This is the way we…lunch

Judging by my Facebook news feed, I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of American children ventured back to school last Monday.  My children, though, have been in school since mid-July.  So long, in fact, that our year-round district is nearing its first extended break of this school year.  {can I get a woot woot?!}

With that said, it should come as no surprise to you that I’ve already made many a school lunch this year.  Last year (and every year that came before) I woke up all groggy-eyed at zero dark thirty every morning and slapped some peanut butter and jelly on a couple of slices of whole wheat bread and called it a day.  Sure, I tossed in a sliced apple or a stick of string cheese for good measure, but, by and by, there was little variation from day to day.

Recognizing my slump, I set out to do better by my little brown baggers this year.  For starters, no longer are they brown baggers.  At the start of the year, I picked up two {safe} plastic containers that would replace a year’s worth of Ziploc baggies.  Cassie’s is a bit bigger than Jayce’s because she is in school all day and requires a full lunch where as Jayce just takes a snack to his half day kinder.  So, too, did I grab a package of silicone muffin cups that I use daily in my lunch making.  I also found a handful of fun “extras” like colored toothpicks, stickers (for banana peels), and decorative picks.

After dinner each night I go to great lengths to put together a colorful, healthy meal/snack.  Here’s the thing, though: even though my lunches are significantly more creative and artsy than what I’ve always done in the past, once I got the hang of things, I found that they really don’t take any longer to make.  And instead of the monotony of years before, I actually enjoy the challenge of creating something that is both attractive to the eye, and pleasing to the taste buds.

But don’t take my word for it.  See for yourself.

Contents: Turkey and cheese wrap, fresh pineapple, organic red grapes, and a stick of string cheese

Contents: half of a homemade whole wheat hamburger bun, organic cherries, organic cucumbers, star-shaped Havarti cheese and salami.

Contents: half a banana, organic cherry tomatoes, boiled egg, watermelon, organic green pepper slices, whole wheat pasta shells with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and Parmesan.

Contents: organic strawberries, turkey/cheese roll-ups, organic blackberries, organic green pepper boats with organic cherry tomato eyes, organic red grapes.


This gives you a good idea of the types of items I use to stuff the lunch boxes around here.  In addition to these yummies, I’ve also used:

-cubed grilled chicken
-baby carrots
-apple slices with a cup ‘o’ peanut butter
-whole grain crackers with heart-shaped cheese
-pb&j’s cut into airplanes or Mickey heads
-nectarine halves
-organic baked apple chips
-organic blueberries
-little cups of whole wheat couscous
-leftovers from the night before
-melon cubes
-veggie wraps

Basically, I try to stuff their lunches with whole foods that grow.  There are a few exceptions, obviously.  Lunch meats, for instance, are not ideal, but we don’t always have grilled chicken readily available in the fridge and I try to include at least one lean protein in their lunch each day.  In the case of lunch meats, we only purchase Boar’s Head, which, I suppose, is a small step up from the generic stuff you’d buy in the prepackaged area of the store.

Our lunches are sure to change up a bit come winter.  I imagine then that leftover soups and stews packed in a Thermos will be a frequent offering.

What about you?  What have you been packing for back to school lunches so far?  What brilliant lunch box stuffers am I overlooking?


25 Replies to “This is the way we…lunch”

  1. Yum! I think I may have to follow in your footsteps with this. Michael may not be willing to switch up his lunch (I’ll work on him), but this is right up Jack’s alley. How do you keep the fruit from spilling all over? Does the cupcake liner go up to the top of the bento box?

