried unsweetened fruits. Coconut flakes. Paleo Kits. Canned tuna or salmon. Beef jerky.
  • Make fun shapes. If you’re looking for buy-in from kids, getting familiar with bento lunchbox art is a great strategy. In one case for us, I learned about a four pack of stainless steel mini bento cutters that was around $5 – and they’ve been so durable and versatile for us, creating all kinds of adorable flower-shaped fruits, veggies, liverwurst, and cheese pieces in my daughter’s lunch.
  • Make dips and dressings available. Dips are magical in their ability to win over reluctant lunch eaters! Here are a few ideas::: Read your labels and try straight mustard or mustard horseradish for dipping steak or chicken pieces::: For veggies, try combining coconut cream or sour cream with a bit of tamari (wheat free soy sauce) or coconut aminos and a little onion powder – this makes an onion dip!::: Almond butter is a great dip for apple slices or celery sticks::: Tahini dressing could be a nice change of pace, or even try a cauliflower hummus::: You could also make your own ranch dressing at home and be dazzled by the taste that fresh ranch can provide::: Homemade mayo is stunningly simple to make, and could be a nice addition to a BLT salad as well::: For a premade option, Wholly Guacamole makes some very handy and (last I checked the ingredient label) paleo-compatible guacamole that comes in a 100 calorie pack option – pre-sealed pre-made guac that isn’t brown by the time your kids get to it? That’s convenient.
  • Finger foods! Who doesn’t love a hands-on lunch? Roll quality lunch meat (additive and preservative free when possible) around a pickle, or a piece of cheese if you do dairy. Serve up fresh snow peas, sliced up sticks of squash, cucumber coins, and baby carrots (don’t forget the dip!). Stuff mini peppers with tuna salad (use the homemade mayo!) or another protein filling. Make muffin-size quiches with meat and colorful veggies added in.
  • Treats can facilitate buy-in. Yes, as mentioned above, conscientious carb consumption can keep you from plotzing mid-afternoon, but it’s also true that a small treat can make a surprisingly big difference, especially to family members who are not totally sold on a lunchbox overhaul. Some ideas here::: A trail mix with your spouse’s favorite nuts, dried fruits, and unsweetened coconut flakes::: A square of high quality dark chocolate::: A coconut manna cup::: A honey straw. These hold a teeny amount – about 1 tsp. – of honey, so they’re more about the novelty factor::: A lightly-honey-sweetened grain free coconut macaroon, or::: A delicious chocolate mousse made with (yes!) overripe avocado.

Relearning lunch-packing can be challenging – there’s no question about that. But be encouraged – it does have a learning curve, and before long the practice of doing it adds up and lets you pull together lunches very efficiently.

How have you changed the lunches that you and your family are eating these days?

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  • Karen C.

    So great…. Thanks much for this post!

  • Shirley @ gfe

    Excellent post! Packing real food lunches is just like packing non-real food lunches; one is just looking at different options to include. 😉 All these lunches look terrific. Color, texture, shapes, and sizes all come into play for the visual appeal. Then the great taste of real food kicks in after that! I love the name of your blog, too. 🙂

  • Marielle

    Okay, I give up. What the heck are the white things in this lunchbox: 
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-XoUhVSCDtcY/TqddNz2EyII/AAAAAAAARpE/wGJINViQ97U/s1600/IMG_7519.JPG? I’ve been wracking my brain and can’t figure it out haha.

    • Michelle

      I believe that is the cucumber coins

    • Me too! I’d say cheese, but it looks a little translucent. Then I though radish, but there’s already a side of sweet pepper. Argh, the drama! (and the fourth box is chocolate mousse with almond slivers, right?)

    • Great game, btw: name the lunch box contents 🙂 The one with the eggs and pickle looks like it has sliced raw potato. Makes you realise how important smell is is identifying what’s good to eat.
      I’m digging the stuffed mini peppers idea – never crossed my mind, yet I eat tuna salad with pepper strips all the time. Thanks for the tip; must try!

    • fish4men

      Those are honeydew melon, as cut by the flower shaped bento cutters. 🙂

    • It is honeydew melon. 🙂 Mystery produce, ha ha!

    • jicama root… it’s really good

    • Katherine

      jicama. its delicious with lime as well ! nice refreshing snack

  • I LOVE Primal Kitchen!  I have made a few changes with my kids’ lunches by reading their blog.  I have some Bento Boxes and need to get better at packing Styles’ lunch for school but for now, we’re trying things at home as they are made and figuring out what suits his palate.  

