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To be honest, I’m sloppy at best at kid things. I’m just not a diligent person, unless it concerns writing and photography. With cleaning and cooking and baking, I just add a little of this and a little of that, wish for magic fairies to do the work for me, and then mostly.. often.. it all works out in the end. I guess I have a knack for that – throwing things together in the end.
I have had a love/hate relationship with school lunches over the past year, ever since Scarlet started kindergarten. If it were up to her entirely, her lunchbox would probably be filled with maple syrup, candy canes, lollipops and jelly beans. OR. She’d buy lunch every day. We can’t afford that every day, and we need to work together with the kids to #FuelTheirAdventures with fun, balanced and interesting school lunches. Most importantly – we need to fill lunches with foods she will actually eat!
What I’ve learned between kindergarten and first grade is that my daughter is not measuring how neatly I slice sandwiches and apples, nor how I arrange them in her lunchbox. She just appreciates the fun, humor and thought I put into it, and of course, she cares about what she’s eating and how it tastes. And the truth is – for some of us, packing lunches is hard!
I’ve learned a few things over the years, between preschool and now. I’ve learned that just when I get into a good groove, it changes. Maybe there’s a new allergy in a classmate. Maybe Scarlet up and decides she won’t eat something and that’s that.
1. Consider a lunch box, bag or tin with compartments. I find that it helps me to pack more balanced lunches because I look at each compartment and decide how to best fill them. I also think it cuts down on waste to use compartment lunch boxes.
2. There’s a reason sandwiches are timeless! They work. Do they get boring? Well.. sometimes. There are ways to make them interesting and easier to make. You can make a week’s worth, or more, of sandwiches in advance. I like to make them on Sunday nights and just pull them out of the fridge every morning. You can also keep them in the freezer for up to 4-6 weeks. I have never tried that with cold cuts but for peanut butter, peanut butter and jelly, and just jelly, it honestly works! You can thaw them at home, or put them in the lunch box right from the freezer, where they will thaw by lunchtime. If your child is getting sick of bread, or if you just don’t have any (guilty!), consider tortillas, bagels or even dinner rolls! They’re delicious.
3. Be inspired by fondue. Find a dip or two, and build your lunch around foods that go well in that dip! If your kid loves peanut butter, or any other nut butter, and can bring it to school, also pack apples, celery, bread, crackers, pretzel sticks and more! Also, hummus seems to be a very big crowd pleaser with the lunchtime crowd. You can bring pretzels, crackers, carrots, cucumbers, cold cuts and more. Ranch dip might work well too, but I’ve never packed it for Scarlet.
4. Cookie cutters really shine here. We have quite the collection of cookie cutters in our house – small and large – and they work so well for school lunches. It doesn’t take a lot of time to cut sandwiches, cheese or fruit into fun shapes!
5. Food on a stick/skewer! My kids love to eat kabobs and the sky is the limit here. You can make fruit-only kabobs, veggie-only kabobs, meat and cheese, kabobs, or make really fun food combinations that your kid(s) will love.
6. Ice packs are your friends. Makeshift/consumable ones are even better. Freeze your drink or smoothie drink the night before. Scarlet often complains about warm drinks or warm food. A frozen drink will thaw by lunchtime, and remain cold, but even better – a frozen drink or smoothie drink can act as an ice pack for the whole lunch!
7. Make your own trail mix! Kids love customized snacks and the sky is the limit! Raisins? Nuts? Dried fruit? Cheerios? All?
8. Hard boil a bunch of eggs at the beginning of the week, maybe when you’re making all those sandwiches in advance! I can put them in school lunches, and bonus is that I eat them with my lunch or as a snack every day. I like to dip them in mustard!
9. Pasta CAN happen! Scarlet’s favorite food is macaroni and cheese, but she used to get mad when I put it cold in her school lunch for preschool, because it would be hard and rubbery (her words) by the time noon came around. If you heat mac and cheese, spaghetti or tortellini in the morning before school and put it in a thermos, it can stay warm until lunchtime. Yum.
10. Think with kids in mind, and most importantly – with YOUR kid in mind. Think about colors and shapes and easy-to-eat food. Think about foods and lunch containers that are easy to open, and think about offering quite a few options. Scarlet is a smoothie girl. She always has a lot left over if I give her a large smoothie. Dannon® Danimals® smoothies are the perfect size for her, and she finds them tasty too! I pack one for her lunch, and then she has one after school for snack.
We get our Dannon® Danimals® at Walmart. Recently, our local Walmart has been renovating to be bigger and better, but I was able to find them in the refrigerated aisle with other dairy products.
Dannon® Danimals® suit our family well, because they’re a great on-the-go option for school, after school, during practice or homework, or of course – with breakfast. Right now there’s a Dannon® Danimals® Play 60 contest. If you find the “Golden Bongo” bottle (in specially marked packages), you can win a Play60 Field Day for your school with NFL Pros!
