One of the things I dread most about the start of the school year is the nightly packing of lunches. My son prefers to bring lunch from home, though, in all honesty, I’m not sure he eats that much better than he would if he were taking the school’s hot lunch. Lunchbox packing feels like a never ending challenge to find 3-5 foods my son will consistently eat and not waste. Tell me I’m not alone in this struggle, please.
I got desperate towards the end of last year, and caved and bought Lunchables. Yes, the over-preserved meat and cheese “product” disturbed me and the tiny pita + ketchup “pizzas” seemed gross in my mind, but it was just about the only way I could get my seven-year-old to eat something during the school day. It was the last month of school and I was just OVER throwing away whole (or half) sandwiches that had come back untouched.
After successfully surviving the first week back to school, I think I may have stumbled upon the solution our lunch conundrum. This year, I’m sticking with Bento-style lunches, or as kiddo calls them, “snacky lunch.” I’ve realized (over the summer) that the only way to consistently get my son to eat is to give him a balanced meal of random finger foods. Somehow eating them feels less daunting and he finishes a “snacky lunch” with little to no arguing or bargaining (unlike dinner, which is a whole ‘nother battle, sigh).
The lunchbox I purchased for this year was from Costco. It came with an ice pack and netted slot to hold it, and the large main compartment expands to double its size by unzipping an expansion zipper. Also included is a reusable divided container with snap tight lid that fits perfectly in the lunch box. (I believe the lunch box was $13.99, though it has since been reduced to $10.99 if you can find it in a Costco store near you.)
Prior to purchasing the lunch box, I’d done a bit of research on lunchboxes and learned that most boxes out there don’t actually keep food cold enough to remain safe to eat beyond two hours. (Scary! No one wants to be the “kid who barfed at school.”) So to ensure my kiddo’s lunch stays safe to eat, I’ve been including the ice pack, freezing his drink (water or 100% juice) and keeping the entire lunch in the fridge until it’s time to leave for school. Good Housekeeping recommends packing non-perishable food items as much as possible to prevent issues with food spoilage.
Here are some of the kid-approved “snacky lunch” foods we’ll be packing this year to help give you some ideas, in case you have a picky kiddo too! (I’ve tried to select mostly affordable foods with minimal preservatives and fillers and of a good quality)
- Turkey pepperoni (Hormel makes the turkey version)
- Turkey lunch-meat (nitrate-free)
- Rolled up roast beef
- *Peanut butter (Jif and Justin’s make convenient packable pouches)
- Roasted almonds
- Sliced all-beef hotdogs (we like Hebrew National brand)
- String cheese
- Cheddar or Swiss, cubes or slices
- Yogurt tubes (Yoplait Simply GoGurt or Stoneyfield Farms)
- Cream cheese (spread on mini-whole wheat bagels)
- Snapea Crisps
- Whole-grain dry cereals
- Wheat Thins
- Whole wheat mini bagels or pita
- Pita chips
- Goldfish crackers
- Oyster crackers
- Tortillas, cut into strips
- Cooked whole-grain pasta in fun shapes (cook at the beginning of the week and portion out)
Fruits and Vegetables
- Grapes or cherry tomatoes (slice in half, do it easily with this tip)
- Pineapple tidbits
- Apple slices
- Sliced sweet peppers (orange, yellow, red)
- *Celery with peanut butter
- Baby carrots or broccoli florets with ranch dip
- Cuties/mandarin oranges/clementines
- Raspberries, strawberries
- Bananas (half a banana usually fits in a lunch nicely)
- Apple sauce squeeze pouches (come in various flavors at Target & Trader Joe’s)
I hope this list of ideas helps some of my fellow parents out there to pack a lunch that doesn’t come back home uneaten. I also wanted to quickly point out two additional quick lunch related tips:
- Apparently, the “cool” parents at my son’s school write kid-appropriate jokes on their child’s napkins, then pack them in their lunch. This appears to go over like gangbusters. Here’s a site with some kid-appropriate jokes if you’d like to try this.
- ALL Fresno Unified students are able to receive FREE lunches and breakfasts this year. So, if your child isn’t as close-minded as mine about school lunch, he or she may actually find that the school lunch isn’t half bad and it will help your family’s budget, too!
Good luck and happy lunching, FresYes families!
*Due to the severity of some children’s peanut allergies, you should check with your child’s teacher at the start of the year to ensure there are no students with a severe allergy in your child’s class prior to packing items that contain peanut butter.