    1. The silicone cup does not go up to the top of Cassidy’s box because hers is bigger than Jayce’s. For hers, I usually either stack the silicone cups (each filled with a different item) or cover with cling wrap. I put a checkered (or other cute design) napkin on top of that with a plastic fork so that the cling wrap doesn’t “uglify” my cute creations. The size I got for Jayce is perfect; the silicone cups reach the top of the box. There is an Asian supply store on 22nd that I’ve been meaning to go to. I’m sure they have some fun stuff in there. The boxes aren’t actually bento boxes, but they work. I got them at Target for super cheap (compared to real bento boxes) and found that they’re the perfect size. This weekend I saw that Old Navy had some bentos in the front of the store in that new “junk” section they put up by the registers, but I didn’t have time to look closely at them.

  2. For 180 days (or however many days are in our school year), my dd asks for a peanut butter sandwich, Baked Lays, fruit snacks and water to drink. Very routine, but if she’ll eat it, that’s fine. Our main issue is she likes to take a brown bag to school so she can throw the bag away, which limits our uses of lunch meat because it’s hard to keep it cold.

  3. Cute! I do similar lunches sometimes, mixed with leftovers in a thermos, occasionally that star soup they inexplicably love so much, and create your owns. They love to have the ingredients to make their own wraps, for example. Most days are turkey sandwich with mayo and spinach, fruit of some sort, and pretzels. So incredibly lame, I know. My lunch routine needs a kick in the pants.

    I bought some cute boxes like that, but found they don’t fit in our lunchboxes. I always buy the ones from Gymboree because I like the way they snap on the outside of the backpack. Is your lunchbox a different size/shape, or did I just buy the wrong containers?

    1. I bought the containers first, and then sought out containers that they’d fit in. All from Target. Cassie’s lunchbox looks a lot like a purse. It’s fairly large, too, which is good because I send her off with four ice packs to keep her food appropriately cool. Jayce just uses a standard stand-up type of insulated lunch bag. His container is a lot smaller than Cassie’s.

    1. Huh. Learn something new every day. I hardly ever use the toothpicks, really. But the decorative picks are a BIG hit.

  4. I’ve been feeling the same way this school year — wanting to keep it interesting and enjoyable for them. So far we go with the standard of sandwich, but I enjoy adding to that with whatever fruits and sides I have on hand, and I make sure it’s not the same every day. I also switched to small bottled waters vs. juice boxes to save on the extra calories. So far they’re quite happy. :) Love the box idea — think I’ll try that!

  5. My son isn’t in school yet but I’m always looking for healthy lunch ideas. The silicone cups are a genius!

  6. This is great, Darcie! My little one has been in school just over a week, and I’ve been doing some similar things – it’s really fun, and like you said, doesn’t take much longer once you get the hang of it. And since mine is only 5, she is still young enough to appreciate her sandwiches, cheese, etc cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters – Hello Kitty has been a big favorite so far. :) And the muffin liners are awesome for keeping fruits and veggies separate!

    So, one thing I was not prepared for – the class snack. We all take turns bringing something in for the entire class, and after 2 days of Savannah telling me what she was eating for snack (pop tarts and fruit snacks and juice twice a day), I had to start sending my own. SO much sugar and processed foods – and it was literally making her sick, just after 2 days! Today was our turn, and we took in skewers of fresh fruit in the colors of the rainbow – strawberries, cantaloupe, bananas, green grapes, blueberries, and red grapes….and homemade whole wheat mini muffins. The kids loved it. Makes me kinda sad that all of the processed junk is the norm.

  7. I love this series “this is the way we…”! And and love the silicone muffin cups as dividers…very clever. The 2 days my daughter brings lunch she makes it herself, but I only buy ingredients that are okay. Right now she is into making spinach wraps with chicken deli meat (organic Applegate farms with no nitrates, nitrites, antibiotics and gluten free), organic cheddar cheese and bell peppers. And she throws a piece of fruit in there.

    1. Would you believe they won’t let me pack their lunches, Beth?! For reals. They’re way too cool my juvenile lunches. They pack their own boring, same old things. But, because we don’t really keep nutritionally empty stuff in the house, they’re forced to take good-for-them stuff, too! :)

      1. No help;) question-why no canned products? Where do you find jar tomatoes for sauce?

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