Scarlet loves secret endings of movies, and stays long after the credits roll. I told her I’d do a secret ending here! She wants you to know that both kids loved the smoothies because of the taste and mainly – how well they pair with silly straws. I want you to know that both parents love the smoothies, because they provide “Only the Good Stuff®” – with no high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors or colors, as well as providing a good source of calcium and vitamin D.
I just stick to the basics: (read: easy.) A sandwich, chips, and fruit. I’m even too lazy for simple cut outs.
ha! I remember your post on it. I feel like with Scarlet being so young and school lunch-obsessed, I have to step up my game a bit. We’ll see how long this lasts, though!
Janine Huldie says
Aw, loved Scarlet’s secret ending and my girls love Danimals here, too. What great tips and can’t thank you enough for sharing them here, as I am always looking for more ideas for school lunches for the girls 😉
Secret endings are always fun!
Danimals are awesome. Although Des can pound about three of them at a time, even if Scarlet just has one. Hey, whatever works.
My lunches are lacking a lot in creativity lately, I need to do better! Like you shared there really are some easy ways to fuel their adventures without killing your time.
Exactly! I was trying to find that middle ground between boring and Pinterest-crazy. I think I covered it. She totally left that teddy bear sandwich intact in her lunch today, but ate (drank?) two smoothies! Win!
Great tips, Tamara! I might use some of these for my daughter’s lunch this week.
Thanks, Rudri! It’s an area I struggle with, so I thought I’d share some tips.
Love these tips Tamara! I used to use cookie cutters quite a bit but had not thought of putting on a skewer! Great idea. We still make and eat trail mix a lot!
Homemade trail mix is one of my favorite snacks! Of course I tend to go overboard with the.. chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and M&Ms..
Love that you use cookie cutters to cut cute shapes! Smart idea 🙂
I can’t even remember where I first saw that tip, but it makes me happy! I gave her the “I love you” cheese today, as a surprise.
Melanie Zelnick says
So fun! I LOVE your cute lunches!
Melanie @ meandmr.com
Thanks! I have to make it fun, otherwise I’ll go insane. I’m pretty much domestically baffled in life.
GiGi Eats Celebrities says
My mom was THE WORST lunch packer ever when I was little – I wound up throwing away her TUNA salad sandwiches on EZEKIEL BREAD every day… Teachers caught on…. They thought I had an eating disorder and I then had to eat my lunch in the classroom under their supervision! WOMP WOMP!
Ok, I am both laughing and horrified. Horrified that they would assume that! Boo on them. Sometimes lunches suck.
During Passover, my parents decided to be Jewish like the one week of the year but they had no idea what to pack us. So I’d get a matzoh sandwich and an apple. I would be so hungry.
GiGi Eats Celebrities says
I did love me some matzoh ball soup when I was younger though! All my friends were Jewish… So I loveeeee Jewish foods 🙂
It’s SO good!! Have you GiGi-fied any great Jewish food? I’m certain I’ve seen you talk about bagels, right? Or was that doughnuts?? Hmm…
I’m not help – my kids had pb&j every day! They did love Danimals though!
Hey, that’s good! My dad had pb&j every day of his life. In adulthood. He was a teacher. Personally I don’t even like jelly so it’s out for me.
I’ve been working on a post about school lunches, and so many of these tips are included in what I was writing! Everything from the sectioned containers to packing it all before the week starts. Though T would say her lunches aren’t as good as yours because I don’t pull out the cookie cutters. (I should, we have a giant container full of them!)
I can’t wait to read it!! I am going to do a review for Yumbox Lunch. Have you seen them? Des’ daycare teacher gave me the heads up about them.
Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says
My boys love Danimals. Pretty much as soon as I buy them, the kids devour them.
I can imagine! My kids are three and six and went through a 12 pack in TWO days. I bet your boys could do it in one?
I think I’ve given up on packing my own lunch, but then again perhaps I just need to plan a bit better. Not having kids means there’s no pressure to look after my lunch budget… until I realise how much I’ve spent in a week!
ha! I so hear that. I used to work in an office. The plus side is that we had lunch and learns twice a week with catered food. Oh, how I miss sales.
Christine M Luken (@FinLifeGrd) says
Great tips for school lunches! I love how you make things fun with star and heart shaped cheese. 🙂
Thanks! I am still five at heart, because I will eat heart-shaped anything.
I like your cookie cutter idea really cute 🙂
my daughter does buy the lunch at school. we get it at a reduced price so it is cheaper than making our own. I love those crazy straws 🙂
That’s nice about the reduced lunch. We all need reasonable options.
Crazy straws are a huge hit here!
We’re not allowed to bring our own lunches. Either the kids come home for lunch( we have 2 hours) or they eat what’s served at the cantine. But if I made my lunches I would aspire to THAT!
