At the beginning of this recent fourth-grade school year for Rabbit, I made a commitment to pack a healthy an appealing lunch for my daughter every day for school. I’ve taken pictures of every lunch I’ve packed – first this started as a fun thing for my facebook friends and then I wanted to keep track because I wanted to have some ideas down the line.
My daughter told me about their hot lunch program and I’ve looked at the menus. There is a lot of highly processed food being served, chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, cookie dough (seriously) and other stuff that raised my eyebrows. Rabbit also recounted how little time they have to eat between getting to the cafeteria, standing in line, finding a table and then having to get up, put away their trays and then get back to class. They have a 25 minute window for all of that, which leaves them roughly nine to eleven minutes to actually EAT. By taking her own lunch, she bypasses the line and can start sooner, and then what she can’t finish, she’s allowed to have as a snack at her after school program if she would like.
I get a lot of questions about the lunches I pack for my daughter to take to school. Believe you me, I am NOT the perfectly clean house have it all together plan theme parties apron and pearls mom. I’m doing well to have the dishes done every day and keep the living room clean. My home office is a disaster area and some nights this past year, we had cereal for dinner.
That being said, here are some frequently asked questions and my answers below:
What kind of lunchbox do you use?
I pack my daughter’s lunch in the Easy Lunchboxes container, and it fits perfectly into the Easy Lunchboxes insulated tote. (Rabbit’s current lunchbox set includes four divided plastic containers and the tote – all of which were a gift last year from a reader of this blog!) The makers of these lunchboxes don’t know a thing about me and I’m not getting any promotional consideration for recommending them – they’re just that good. The images below are from Amazon, from the product descriptions.
The containers are not 100% leakproof, so packing liquid-y things like pudding or fruit cocktail or cottage cheese was tricky. The company came out with a really cute set of tiny lidded containers (“Mini-Dippers”) that fit inside the divided container, and I recently got a set of those. They’re great for small servings of extras, or for dips/dressings.
Where did you get the other containers and picks for the lunchboxes?
To make your lunch, you don’t need a lot of extras, but it’s way more fun to make a lunch (and way more fun to eat it) if there are little extra touches.
I love the silicone cupcake liners I bought off Amazon to put other things inside the lunch and keep them divided from the rest of the food. In addition, I found a cheap set of tiny plastic lidded containers that hold about an ounce, for less than $2.00 at Big Lots near their plastic wrap and baskets aisle. They’re washable and reusable and perfect for dips.
In one picture, you’ll see a silicone tube (I think I used it to pack applesauce) that is part of a set I got on Amazon. They’re intended for making frozen pops with yogurt or fruit and juice. We’ve frozen pudding in them and Rabbit loves them.
Also on Amazon, I got a set of plastic animal shaped picks to put in food (and for Rabbit to use to skewer items to eat), a set of aluminum punch cutters to cut cheese, apples, etc into shapes, and a set of sandwich cutters to cut the shapes you saw in some of the sandwiches (the frog, the princess, the crown, etc.) They were pretty reasonably priced and I didn’t buy everything at once.
How long do you spend putting these lunches together??
This is the question I get the most and the answer is: not very long. I make Rabbit’s lunch the night before and then put it in the fridge, along with her water bottle. I also make sure the flat ice pack we use is in the freezer overnight. If there’s room in the fridge, I will put the container inside the insulated tote all together, otherwise I put it in the tote in the morning for Rabbit to take with her to the car when we leave to take her to school.
It usually takes about 15 minutes at the most to make the lunch and I generally do it after Rabbit is in bed and everything else in the kitchen is done so I have some extra time. I don’t do “theme” lunches like some of the competitive bento moms do, so I just have to concentrate on making sure she has a fruit or vegetable, plenty of protein, some dairy if possible, something sweet or salty and something to drink.
How do you plan out what you’re going to put in her lunch?
Here’s my secret: I usually don’t know until right before I make the lunch what it’s going to be. On the Easy Lunchboxes website, there is a gallery of lunches that customers have made and sent pictures in – they’re fun to look through for ideas. I also do Pinterest searches for lunchbox ideas as well, and that’s been good for inspiration.
Of course, when I get groceries, there are set items I make sure we have plenty of in order to make lunches: cheese, peanut butter, carrots/celery, fruit, bread or tortillas.
Then the rest of the rotation consists of things I’ll put in a few times a week and then take a break from so Rabbit isn’t sick of them: kale chips, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, deviled eggs, fig newtons, raisins.
I’ve been blessed with a child who doesn’t turn up her nose at leftovers: fried chicken, pizza, chicken breast from last night’s dinner, cold roasted oven potatoes, leftover stew (in a thermos), cold meatballs, meatloaf (she loves meatloaf sandwiches), cold pasta made into salad.
If I see something fun at Trader Joe’s –and when don’t I???– I will stock up and keep things in a couple of baskets in the pantry: cereal and fruit bars, veggie chips, special crackers, some dark chocolate, cat-shaped cookies, triple ginger snaps, almonds, chocolate-almond spread (like Nutella only better). And in the fridge: string cheese, Baby Bel cheese (way cheaper at TJs than anywhere else, roughly 50 cents for each one), pickles, olives, cream cheese and so on.
And now I’m hungry.
I’m not creative so I can’t do this – I just can’t compete with these lunches.
Oh, PUH-LEEEEEZE. Seriously, I’ve had people say this to me, and here’s my answer: stop it. It’s not about being creative or I would be spending hours making THESE:
Those are creative – and time consuming – and completely crazy. All a little kid needs in his or her lunch is to know you put it together for them, you want them to have something nice, and that you care. Sometimes I put a note in Rabbit’s lunch, sometimes an extra treat like candy. And the best thing is that I know exactly what she’s eating and how much she’s eating, what she likes and what she ignores in her lunches.
I’ll take that over institutionalized food any day of the week.