Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reader Request: Lunchbox Ideas

My college friend, Deena, asked me back in May if I would consider doing a blog post on packing school lunches. I was so tired of packing lunches in May that I told her I'd be happy do it if she'd be willing to wait until the fall. Well, I totally spaced it until I found her email buried at the bottom of my inbox last month. I'm most definitely back in my lunch-box-packing-groove these days.

Deena was mainly interested in ideas for different kinds of food to pack. You guys probably have some good ideas to share as well. Here's a list of the stuff I typically buy/pack for my kids. I try to choose something from every group (except treats), and I try to rotate things so the kids don't get bored with their choices.

Peanut butter & jelly (or honey) Thankfully we're not a nut-free school.
Soy nuts
Sunflower seeds
Roasted pumpkin seeds (I buy these at the health food store).
Hot dogs - we like this brand
My kids don't like ham or bologna (bologna, blech!) or most any other lunch meat. They don't even really like sandwiches that much. Most of the time, I just put a few slices of turkey or salami in their lunch.

Yogurt-I stock up when these are on sale.
My kids are not big on dairy products! Pudding is probably more of a treat than a dairy product, but my kids eat so little dairy that I'm okay with it. It's hard for them to get all their daily servings in.

popcorn (I have one of these poppers and I buy my kernels in bulk. SO much cheaper--around .75/lb--and did you know popcorn is a whole grain?)
Z-bars (my kids like chocolate chip and blueberry)
granola bars (The girls like this brand)
trail mix
graham crackers
cheese crackers (CheezIts or Goldfish)
whole grain crackers/regular crackers
dry cereal
muffins (carrot/apple & flaxseed are our faves!)
Sarah begs me to make these bars all the time!

Sugar snap peas
Veggie chips (used to buy some in a blue bag at Walmart but can't find them there anymore)
I just bought these potato snacks. They were very good. But I consider potatoes a carb instead of a veggie.
Hummus (only one of my kids will eat it though)

I think veggies are hard. Sometimes it helps to have a side of ranch for dipping.

The stuff above is what I pack week after week. However, I have one child who LOVES veggies and will ask to take leftover broccoli or green beans or asparagus or edamame or spinach in her lunch. I KNOW! She's the exception to the rule...and a nutritionist's dream child. My other two are pretty anti-vegetable.

Fresh fruit in season
Fruit Leather (I buy this and this)
Pineapple cups. The only fruit cups I will buy (other than applesauce) is pineapple because it's the only one I can find that doesn't have HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) added to it.
Dried apples

This one is EASY for my kids. They love fruit, and I bet yours do too.
However, these are some things I like to keep on hand for when I don't have something fresh on hand, or for the winter months when my kids are tired of apples/oranges.

I really only buy juice boxes when they're on sale and I have a great coupon. I make them drink lots of water (the mean mom!) However, lately I have been buying Gatorade for my older kids...I think it helps them rehydrate after PE. It's super sugary though.

If I DO pack a juice box, I count that as their fruit serving for lunch.

Pudding cups
Rice krispie treats
Sweet breads (banana, zucchini, pumpkin)
Oatmeal creme pies (mmmmm...)
Treats are just that...a TREAT...and not an everyday addition to their lunchboxes.

My middle-schoolers can use a microwave to heat up their lunch. Will sometimes takes a hot pocket or some frozen taquitos, but the girls never want to. They prefer a cold lunch. I've never packed soup or leftovers. They just aren't that interested, unless it's pizza, and then they fight over the leftovers. They like it cold though. Weird.

As far as lunchboxes go, everyone has a soft, insulated one. I think that the BentoBox is so cool (and eco-friendly), but a bit too pricey for me. I feel like we're pretty "green" but I definitely use WAY too many plastic bags...because it's just easier.

I very rarely buy individually packaged snacks (bars and cheese sticks are exceptions) because it's just so much cheaper to do it myself. I'll often take a bag of baby carrots and divide it up into smaller bags when I get home from the store. Same with grapes and pretzels and nuts/seeds and crackers. Then I can just grab and go when I'm packing lunches in the mornings.

I tend to pack lunches before school each morning, but if I know I'm going to be rushed I do it the night before.

I take nutrition pretty seriously, and that's why you don't see lots of junk food on my lists. I do buy junk food (Doritos are my weakness) but I try to limit it. I also try to avoid sugar, but I should confess that haven't been very diligent about it for awhile now.

I'm obviously no expert, but just like many of you I have been packing lunches for years! Please, please, please feel free to help me out of my rut and share your great ideas!!! I'm always on the lookout for new and healthy (or semi-healthy) ideas.


Stephanie said...

I don't pack lunches except for my husband's!, and he is perfectly happy with the same thing every day (bologna - GOOD bologna from the deli though). :)

One thing I thought of instead of gatorade - do your kids like propel? I think it's about the same price and lots less sugar. We love it around here - but I don't buy it often because we all drink it way too fast. :)

Deena said...