I kinda wish I wasn’t allowed.. but I suppose there are pros and cons to everything.
My son gets two meals at daycare and I want to throw my arms around the teachers there every day. He eats kale and tempeh at daycare. And he naps easily there.
Eli Pacheco says
Scarlet’s got it right! I love the idea of using a drink box as an ice pack, because most of our ice packs get used for after-soccer injuries.
Marie wasn’t happy with school-day breakfast or lunch, so we talked about what she’d like to have. Not what society wants us to have. so now, she makes a morning shake of milk, cocoa, bananas and sometimes strawberries. She packs granola bars, a sandwich, and a container of suddenly salad. She packs more, too, because she’s hungrier than she used to be. I think by making the lunch plan her own, and breakfast, too, she got to give herself exactly what she’d want to eat.
Did I tell you that yesterday I sort of.. sprained my ankle? It was really weird. I think I just stretched ligaments, and didn’t tear any. Anyway, the moral of the story is that I used Scarlet’s juice box to ice it. And then a bag of frozen corn.
I like Marie’s style!
You’re doing way better than when it comes to school lunches 🙂 I’d be thrilled to open that lunch box. Your cookie cutters are so cute! And yes I agree on the ice packs—well worth it to keep food fresh and cool.
I’m so glad! I always think I fail at school lunches because you never know what they’ll eat or not eat. It changes!
I miss making cute lunches for my kids. They’re older and all they care about is taste and bulk, but they would still love to have a Danimals smoothie in their bag.
I hear that. Although my son is younger than my daughter and can drink three Danimals for every one she drinks!
Heather D. (@GirlGoneMom) says
My kids are so picky. Making lunches is the worst thing about school 🙂
Honestly, I have to agree with you. It’s a challenge I’m trying to conquer! Although paperwork and meetings also give me the creeps.
My kids are pretty good eaters. I try and pack a lunch that’s got all the four food groups and a little treat as well. Haven’t dug out the cookie cutters but the youngest would be totally ok with star shaped cheese 🙂
The older two…not so much! LOL!
ha! That’s hilarious. Can you imagine if you packed star-shaped cheese for them? I packed the “I love you” cheese for my first grader yesterday and I so wonder how long I have for her to appreciate that, instead of being embarrassed.
So far, so good.
My kids loved “dip lunches” where I sent a couple of dips and lots of things to dip in them. It was a good way to vary their school lunches.
I love that so much. It reminds me of going to the Melting Pot restaurant and having an entire meal based around cheese or chocolate. Ah, if only I could live on that..
Seattle Travel Blogger says
I love the idea of being inspired by fondue. When you put it that way, I think I could come up with a bunch of ideas!
Have you ever been to the Melting Pot restaurant? I really could just eat cheese dip for lunch and be happy.
Trisha Grimes (@MommaTBlog) says
My daughter doesn’t have lunch at school (she’s in half day pre-k) but if she did, there would definitely be Danimals smoothies in her lunch box! She loves the smoothies and they make a great before or after school snack!
My son can drink three Danimals in one sitting, so maybe it’s good he gets two meals at daycare! ha!
I love this post Tamara! My daughter has celiac so I have to pack her lunch every day, starting three years ago in pre-K, so I’ve gotten kinda good at it, ha !! But I definitely go through redundant phases, so thank you for some great ideas. I will definitely check out those smoothies. I also love LOVE making shapes out of, well, everything, but that orange and white cheese (colby slices?) look awesome. Final thought: I am in love with our Planet Box which is stainless steel with magnets on the front (which you can switch up and even customize) and has compartments which I think is crucial for my brain.
Oh wow – I don’t think I knew she had celiac. It’s on the brain because I know quite a few people with it – all diagnosed at various ages – and sometimes I bake differently because of my friends. They always appreciate it!
The colby slices were bought in bulk at Sam’s Club. We have way too many!
I need something new for Scarlet (probably as evidenced in the post). I’ve heard Planet Box is awesome, and I may be doing a blog review in exchange for a YumBox. I hope so!
Liz Mays says
I like the idea of building a lunch around a dip. There are so many ways you could do that!
It’s funny because I find myself doing that at home a LOT. Usually with hummus. So I then thought it would be possible to do it in a lunchbox.
Sonya K says
Luckily, since we homeschool I don’t have to worry about packing a lunch each day. For my son his standard lunch is usually spaghetti. For my daughter it’s just what ever I happen to cook. If I don’t have anything planned or need something quick then I’ll make a grilled chese sandwich with fruit on the side.
Spaghetti! That actually sounds totally awesome.
Grilled cheese and fruit too.