  • Greenbacksgal

    I found you through Pinterest and decided to subscribe – and then I found out you have truncated feeds. Hate those. So, you almost had a new reader…

  • Robinanntaylor

    I’m stage 4 cancer and thanks to chemo, radiation and medication absolutely no appetite. If you could only eat one food item what would you suggest to start with. It is important that what I put in my mouth has the most bang for me to eat. I’m now anemic and have absolutely no energy. This question is for anyone who cares to suggest where I start. 

  • Lisajoam

    O.k., looking for some help.  I was a vegetarian for over 20 years.  I have chosen to raise all three of the children vegetarian.  I am also studying for nutrition degree.  After deciding to try “gluten-free” diet because of digestive issues, I found that most of my diet was made up of wheat and wheat gluten.  I began eating meat slowly, just grass fed beef and organic chicken so far.  Although I am still have some moral dilemas, I have found that the health benefit of adding clean protein to my body outweighs most.  Now,about my children.  I have tried to do what is best for them but I believe some of their worst health and emotional issues may be a direct result of my vegetarian choice.   I would really like to get them on board.  Of course they are reluctant, ( I understand completely, afterall I pushed for no animals etc…).  As humans, we evolve, I need some help to “help” them evolve.  All three have ezema, one has asthma, all have some digestion issues and the oldest has significant attention and concentration issues as well huge mood swings associated with being addicted to sugar.  I am not completely sure “paleo” is right for all of us, but certainly adding animal protein is a must.  Eleven and eight year olds are dead set against.  If you had any suggestions, reading materials etc….I am at a road block.  Thanks you, Lisa

    • Alicia

      Just thoughts.  We are not completely paleo and I am not an expert.  Just a mom feeding small kids and trying to remove processed foods and minimize grains. 

      Focus on quality fats – coconut, avocado, grass-fed butter, some nut oils, dairy cream if you do dairy

      Decrease grains – Paleo versions of foods they want – Paleo bread, coconut wraps, use lettuce wraps for some meals,

      Focus on eggs if you can and if they will let you

      Recipes where animal protein does not look like just a “piece of meat” to them
           Bone broth – soups, cook beans and grains with
           Gelatin – desserts, use as “thickener” in coconut yogurt, maybe soups
           Soups/Stews/Chili – with bone broth but also tiny pieces of meat when they let you, use eggs in soups  
           “Tacos”- mix beans and increasing amounts of meat when they let you 

       I can’t even follow all these recommendations b/c kids are allergic to dairy, eggs, and some tree nuts

    • Jessica Cobb

      If you aren’t completely sure about Paleo, check out the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet. My kids had serious skin issues and food sensitivities that cleared up once we healed our GI tracts. Also, I know you are studying for a degree yourself, but find a holistic nutritional therapist. They’ll be able to help your family figure out what you need to do to get started.

  • Elisa A

    Love this pic! I’m so visual. I am not a paleo person, I think grains have an important part in our diet, as long ast hey are prepared in the traditional way (Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon), and we avoid grains when we have a child fighting a cavity, in order to remineralize teeth, so this chart is perfect. Thanks for making it!

  • What is everyones choice and opinions on the best way to keep the lunches cold?

  • I would love to see a breakdown of what all those meals are. I’m a bit new to this, so I’m not sure what a lot of them are.

  • anewlis

    I wish I knew what all this stuff was 🙁

  • kelly

    my son is now attending a “nut free” school. This is very difficult when packing lunch for a picky 4 year old who is gluten and dairy free… it is hard to prep but I guess I need to pre-make some coconut flour finger foods.

  • I use my small Tupperware products to pack lunch – it keeps everything fresh and crisp 🙂 IF you’d like to see the exact ones I use feel free to friend me and I’ll be happy to show you

  • Libby at ditchthecarbs.com

    I’ve just written an article on low carb kids lunch boxes. Without a doubt, the number 1 question I get asked once people discover we eat low carb, wheat free and sugar free – is what on earth do you put in their lunch boxes????

  • Kristina Kozlowsky Smith

    Could you tell me what lunchboxes you use. I see a glass pyrex dish and some compartment lunch box…what are your favorites and what did you use here? I looked to see if you had a blog post somewhere…maybe I’m not searching correctly? Thanks!