Thank you so much! This is a great list!

Moriah @ Please Pass the Salt said...

A funny little Madeline-lunch story (now that she's entered the preschool lunch ranks)... I'd packed the same thing for the first week or two, and then switched it up a little. That day when she got in the car she said "MOM! YOU DIDN'T PUT ____ IN MY LUNCH!"

Clearly she thought you were SUPPOSED to have the same thing every single every day.

(Why yes! I give the girl what she wants! Easy!!)

Becca~CapturingSimpleJoys said...

Great list! That's our fav granola bar and fruit leather...and many other things as well with some suggestions that's I'll try!

PS. Hope you're girls are feeling better!

OhioFamOf4 said...

I'm not packing lunches yet, but love to hear what people do. I get most of my kids' snacks at Trader Joe's (Don't throw things at me, I know you aren't by TJ's any more).

Do you have Meijer stores out there? They have a store brand of pretzels that I love to buy. They're shaped like letters and are the only pretzels I've found without HFCS in them.

We love cereal as a snack, too, I'm glad I'm not the only one.

On cheat days I let them eat colored marshmallows. Sometimes I'll make a trail mix with popcorn, marshmallows, cereal, craisins, etc. kind of whatever I have on-hand. If they start picking out certain items though then they don't get it for awhile. :-)

Tiffani said...

well, since we don't pack lunches, I can do some "hot meals" for them but you gave me some great new ideas...

Seriously, lunch is the meal of the day I CANNOT STAND!!!

Trish said...

Thanks for sharing this! My husband and I were just talking about school lunches. The village that we have been living in has an AMAZING school lunch (and breakfast) program. Everything is homemade, balanced, nutritious and delicious and it is very affordable ($2 lunch/$1 breakfast). With the cost of groceries here that is much cheaper than what i can make lunch for so my kids have been having hot lunch nearly every day (unless it's something that they don't like!) I did call the school in the village that we are moving to and found out that lunch is $4! So we are going to be making lunches again. My boys have always been enamored with Lunchables and we never buy them because of the low nutritional value. So we often make our own 'lunchables'; cheese, crackers, and turkey pepperoni.

My boys also LOVE peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Unfortunately my kids have discovered that there is bread other than nutritious bread out there and are kind of on a sandwich revolt right now because I won't buy white bread!

I do love those Bento lunch boxes!!

Carpool Queen said...

I do a lot of wraps - a few pieces of lunchmeat and a slice of cheese rolled up in a tortilla with a toothpick.

Apparently the toothpick is the draw.

My boys love leftovers, so I send in a hot lunch in their insulated thermos.

Gretchen said...

We are very repetitious and very boring, so I lurved your ideas. I confess that now I'm buying a lot of prepackaged schtuff b/c I'm hearing the "So and so gave me some of this, and I liked it and can we get some?". Also, the easier I make it on her, the more likely J is to pack her own lunch. A win for me.

jeanie@mageditor.blogspot.com said...

This sounds disgusting and I personally think they are horrible but my kids have always loved this.
Flour tortilla spread with soft cream cheese, slice of ham then a pickle spear in the middle. Roll it all up like a burrito and slice it into pieces like sushi. I also make them with just a carrot stick in the middle when we are out of pickles.
Egg salad and pasta salad are staples in my kids lunchbags.
My poor husband gets the same lunch every day of his life. Ham sandwich, banana. He loves it but I think it's incredibly boring.
I love your list Meredith! It gave me a lot of new ideas for lunches. I think they are so hard to pack because they require so much stuff! I always feel as if locusts have swarmed my kitchen after packing the lunches. All of a sudden I need to run to the grocery store again! :)

O Mom said...

Quesadillas are a good one too. They can eat them cold or warm them up in the school's micro. You can alternate types of cheeses too.

Tami said...

Great ideas and a lot of things we are doing as well. We buy the same Z-bars and fruit leather. My son takes his lunch most of the time, with an occasional hot lunch.

Jennifer said...

hello, I randomly found your blog somehow while blog hopping today. My list looks almost identical to yours. I feel very excited when I see others eating so healthy and trying to make good food choices for their kids. I too feel that I'm in a rut at times..let's face it- it's just harder to pack a healthy lunch. I know you mentioned Laptop Lunches....I got my son a very cool lunch box this year and we LOVE it. It's very pricy but has been worth every penny. I never use plastic baggies anymore. www.citizenpip.com It's the safe plastic and stainless steel that's safer for foods)

A few things to add to your list (hopefully I'm not repeating....I can't look back at what you listed so going off memory)

* Annies Cheddar bunnies (like goldfish but better)
* Annies Mac and Cheese- it's organic and I got the insulated thermos with his lunch set and I can cook it in the morning and it keeps warm until his lunch time.

A good replacement for Gatorade (since the first or second ingredient is HFCS) is pure coconut water. It's a natural way to restore electrolytes. I find it at my Kroger in the health section.

Janet Lea said...

Given me a few ideas :)