Those Ice packs are life Savers I tell you .. I was wondering how you got that cheese to look so cool .. then I saw the Cookie Cutters … I like the presentation of the lunch .. I would say you nailed this one
Yeah, I definitely can’t cut cheese that well! I would laugh if I tried. Cookie cutters to the rescue!
Bev Feldman @ Linkouture says
Ah, that’s such a good idea to use a drink as a cold pack. Cold packs take up so much space which means less space for food, so this is ingenious. I also saw someone use a frozen sponge soaked with water which then the kid can use to wipe up with afterwards. Though, not that I think about it, I don’t know too many children who make the effort to wipe down their spot after they’re done eating….
I read that tip about the sponge! Oh if only Scarlet would use it and not be mad at me about it.
Angela Gilmore says
Omg please tell me you are going to post more pics of your lunches! I have a strange obsession with pics of school lunches. Have you ever seen 100 Days of Real Food? That site sucks me in for hours at a time with just school lunches! And yours look amazing, they actually made me hungry. My dream is to be a mast lunch preparer, and I think I can get there by the time jack needs it
I agree about the compartments. I put jacks dinner in three compartment plates every night and it reminds me to add veggies, fruits, and proteins. Otherwise he would probably just get big bowls of pasta every night!
I totally am! I’m doing a review for Yumbox soon – I contacted them and they said yes and I was so thrilled! So I’ll need to fill those awesome lunchboxes with so much!!
They have four compartment or six compartment boxes. Obviously, I chose six.
Angela Gilmore says
And by mast I mean master
I sort of loved it! I honestly barely noticed.
My kids love this Danimal shakes! I was so happy to find them on sale at Costco last week!
Nice about the sale! We went through a 12-pack in TWO days. I guess I need to buy a lot more than I had!
We are a fan of the danimals! But I do not have the time nor patience to make such fancy lunches 😉 The chef at my sons school is fantastic and I often get jealous of his delicious and nutritious menus.
I think it’s safe to say that if my daughter’s school had a chef, oh boy, I’d never pack a lunch.
Des’ daycare provides two meals and they’re GOOD. Like, he eats kale and tempeh and a million other things at daycare, but not at home. Sob.
Momma, you totally gave me some great ideas! Thank you! I’m definitely in a packing lunch rut (been doing it for 12 years, Good heavens.
12 years! Good heavens is right. I can barely handle it with two kids for a few years.
So cute straw!! I need these tips in my life so thank you. I haven’t packed lunch yet for Reiko because he goes home by 11am so all I do is put biscuits and choco drink in his bag. No creativity at all.
Silly straws are a big “thing” around here!
Biscuits and choco drinks sound awesome, actually.
Between the kids and myself, I am hard pressed to keep enough of those yogurt smoothies in the fridge! I love to have one after a workout. A big whole smoothie is often too much, and I find this just the right size for a protein punch.
I love the PlanetBox lunch boxes I bought for the girls this year! They are expensive, but they have come home EMPTY every single day since school started. Lunches are so much easier, and clearly more enjoyable.
I almost bought a PlanetBox lunch box, but I couldn’t find a spare $4,000! Ha! I’m getting a Yumbox in the mail. So excited.
oh, I was looking at those too!! but hubby didn’t like the idea of plastic. looking forward to seeing what you think of that type.
honestly, I tweeted to Planetbox how much I like them, and I am going to do a blog post one day about them…. and hopefully said company will notice that I am posting about TWO Planetboxes…. and that I have 3 kids. *cough cough*
Yes! They need to send you three Planetboxes. That will cover a whole year of college for three kids! (just kidding)
or at least hubby’s inhaler cost from when he saw the price!! LOL
You can leave secret endings in lunch boxes to last night I made him a “lunch able” and at the bottom of his meat and cheese pile are little hearts for his crackers. I love making lunches it’s like my calmer at the end of the night , I try to do a main like sandwich, pizza roll thingys, or cracker stackers or pretzel kabobs , a fruit , a yogurt and a “junk” like Rice Krispie pudding or cheeze its
I LOVE that. I will totally borrow that idea, thank you. My kids will thank me.
What about if our child is a very very picky eater. Story of my life. I try to make him lunch from home to save but man this kid is super picky.
My daughter would LOVE to have her food be in different shapes!
What do you so with the leftovers? For example, if you cut out a heart from a block of cheese, what do you do with the empty shape that was left behind?
I don’t know how long this will last, but for now, my son loves the scraps of cheese and bread! I hate to waste anything so I imagine I’d eat them if he didn’t. I just save them up and put them in a little snack container for him.
I don’t know why foods taste better as shapes, but even in my 30’s, I still think so!
I see one problem. You have apples cut up? They turn brown before lunch time. This has happened to me several times.
Patty W. says
I like to put fun things… pancakes, fruit,Maple syrup and yogurt… or rolled up meat cheese cut into fun shapes. Or better yet a theme lunch like all round things or orange colored things… things that rhyme.