We are only three weeks into the new school year and I’ve already lost my enthusiasm for packing lunchboxes. I thought I would last until at least Christmas before I grew tired of the lunchbox chore, but no such luck. Frank and Claire need a lunch and a snack packed for them Monday through Friday (sadly their elementary school doesn’t have a hot lunch option). I can’t send food that needs to be heated up, the lunch can’t contain nuts of any kind. Eggs are also not allowed unless they are baked into a muffin or bread for example. There is actually a long list of no-no foods including chips, yogurt (except plain), fruit snacks, cereal/granola bars, or sweets of any kind. Cue me scratching my head every morning and thinking, “What in the world will I send to school today?”
I decided to compile a list of simple foods that I can refer to when I’m going grocery shopping, and again when it’s morning time and the pressure is on to quickly fill those boxes. In a five-day week they’ll generally have the exact same lunch every day, however after the first 2-3 days the ‘main’ will change. I find it easier to plan, buy and prep when I know it will get us through multiple days rather than just one. I also decided that I wouldn’t take any input from the twins on what goes inside. If I asked, they would request peanut butter sandwiches, popcorn and fruit snacks which I can’t send anyway save for the popcorn, so it’s better if I just pack it quickly by myself when they’re occupied elsewhere. Also, hunger makes a great sauce, so when it’s lunchtime at school and they are starving I find that they’re more likely to eat something that they might not eat at home.
They each have a stainless steel lunchbox that has 4 compartments. We’ve been using these for quite a few years now for small lunches and snacks, but this is the first time they’ve needed a full meal and a snack during the day. I’ve decided to see how it goes just continuing to use those containers and filling up the compartments with more food. If they feel that it’s not enough I’ll add another container, but to be honest I don’t really fancy washing more containers at the end of every day so I’m hoping I can get away it!
Deli wrap: Take a whole wheat wrap and spread a thin layer of cream cheese on it. Then apply thinly sliced cucumber and a little ham or turkey or chicken. Roll it up and slice into little bit size pieces.
Leftovers: Things like tacos, roast chicken, pulled pork, meatball sliders, and pesto pasta with chicken make great lunches so I always cook extra when we’re having these foods for dinner.
Chicken salad on whole wheat: I make this with canned chicken or if I have leftover from a roast chicken. Shred the chicken and add a little mayo, scallion, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Could sub tuna if your kiddo likes it! Bonus: it’s easy to make this ahead and have it ready for a couple days of lunches.
Bagel with salmon and cream cheese: I use canned salmon for this, but you could use leftover salmon if you have some. I mix the cream cheese together with salmon, lemon juice, chives and garlic powder and spread it on the bagel. I quarter it and give each twin half. Another easy one to prepare ahead of time and spread on the bagel in the morning.
Ham on whole wheat bread: I think I was reared on this myself. It’s my favorite and it gets a lot of play around here. It’s versatile as you can serve it with any kind of cheese including cream cheese, and you can add whatever spread they like to jazz it up.
Crackers, meat and cheese: a play on a Lunchable-like lunch kit.
Tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwich.
I only have a small repertoire of veggies that I add to lunchboxes because frankly they don’t always get eaten. I like to offer them, but I hate to waste them at the same time. My go-to veggies are carrots, cucumber, broccoli, peppers, cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas. I choose 1 veg a week and they’ll get a little bit of it everyday. On Sunday evening I prep enough of whatever veg I’ve chosen for the week and store it in a container in the fridge so it doesn’t require chopping/peeling in the morning.
I generally add 2 fruits because I know they’ll get eaten and then they can have one with snack and one with lunch. We like nectarines, kiwi, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe, mango, clementines, pineapple, and sometimes apple (I slice the apple and then drizzle with lemon juice and wrap in a beeswax wrap to keep them fresh). Some fruits I prep on a Sunday and some have to be done morning which of course does take a little more time. Sometimes I do one fresh fruit and one dried fruit like raisins, dried blueberries, strawberries or apricots. Again, they’ll generally get the same lunchbox fruits each day for the whole week for convenience.
I add one extra item a day and again it will likely be the same extra all week to make it easy on myself. Sometimes it’s cheese and crackers, or breadsticks (a good mom might give them hummus with the breadsticks, but I can’t handle the mess of hummus in a lunchbox so it’s a pass for me), or popcorn, or a rice cake with some sunflower butter, or a protein bite, or a healthy muffin.
Protein bites: These are so so tasty and packed full of goodness. The original recipe contains peanut butter, but I’m going to give them a go with sunflower butter and see how they turn out. There are tons of good recipes for these online, but we simply use oats, peanut butter (sub sunflower butter), ground flaxseed (or hemp seeds), honey and vanilla. Again I wouldn’t make these every week, but maybe once a month.
Healthy muffin: I googled recipes for muffins made with whole wheat flour, honey and seeds like flax, chia and hemp. There are loads of recipes online for this. I made a batch there recently and thought they would last all week, but they were devoured in 2 days. SMH. I have some bananas ripening on the counter and will make another batch on Sunday for next week. I’ve read that you can freeze these and they defrost in the lunchbox by lunch time, I might try that if they don’t disappear so quickly next time. I definitely wouldn’t make these every week, but maybe once a month.
I hope you find some of these ideas helpful for packing up those pesky lunchboxes! Keep it simple mama, and prep ahead what you can to make it as easy as possible during those busy school mornings. Please share in the comments lunch ideas that work for your family so I can expand my repertoire!