Wanna know my favorite part of summer? NOT HAVING TO PACK LUNCH! Seriously. People complain about the constant application of sunscreen or the extra laundry from towels and swimsuits. But I would rather do 10 loads of laundry a day than pack a school lunch. That’s my truth. My kids go to a school that makes packing lunch VERY difficult – no tree nuts, peanuts, or meat. So basically I’m dealing with an egg or dairy protein situation and it can be challenging to come up with good meals every day. Last year, I called in the big guns to help inspire me – Lisa Leake and Catherine McCord.
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Let’s start with Lisa Leake and her blog, 100 Days of Real Food. Are you reading her blog? If you aren’t, go there now. Seriously. Her philosophy on food is great, her recipes are delicious and she changed the way I see food. As a long time blog follower, I, of course, snatched up her first cookbook –Her crockpot chicken recipe is BEYOND — and pre-ordered her second. Both books feature easy to make lunch dishes like broccoli & cheddar soup, veggie cream cheese sandwiches and mini lunch box quiches and pizza bites. My favorite part is that she shows the recipes in lunch boxes with other items that round out the meal. I always include fruit and raw veggies but I find myself forgetting that edamame, cheese cubes, popcorn, or frozen peas make fun sides. I love that she does some DIY stuff too. My kids love when I pack homemade “Lunchables” for them. (mom tip – sometimes I use cucumbers instead of crackers.)
In searching for more recipes, I also stumbled upon Weelicious. Guess what – she also has 2 cookbooks and one of them is solely about lunches!! YAY! From matzah jammies to pesto melts, PB&J muffins to pizza balls there is something for even the pickiest eater in her cookbooks. She often includes notes on substitutions and freezing suggestions as well. I highly recommend her blog for healthy kid-friendly dinners too. My kids ask for her white chicken chili at least twice a month. I always have it in my freezer.
I don’t think I can write a post about lunches without sharing the items I use the most because the right tools make everything easier. For me, LunchBots set the scene for everything. They make containers with 1,2,3 and 4 compartments and I have 2 of each kind. I adore them because they help me determine what to pack. For instance – if I’m using the 4 compartment one I may do 1 section for fruit, 1 for veggies, 1 for crackers and another for cheese. With 2 compartments I may make a sandwich and then place fruit salad on the side. In thinking of balancing the meal, the compartments help me determine what to choose.
Pictured on the side is an example of my kids’ Pottery Barn Kids Retro Lunch boxes. My youngest has this exact pattern, actually. I ADORE these because the curved lid holds the waterbottles so well and the Lunchbots fit perfectly on the bottom so their lunches stay flat all day. No more squished sandwiches or soggy bread! I find that these ice packs fit perfectly too.
I’m crazy about my kids’ water bottles. I’ve read waaaaay too many articles about steel rusting and non-bpa plastic and on and on, so I go with glass. We use the Lifefactory sippy cup and we haven’t broken one yet. I have had to replace one of the tops though. For warm soups and sides, you can’t beat thermos brand containers. They are a classic for a reason.
Now on to the fun part. I try to make my kids’ lunches look appealing and fun. I find that when I do, they are more likely to eat it! All it takes is 30 seconds to use a cookie cutter to slice a sandwich or a mini one to pop out an apple core or cucumber, but the kids think it’s so fun to eat bite sized shapes.
For pretzels or popcorns or even veggie sticks, I love the Lunchskins baggies. They come in all shapes and sizes and they cut down on all those Ziploc baggies going into the garbage. They are dishwasher safe too which makes clean-up a breeze!
When it comes to separating compartments or foods, I like to use the silicone cupcake holders. They are flexible so they can mold to the boxes and I use them for muffins or mini omelets too. For items that need a lid, I repurpose the containers I used for freezing my kids homemade baby food. (yes, I was “that mom” at one point.) At just over 1 oz, they are perfect for holding sauces, dressing or applesauce.
Finally, my kids are OBSESSED with smoothies. Sometimes, I pour the leftovers into these silicone popsicle tubes. If you freeze them, you can place them directly in your kid’s lunch box and they will be thawed but still cold at lunch! They work well with yogurt too.
Ok Moms – now it’s time to share your school lunch hacks, tools, and recipes!