It’s been awhile since I’ve posted about packed lunches, and since then, I’ve made quite a few more of them. My two year old now takes lunch to nursery five days a week. My five year old can have a free hot lunch at school, but about half of the time he asks me to have a lunch from home instead.
I thought I would share what my kids are liking at the moment, and I am hoping that in the comments you will chime in with what your kids’ favourites are (and any challenges you are facing.)
We took these pictures of the lunches for you quickly each morning before leaving the house and couldn’t resist also showing a few other “friends” what we packed…
Here’s what was in the lineup:
Monday: smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sandwich; roasted parsnips; steamed broccoli; dried apricots
Tuesday: buckwheat penne pasta with pesto Genovese; roasted cauliflower; spiced crispy chickpeas; black and white brownie bites (no added sugar)
Wednesday: spinach frittata triangles; carrot sticks; red and yellow pepper slices with black olives; carrot cake cookie (no added sugar)
Thursday: salami and provolone sandwich; tender sautéed kale, carrot sticks and red pepper slices; dried apricots
Friday: pita triangles with hummus; crispy roasted cabbage; cucumber and olive salad; Parmesan cheese; sesame brownie bite (no added sugar)
Packing the lunches is a labor of love, but I’ve gotten more efficient at it. My main strategy is to use dinner leftovers. You will see that nearly every day there is a cooked vegetable that I purposely made extra of the night before so I could use it in the lunches the next day. I also use leftover main dishes: on Tuesday my kids took buckwheat pasta with pesto that we had on Monday night, and on Wednesday they took triangles of spinach frittata that I made for a quick dinner the night before. Instead of putting those leftovers into a storage container after dinner, I put them right into the lunchboxes and store them overnight in the fridge. There actually isn’t much that I do the morning of. I usually prep some raw vegetables like the carrot sticks ahead of time, store them in a container in the refrigerator, and use them for a few different days. As a backup for vegetables, I try to keep something frozen on hand, like peas, and I can boil those quickly the night before (or while we have breakfast) if there isn’t anything fresh available.
One limitation for us at the moment is that my youngest doesn’t like fresh fruit, even though he used to eat it when he was a baby. He will go for it if it is blended and made into magic pops, and has recently been asking me to put those in his lunchbox. You should see the pout he gives me when I try to explain why that wouldn’t work. Luckily he loves raw peppers and cucumbers, and technically those are fruits. He also likes dried fruit, so I give him small amounts of that as a treat. It’s tempting to still put some fresh fruit in his lunchbox, hoping that after seeing it enough times, he will change his mind and try it. But instead I stick to giving him and his brother things I know they like, and I save trying out new things for when we are at home. I feel better not wasting food and am happy to see the lunchboxes come back empty and hear my kids say they liked their lunch.
You might be wondering if this is really what I pack. Of course some weeks are better than others, and this is representative of a good week for us. If I am really busy and haven’t had much time to shop or cook, then my kids have less variety, like the same sandwich and vegetable two days in a row. I also don’t always have time to make homemade treats, nor do I think it is that important. The most common “treat” I put in my kid’s lunches is a few pieces of unsweetened dried fruit (like apricot, mango, or prunes), and they are happy with that. But sometimes I don’t put anything sweet in their lunches at all. This week I had more time, so I made some of my flourless carrot cake cookies that are sweetened with dried coconut, a grated apple, a mashed banana and some raisins. My 5 year old and I also made some no-bake sesame brownie bites that are sweetened with dates. He liked them so much when he had them on Tuesday that on Friday he asked me to have them again. They were all gone at that point — I had shared the rest with some friends. So he and I made some right then, at 7am on Friday. Seeing that it literally took 10 minutes from start to finish with the two of us working together, we will be making them more often.
Also, I don’t always use this particular bento-style Lunchbots box, but I chose to use it this week because it is easier to photograph. Our usual lunchboxes are 3-tiered stainless tiffin-style boxes. Here was what Tuesday’s lunch looked like in that box, which my eldest took that day.
I originally chose the tiered boxes because they were much less expensive, and my kids have an easier time opening them. We actually only have one Lunchbots bento box. I did have fun using it this week and might splurge and buy one more so my kids can each have one on the same day.
Ok, enough about us, now I want to hear about YOU (and your kids)! Please leave a comment below. Try not to worry if you are just starting out packing lunches (like I was a year ago) and are having a hard time fitting it into your routine or finding healthy things that your kids like. Or maybe you have been packing lunches for years and are feeling burnt out and in need of a new plan. Let’s see if we can work it out below.