Thinking Outside the {Lunch}Box

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School has officially begun.

And that means packing lunches has also started up again. *sigh*

Every. Day. All. Year. *double sigh*

I have a lot of  kiddos. Which means I pack approximately 700 lunches a year. *triple sigh*

I remember the first time I packed a lunch for my oldest daughter. She was off to preschool four days a week. We purchased a vintage metal dinosaur lunch box and I was giddy to fill it with fun food items. I felt like a “real mom” —  I wrote a daily note, slipped in a fun napkin (hello leftover party napkins!), and bought mini storage containers. Fast forward 8 years and 3 more kids, and I’m not as excited about packing lunches. I still write a note daily and slip in a fun napkin, but my cute storage containers are half missing lids and I’ve been known to pack food in baggies, wrapped in foil, or even in my husband’s artifact bags. 

BUT! This year I’ve become motivated to think outside the {lunch}box and come up with some fun, interesting ideas to keep me happily packing all 180 days of school. Here’s a list to help you too.

My go to fresh fruit:

bananas
cuties
kiwi
grapes (red and green — we’re a house divided)
blueberries, strawberries, blackberries & raspberries (basically all the berries)
plums
apple slices (with a mini tub of caramel dip or peanut butter)

My go to pkged fruit:

Let’s face it, some fruits just work better for lunches if they’re not fresh but in packages instead. Anything “chunked,” I send either a toothpick or corn cob holder to make eating fun.

Grapefruit slices
peaches
pears
mandarin oranges
mango chunks
pineapple chunks

 

Sandwiches:

Sandwiches are a newly acquired taste for my kids. This has been a game changer for lunch options! Try this Pottery Barn Kids cutter or this sandwich sealer & decruster to make sandwiches more likely to be eaten and not tossed!

peanut butter & jelly (non-nut schools, sun butter, WowButter, or almond butter could be an alternative)
genoa salami & provolone
grilled cheese
turkey/ham & cheddar on king hawaiian rolls
bologna & swiss
mini sliders with pimento cheese or ham salad
strawberry and Nutella waffold (a waffle folded in half like a taco with the fruit & chocolate)
Mini bagels with various cream cheese

Kabobs:

Everything tastes better on a stick!

meatballs and hunks of Italian bread (with a side of marinara to dip)
chopped up hot dogs & tater tots
corn dogs (with a side of mustard)
cherry tomatoes and mini fresh mozerella balls (for the adventerous eater, add a basil leaf after each tomato)
cantalope, honey dew, & watermelon (I use a melon scooper to make jabbing easier!)

 

Make your own!

Kids love to assemble their own food. Send a homemade “lunchable” with all the ingredients packed separately for a fun, do-it-yourself lunch. I like these bento boxes to keep things from “not touching.”

Garden Salad — sliced radishes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber chunks, shredded carrots with ranch dressing

Chopped Salad — ham chunks, turkey chunks, cheese chucks, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds, dressing of choice

pizza — english muffin base, shredded mozerella/pizza blend, red marinara, mini pepperoni or ground Italian sausage.

Tuna Salad — individual tuna pouches! Have you seen these? Again, game changer! The tuna is already marinated; kids just rip it open and eat. Send mini packets of mayo & a sleeve of crackers. Don’t forget the pickles — sometimes I’ll send 2 or 3 kinds just for fun! 

Granola Parfait — large container of plain or vanilla yogurt, sliced fresh fruit of choice (berries!), granola cereal. (If you’re feeling like an extra crunchy mom, here’s a recipe to make your own!)

Utilize that thermos!

I don’t typically send soup in a thermos, but I will send hot  food as a fun main course. I’m a brand snob and swear by the Thermos Kids — lots of fun options! Thermoses also open to the door to sending leftovers! 

pork fried rice
pasta noodles
mac n’ cheese
couscous
chicken & rice casserole
scrambled eggs
risotto

 

Themes!

Sometimes you just need a theme to help pull it all together. I do “themes” too when I’m scraping together random foods.

Asian: 
Mini egg rolls or dumplings (I get frozen ones and nuke them in the morning for 1.5 minutes) with soy sauce to dip, mandarin oranges, and a thermos of white rice. Don’t forget to throw in a fortune cookie –fun for beginning readers especially!

Breakfast #1:
blueberry waffle with a side of apple butter to dip, hard boiled egg, sausage links

Breakfast #2:
mini boxes of dry cereal, blueberries to throw on top, milk
(I send a styrofoam bowl, plastic spoon, and they just buy the milk from the cafeteria! Kids think it’s the best, when in fact, it’s me being lazy)

 “corn”: 
popcorn chicken, cheesy popcorn ball, small corn on the cob, and caramel corn for dessert

Mexican
tacos — soft corn or wheat tortilla, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, diced canned tomatoes, ground beef or leftover shredded rotissery chicken. Throw in some mini packets of taco sauce and a side of sour cream! Add in a mini tub of guac or a whole avocado (I send the whole thing with a mini pack of salt & pepper. The teacher cuts it open & they eat it with a spoon from the peel.)

 

The Classics

ants on a log
cheese sticks
apple sauce cups or pouches
granola bars/soft cereal bars

crackers — my kids love wheat thins, trisckets, saltines, and club crackers
pretzel rods

I don’t typically send dessert. I like to save sweets for after school treats or an after dinner bribe. But if you do pack a dessert in the lunch box, I like classics like oatmeal cream pies or homemade rice krispy treats! 

 

Outside the {Lunch}Box Gear!

Fun flannel napkins for the environmentally conscious school

PackIt freezable lunch boxes are what we use!

Lunchbox.com has inspiring containers, such as this Grateful Dead Metal lunchbox

Mini kabob sticks are easier to fit!

Still not sure on the best bag for carrying your kids’ lunch? Here’s a link to the TOP 50 Most Popular Lunch Boxes & Totes for 2018!