I recently ran this article in my son’s preschool newsletter. It talks a little bit about why I pack lunches like I do. If you have any questions, please post them in the comment section.
Packing lunches seems to be all the rage these days. Open any parenting magazine, “like” any food-related company, subscribe to any mommy or crafty type blog and you’re likely to get hit with examples of wildly creative lunches. If you’ve ever googled the term “bento lunch,” you are aware that packing lunches has become an art-form. Originally inspired by the Japanese, true bento lunches really are incredible works of art. And while to many of us, these lunches are just plain old overwhelming, there are many lessons to be taken from this latest trend.
When I started this little adventure of mine almost a year ago, it had nothing to do with cute lunches. I’ve always had a thing against ziplock bags…primarily the environmental concern (did you know that according to O Magazine, more than 20 million plastic sandwich bags are used everyday in the US?!?), but also the cost and the challenge that little fingers often have in getting them opened and resealed. When my daughter started kindergarten, I had lots of little containers for her lunch, but with her lunch period being just minutes, I wanted her to be able to access her lunch as quickly as possible. I began my quest for a single-lidded container and was more than thrilled when I came across these:
I found this Lock ‘n Lock container at H-Mart, an Asian grocery store. This particular container has four small inserts that nestle into a larger container with a single lid that even my used-to-be-three year old could manage. Being the tight-wad that I am, the $4 price point was perfect for me . If they didn’t work or my kids lost them, I wouldn’t cry a whole lot!
I very quickly learned that in addition to the huge cost and environmental savings, my kids were getting a much bigger variety of food in their lunches. In general, I aim to fill one quadrant with protein, one with fruit, one with veggies and one with a small treat. I also aim to get as much color into the box as possible. I’ve learned that by cutting their food into bite sized pieces, my kids will eat a lot more. While it takes a few extra minutes, the fact that they’ll eat most of their lunch is worth it to me.
Along the way, I’ve learned lots of tricks that I hope help get you started. My kids’ lunches are the envy of their friends (and my friends, too!).
- The quadrants are nice for keeping food separate, but one of the tricks I’ve learned along the way is to remove two of the inserts. I’ve been able to pack kabobs, burritos, even a hot dog using the full length of the container.
- If you remove the inserts, sometimes you still need to partition off food. Silicone muffin liners are my best friends. You can pick these up in a bake shop or Michaels, but I found mine at Daiso, which is a Japanese dollar store (technically $1.50). They’re squishable and conform to just about any shape you need them to be.
- Anything on a stick tastes better. Or atleast that’s what my kids seem to think. I found perfect length skewers at Daiso. There are also lots of cute (tooth) picks that are fun for the younger or more whimsical kids.
- Cutting veggies for dinner? Save a handful for lunch. In fact, pull out your boxes while chopping veggies and just start making lunches then. Leftover bits of meat? Chop it up and skewer it. Frozen veggies will thaw by lunch and help keep other foods cool. Pre-cut melons and veggies for the week.
- You know your child best. If your child can’t stand foods touching, a single box may not be your best bet. If your child doesn’t like cold food, invest in a thermos.
- Make your own individual servings of applesauce, pudding, jello or yogurt. These obviously travel better in their own containers, but your they’re a fun addition and a fraction of the cost compared to purchasing individual servings. If your kids are like mine, they’ll even make this type of stuff themselves!
- Consider your child’s lunchbox layout. My son’s lunch box forces his bento box to be packed on its side. I’ve learned to tip his bento box so the fruit is on the bottom so the juice doesn’t leak down. I hear Press n Seal will also work pretty well.
Learn what your kids like and determine what’s important to you. My kids might be among the least picky kids and don’t particularly care how their food looks. I have 3 young kids and I’m not big on food waste so you won’t see me spending much time on making my lunches cute with cookie cutters and such. My priority is to get them a healthy and balanced lunch packed and to school on time. However, if your child eats better when food is cut into fun shapes, by all means, go crazy!
Another thing that I’ve learned along the way is that lunches are not limited to sandwiches! In these boxes, its pretty easy to create something that looks like a Lunchable. My kids love take potstickers, hummus and pita bread, burritos, sausage, pasta salad or even left over french toast for lunch.
And finally, yes, I am guilty of putting together fun lunches for special occasions! On St. Patrick’s Day, I skewered strawberries, oranges, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries and purple grapes for a rainbow effect. Gummy worms snuck their way into my kids’ apples on April Fools Day.
All of these tips aside, what I love best about packing these lunches is that has inspired healthy conversations between my kids and I. They love to see what is their lunch and often ask to participate or make suggestions as to what they’d like. They’ve even learned to get on me if there isn’t enough variety in their lunchbox! Sometimes the talk isn’t about food at all, but because its pretty brainless work, its time that they’ll stop to chat about their upcoming day. As a friend summarized nicely, it’s not just food that I am feeding them, but it’s a bit of love too!