One of the great ideas some readers have asked me to post about is lunch packin’ for the upcoming school year. Since my little monkey is just entering preschool this year, I thought I’d turn to a bloggy pal, Big D, over at one of my favorite blogs– Who is the Grown Up? to find out what her Super Mommy Secrets are to packing lunches for her kiddos that she (and they) feel great about!
With the first day of school just around the corner, we’re stocking up on school supplies and mapping out our lunch strategy.
My girls, who are going into 8th and 6th grades, pack their lunches nearly every day. For all the things I love about our school, the meal service is not one of them. (LittleD and BabyD go to the school run by our church. They don’t participate in the federal lunch program, so the administration has contracted with five different fast food restaurants to provide meals. Needless to say, the closest thing to a fruit or vegetable that hits their plates all week is the lettuce on the Subway sandwich… and don’t get me started about the cost!)
Blogging buddy Cris asked me to share some goode school lunch ideas. So here are a few things I’ve learned over time—mostly through trial and error.
The Right Tools
The first step is to start with the right tools. And, if you can manage to raise not-picky kids, that helps, too!
I keep an entire drawer filled with mini containers for packing lunch-sized side items. This includes small Rubbermaid drink containers that my kids take with milk or juice every day. Ice packs are a must. Don’t even bother with the soft-sided ones—they just end up leaking. I actually have an extra ice cube tray from our old fridge that we keep filled with ice packs, so we always have plenty available. (Handy, too, if your kids are like mine and forget to empty their lunch boxes until the next day!)
Lunch boxes/bags are also essential. Make sure they’re easy to wash, because they can get smelly. I like the two-compartment style that provides space for cold items and a Thermos. A good-quality metal Thermos (or two!) gives my girls more meal options, because who wants to eat cold sandwiches every day?
Once you get used to using a Thermos, they are super-easy. The manufacturer’s directions tell you to pre-heat the bottle with hot water. I fill the Thermos with hot water that I microwaved for 2 minutes in a glass measuring cup, replace the lid and let it sit (for at least 10 minutes) while I eat my breakfast. To fill, just heat/microwave the food item. Pour out the water (no need to dry it) just before you fill it with the food and cap it. (It’s a good idea to tuck a rubber jar gripper in the lunch box. Sometimes, the lid seals very tight.)
The Thermoses won’t be getting much of a work-out this year. Now that both girls are in middle school, they are allowed to use the cafeteria microwaves—which, by the way, are way-more cool than a Thermos! However, I still keep them around, because the girls do get tired of waiting in line to cook their food, and sometimes bringing ready-to-eat dishes has its advantages!
What To Pack
Just like making dinner, sometimes the biggest challenge is figuring out what to make!
Early on, we established a basic equation for an acceptable lunch in our house:
One protein + one veg + one fruit + one dairy
(treat and chips optional)
The girls mostly pack their own meals these days, and they’re really good about sticking to the formula.
While my daughters enjoy a PB&J as much as any kid, they generally like taking left-over “real food” for lunch. So, when I’m making family favorites for supper, I’ll intentionally make extra. As I clean up and put the food away, I try to package it in ready-to-go servings and containers. That makes morning meal packing a matter of grab-and-go.
Favorite left-overs include:
-meat loaf and mashed potatoes (which pack very well, in two layers, in a Thermos)
-sliced grilled chicken or pork chops
-mac and cheese
-quesadillas with chicken and black beans
My kids are not huge fans of lunch meat, but we throw that into the mix once in a while, just for variety. LittleD likes to make wraps with sliced roast beef or turkey or strips of grilled chicken on a tortilla, with spinach, shredded carrots, cheese, dried cranberries and a little ranch dressing. (Shredding the carrots with a veggie peeler is a good way to work them into wraps.) Wrap tightly in foil.
For those running-late mornings, I try to keep the freezer stocked with grab-and-go items they can heat up, like BabyD’s absolute favorite: Cris’ Brown Bag Burritos. They also like chicken nuggets and popcorn shrimp.
I try to keep carrot sticks in the fridge at all times. Although, my girls don’t mind cold, cooked veggies like green beans, broccoli and carrots. Likewise with fruit, like grapes, bananas, apples, or whatever is on sale. I also keep cheese and yogurt in the fridge.
For those times when we don’t have much in the way of left-overs, I do keep some canned items on hand that the girls can open and portion-out into smaller containers. Sometimes it’s about convenience, and sometimes it’s about variety.
And, believe it or not, if all else fails, once in a while, the kids actually like to take dry cereal that they can pour milk over and eat at lunch time. Which makes no sense… since they don’t eat a lot of cereal for breakfast… Go figure.
If you have other lunch ideas, Cris and I would love to hear them!
Thanks for your Super Mommy Secrets Big D!
Truth be told, I believe every mama does! How else do we keep it all together?
It could be a special recipe or tip. Or, even a philosophy on how you handle situations.
If you have a “Secret” you would like share, just pop me a note at crisgoode (at) gmail (dot) com.
Linked to: Works for Me Wednesday
I am the mama behind GOODEness Gracious and the owner of Cris Goode Solutions. Here at GOODEness Gracious, we like to keep it light and fun as we cook up family meals, share our super mommy secrets and chat it up about the GOODe life:) So come on in and sit a spell.