I really, really, really like my kids. I also really, really, really like when my kids are in school.
But know the one thing that makes me most excited about in-service days or extended school breaks?
NOT HAVING TO MAKE LUNCHBOXES. Can I get an Amen?
I think I have a pretty minimal approach to packing lunchboxes (shocking), but it still takes time and effort every day.
After over 6 years of packing school lunches (the kids had hot meals provided for them at preschool), here is my current system.
I Stick to specific categories
VEGGIES | (almost always raw, but if I send something like hot vegetable soup in a Thermos, I won’t include raw veggies on the side).
- carrot sticks, broccoli, cucumber, green beans, baby tomatoes. I almost always have baby carrots on hand. One child prefers broccoli; the other tomatoes. I try to balance out preferences based on what’s on sale/seasonality (our neighbours, for example, give us loads of delicious tiny tomatoes each fall, so tomatoes feature heavily in September lunchboxes). Neither child likes snap peas, so those don’t end up in lunchboxes.
FRUIT | (75% of the time this is fresh; the rest of the time it is an unsweetened applesauce cup).
- kiwi (the kids prefer kiwi with the peel left on, so this is so easy), apple slices, grapes (one child’s favourite), fresh berries (another child’s favourite, but they don’t always travel well), orange slices.
“MAIN” COURSE | 9 days out of 10 this is a sandwich. Either ham/cheese/spinach, tuna/spinach, egg salad, or butter and jam. Sometimes I’ll send hummus and pita wedges. A few times a month I’ll send hot food in a Thermos. Originally I was aiming to do this once a week but the Thermos’ can be tricky to open, the food is never fully hot by the time they get to it, and leftovers can make a mess of their lunchbox if the lids don’t get secured properly. So I’ve mostly stopped trying, especially with soup. If we have leftover pasta or something that really holds together I sometimes send it along, but the kids prefer a small sandwich and hodge-podge of other items and it’s easier for me.
I used to send hard-boiled eggs regularly, but these tend to get quite messy if the kids take a bite at snack and then don’t finish it until lunch and egg yolk gets mixed up with carrots sticks and rice crackers. Yuck.
DESSERT | this is usually a small cookie. I used to make seed-and-date energy balls…but they’re just not as good as the nut-butter variety (we have a peanut-free school, which I think is mostly standard these days). Sometimes I send our go-to muffins. I never send anything overtly messy (i.e. no slices of cake with frosting)!
When Abby started school, I used to only send dessert on Fridays but I’ve mellowed with age and it’s a nice little boost in their lunchbox.
MISC | popcorn or crackers; sunflower or pumpkin seeds; individual packets of Nori, dried fruit (figs, dates, raisins), a granola bar.
WATER | Each child takes a full water bottle (insulated stainless steel so the water stays cold). No juice (ever) or milk (ever). Just water. They’re able to refill their water bottles at school as needed.
how do you package the lunches?
We have reusable (BPA-free) bags that are both adorable and functional and of a unique firmness. They can stand upright and are quite tricky to seal, but really protect the food within; I’ll use these for apple slices, popcorn, or other things that are hard to fit in a small container.
I use the bento-boxes from IKEA. I have two sets of these and they are one of my favourite things ever. They’re a bit of a nuisance to wash (and I wash them by hand), but they’re worth it. It is just so handy to have the separation for different items.
Abby did this a few times in earlier grades (typically on pizza day). It was a hassle; I had to send in money (the exact change) and it was never enough food. So I still had to pack a water bottle and snacks.
Then a few years ago our school switched to an online payment system so I have to log on and…I don’t know…sign over my soul to the school board? For someone that works on computers all day and has helped develop custom software…I tried to figure out the system once, failed miserably, and decided we just won’t buy lunches. I’m sure it’s not rocket science, but it felt akin to that level of complexity.
So Levi has never had a school lunch and I suspect he will continue to learn and survive. It would be convenient sometimes, but even school lunches require thought and effort (and snacks)…
*I’m sure there are lots of schools where the process is more streamlined. If I could just send my kids in with $5.50 to pick a sandwich off the menu, I’d be tempted. This is exactly how my high school cafeteria was set up; no pre-ordering. You just walked through the lunchline and picked out what you wanted. But even pre-COVID this wasn’t the way our school operated (I suspect this is GREAT for reducing food waste, so I’m not complaining).
And that’s it. When the kids come home from school they’re responsible for unpacking their bookbags, including taking all their lunch dishes out of lunchboxes. For a while we had things organized so the kids made their lunches one day a week but, honestly, I found it more work. I still had to make sure we had the right things in the right places and after a few times of siblings coming home complaining they hadn’t had enough food to eat…I was happy to reassume full responsibility. While I am all for independence, this just hasn’t been an area where I really want them taking the lead (yet). Laundry and emptying garbage cans on the other hand…
Your turn! Are you still packing lunchboxes for school-age kiddos? If so, any suggestions on how to kick things up a notch?