Thursday, August 22, 2013

What's in the Lunchbox?

Got the notebooks and the crayons. New shoes and outfits. New backpacks and lunch boxes.  Oh! Lunchboxes! What are you going to put in those things?

Lunch packing stuff: lunch box, reusable drink bottle, reusable plastic container, thermos
Like many of you, I pack my kids' lunches on most days. I'm not so much concerned about them eating chicken nuggets or hamburgers everyday, because we provide some balance with breakfast and dinner; I'm more concerned that they will spend all their lunch money on ice cream and cookies.  (And yes, they will.)  

It would be easiest to make a stack of 180 peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and dole them out day-by-day, but kids do enjoy variety in their lunches (don't we all?) and that's where the challenge lies.  I have a basic formula for lunch and then I work within that plan.
  • Protein - usually meat and/or cheese, but also consider beans and tofu if your kid likes that
  • Carbs/bread - although I need to watch my carb intake, the kids are running around at recess and after school sports, so they're fine
  • Fruit/Veggie - on a good day, they get both, but I strive for at least one. Fresh fruit, apple sauce, carrot sticks, V8 drinks
  • Snack - Sometimes its graham crackers, other days chocolate chip cookies. Pretzels or veggie chips.  Those tube yogurt things, frozen. Whatever, it's their little treat.  If your kid stays after school for whatever reason or has a long bus ride home, then this can be their after-school snack.
  • Beverage - water, juice, milk. I like to use the re-usable, plastic juice bottles (I feel like I'm saving the planet), but do send juice boxes every now and then, especially for field trips. We get the milk boxes because no-one wants to carry around a milky juice bottle all day.

I asked my little folks what were some good lunch ideas to share in this post; here they are.
Lunch options: make-your-own lunchables, wraps, fruit, frozen yogurt
Quesadillas - They are so versatile and a great use of leftovers, but do take a few minutes of prep time.  I cook them on the stove, but if you're really pressed, you can wrap them in foil and stick them in the oven while you go brush your teeth.  Wrap them in foil and they are warm enough by lunch time.  I gave more details on how to put them together in this other post; they're also great for a quick dinner. I like them for both when we are on the go, as well as those nights everyone's on a different schedule, passing each other in the kitchen looking for food.

Wraps, pitas - These are variations of the basic 2 slices of bread sandwich.  Tortilla wraps & pita pockets both come in different sizes and wheat-i-ness (whole, corn, flour, white, etc.) to keep things interesting.  (I stuff them with whatever meat & cheese, sneak in some spinach leaves or shredded carrots, and top with a little bit of ranch dressing (kids love food with ranch dressing.)  I like that you can use sandwich fillings that might be more messy with regular bread, like chicken salad.

Fried rice - Another great use for leftovers, for lunch or dinner.  A friend asked for a recipe and it's really simple. Ingredients: rice (we always have the sticky kind), chopped meat or tofu (if desired), chopped veggies - carrots, green onions, mushrooms work well, an egg.  Heat sesame oil in a pan (wok pan if you have one, large frying pan if you don't).  Heat any meat/tofu until warm. Add any raw vegetables, cook, but not too soft. Add rice, an egg, and just a little bit of soy sauce and stir all together. If you like, you can add minced garlic or sesame seeds.  When it's all mixed and heated, you're done. Easy, right?

"Lunchables" - The folks who make Lunchables are like geniuses. Take some cold cuts, cheese, and crackers, put it in a box and give it a cute name and kids go crazy. And then, if they are over 5 years old, they get hungry. Make your own, with whatever you want. Get a reusable box with compartments (from Target, Container Store, grocery store) and fill it with a variety of your kid's favorite food.  Good option for the kid who doesn't like sandwiches.

Dinner leftovers - Be sure to have a thermos-type container in your arsenal of lunch stuff and you can send any warmed up mini-meal to school.  Consider cooking extra specifically for lunch.  If you think they'll be bored of the same old thing - change it up. Rotisserie chicken for dinner, chicken salad for lunch.  Spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, meatball sub for lunch.  Chicken fingers for dinner, chicken wraps for lunch.  Be careful of sending soup or anything too saucy for little ones, as it might make a mess when they open it.

Cultural meals? I'd be careful. Even if your kid can't get enough of your curried goat for dinner, re-think sending it in his school lunch. Speaking from experience, from way back when everybody did not think eating sushi or anything wrapped in seaweed was cool, these special family meals don't always draw the attention your kid desires in the school cafeteria. 

Have fun, eat well, and don't stress. There's always peanut butter and jelly.

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Robyn B said...

Love the make your own lunchables! Noah buys his lunch. Blake packs. She likes string cheese, yogurt, granola bars, turkey wraps. Another great idea for the child that doesn't like sandwiches is: almonds, berries, cheese and apple slices.

Mommyx4 said...

Good suggestion - a well rounded, nutritious mix of nuts, berries, cheese, and fruits is great, too.