Whether you have a child just starting school or you are sick of the same old bologna sandwich and apple, there is a lot to consider when packing your kids’ lunches. But it doesn’t have to be hard. There are solutions for every budget and every circumstance.
Consider Your Containers
There are thousands of food containers at your disposal, available in so many places, from dollar stores to office supply stores to online stores.
First, consider the type of food you’ll be packing. If your child will only eat a jam sandwich, there is no point in investing in a Thermos. But if you pack a variety of foods, a multi pack of different sized containers would work best you. Some lunch boxes even come with their own built-in compartments and containers. Having a variety of containers on hand will help packing small items to big. Try buying one set of containers in various sizes to keep things simple.
Another great option is reusable sandwich wrappers, which are great for the environment, easy for young kids to open, and become a placemat while eating.
Think About Temperature
Keeping food at the right temperature can be a challenge with lunches. You don’t want a warm egg salad sandwich or cold soup. Having an insulated Thermos for warm food is key to keeping things warm until lunch. Packing chilli, leftovers from the night before, chicken nuggets or even hot dogs as a treat are great ways to switch up your lunch routine.
Chilli or soup can be made in large batches and frozen in individual portions for a quick grab and go lunch. Just thaw in the fridge overnight and pop in the microwave in the morning. Sending hot dogs on a Friday can be a fun, end of the week surprise. Simply add hot dogs to your Thermos and top with boiling water. Send buns and condiments alongside and when it’s time to eat the hot water will have kept the hot dogs hot.
Keeping things cold is essential for dairy products or dishes containing mayo or meat. Using a small ice pack is one way to keep food cool. For a reusable, homemade icepack, wet a sponge, place it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it. Frozen juice boxes or yogurts make great ice packs as well. They will thaw by lunchtime and keep everything in the lunch box cool.
Time Saving Strategies
Being organized will help to make packing lunches go smoothly. Buying small snack-sized Ziploc bags and pre portioning food at the start of the week makes packing as simple as grabbing a few bags and going. Pack small bags of cut up vegetables, fruit and cheese and have them in your fridge. Buy your fish crackers, cookies and cereals in bulk and pre-portion them to have in your pantry.
Having these bins of food all ready to go will help you get the kids involved too. Place numbers on the baskets so they know how many items to take from each one. Having the baskets divided by snack foods, fruit and vegetables and dairy/protein will ensure they get a balanced diet every day.
Sick of Sandwiches?
There are so many other things you can bring for lunch that aren’t the standard meat and cheese sandwich. With many schools going peanut-free, choosing food to send to school has become a bit more challenging. Most pre packaged granola bars and snacks are easily identified with the peanut-free symbol, but making your own snacks can be just as safe by ensuring you have a clean work surface at home and choosing recipes that are free of peanut products or by substituting seed butter.
Making anything in a muffin tin gets kids excited. Try mini lasagna, mac and cheese, meatloaf, or mini quiche in muffin tins. Even pancakes made in muffin tins are a fun alternative. Simply make your pancake mix and pour it into muffin tins, add chocolate chips, blueberries or apple and cinnamon to the top, bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes and serve with a side of maple syrup.
Pancakes the traditional way can be used to make a “sandwich.” Fill with jam or cream cheese mixed with maple syrup so it isn’t too messy.
Skewer it! Using lollipop sticks (found at a bulk store, they aren’t as sharp as regular wooden skewers) thread on fruit or cheese, meat and pita pieces. You can send along yogurt dip for fruit, ranch dip for vegetables and cheese kabobs. The possibilities are endless. Even try grilled cheese pieces skewered with cherry tomatoes.
Use an apple slicer to cut your apples or pears and then reassemble them with the core and secure with an elastic band or plastic wrap to prevent them from browning. Soaking apple slices in water and some honey for 10 minutes will prevent browning as well.
If your little one can’t eat a whole banana, try cutting it in half and adding a popsicle stick to the end. Then they simply peel it and they won’t get messy hands.
Cut sandwiches, fruits and cheeses with different cookie cutters. Turning the square sandwich into a star or heart can be all it takes sometimes to make sure the lunch container comes home empty.
Lunches can be challenging, and at times mundane. Switching up your routine and trying something new can add excitement to your children’s everyday meals.