The Lunch Post

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I've been packing lunches for my girls for about 10 years now and here are some of the reasons why I started:
  1. Both of girls have severe peanut/tree-nut allergies (one to tree-nuts only, one to both)
  2. One of my girls started out as a very picky eater
  3. That same girl is also a veeeerrrrry sllooooooow eeeeaaaaater
  4. Reduce waste, both food and packaging
  5. HealthIER eating
  6. More time to eat, ie not stand in long/slow lines during short lunch periods
  7. Get primo lunch seating because they don't have to stand in line to buy lunch
Most of these reasons still stick, some not as much, but for the past few years now, my girls have been exclusively taking lunch, mostly for reason 6 & 7 (lol), which naturally leads me to:

PACKING DAILY LUNCHES GETS REALLY OLD, REALLY FAST!! over the years, I've become more streamlined and even more no-nonsense than I've ever been when it comes to lunch-packing. Sorry, you won't find many cutesy lunches here! lol.

lunch boxes, fun lunches, healthy meals for kids, easylunchboxes

Here are some things that really help my sanity. Maybe they'll help yours as well!

Finding the right gear for various kinds of lunches will make lunch packing a whole lot easier and even more fun! Here are some staples that I just can't live without anymore.

lunch boxes

EasyLunchboxes were my first ever bento box. I found them online after I got sick and tired of washing the million small containers and lids I used to pack Big Sis' snacks & lunches. They were exactly what I was looking for: 2 pieces with divided compartments, affordable and durable. I STILL have some from my original set today (about 8 years later), in addition to the second set I bought because I used them and loved them so much. These, by design, are not leak-proof so little hands can open and close them easily, so I purchased a set of leak-proof Little Dippers, too, for the occasional drippy side.

My next purchase was a Thermos Funtainer so I had the option to send hot foods to school on occasion. I am still on my first set, despite the fact that my girls have outgrown the original designs. Luckily, they are easily updated with with a penny (think scratch-off lottery ticket), nail polish remover (so I've been told) or simply by covering with fun duct tape, another a handy tip I received. I have a feeling I'll still be using these when I'm 80!

The Thermos Funtainers pair nicely with LunchBots divided stainless steel containers, also not leak-proof. These are much smaller than the EasyLunchboxes and fit nicely in their lunch bags with a Funtainer while still limiting the number of items to wash. LunchBots also have some smaller stainless steel leak-proof containers called LunchBot Rounds that I use for larger portions of fruit and such that don't necessarily fit in my EasyLunchbox Little Dippers. Plus, they are stainless steel, which I love.

My most recent addition was the ThinkBaby Bento Box, a somewhat insulated single compartment container for warm foods that is more open and therefore more conducive to finger foods like pizza poppers, mini pizzas, chicken fingers. While they didn't keep foods as warm/hot as the Funtainers, it didn't get food as soggy and it was easier to open and see what you ate. While they hold about the same amount of food as the Funtainers, they are shaped differently, which I find works better for certain foods.

My last suggestion, bento box-wise, is a Planet Box Bento Lunch Box. I've always pined for one (actually 2) but never actually owned any. I just couldn't justify the cost for them since they didn't provide a different function from all the bento stuff I already owned, but they're beautiful and I've only heard wonderful things about them. So if you're looking for your first bento box, I would also highly recommend them. I love that they have so many compartments and that it's stainless steel.

A few other must-have are:

Stainless steel water bottles. We use both UnderArmour and Simple Modern stainless steel versions. They are so awesome at keeping water cold throughout the day. But be forewarned! They have a knack for collecting dents with each drop on the floor. Stainless steel is the way to go in my book, though, as I've never been crazy about the idea of drinking water out of plastic containers.

Blue Avocado snack pouches. They help reduce the number of plastic bags used and are great for keeping things that don't fit very well in the boxes like chips and popcorn, fresh and crisp. I've found that sometimes food like that can get soft or soggy depending on what you pack them with.

While silicone cupcake liners add more "washing of annoying little things", they are pretty awesome at making lunches look fancy and keeping things further separated in the larger compartments that can sometimes be hard to fill.

PickEase Picks. These picks are awesome. Sturdy and easy for little hands to use. They also add some fun and pizzazz to lunches and keep kids from using their filthy little hands to eat stuff like grapes. They are in school, after all. ;) And, I've lost enough of my nice forks over the years.

* And in case you're wondering, I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to putting plastic stuff in my dishwasher and can't help but prefer to hand wash plastic items, hence my disdain for washing dishes. Yes, I'm a walking oxymoron, or something like that. haha.

I have lots of other faves, but those are what I consider the basics. Be sure to visit my Bento Gear Page for a full list of products I love.

Having a place for everything will certainly make life run more smoothly. It also makes it easier for the whole family to help when they know where to find what they need.

Organize the Fridge:
There's just something so satisfying about opening up a fridge and seeing it so nicely organized. It may seem daunting at first, but all it takes is a little up-front work and a little effort to keep it going. It's really nice to have a designated place for most things, but it's also important to leave some room for random stuff, otherwise, it's bound get messy just as soon as you organize it. And don't be afraid to experiment. Since I wrote my post about getting that fridge organized, I've reapportioned my pull-out bins, one for all the sandwich fixin's and the other solely for yogurts and I couldn't be more pleased with the result. So organize as you see fit. Do what works for your household and make it yours, but just do it!

Organize the pantry
Stock up on you and your family's favorite snacks and keep them organized in one easy-to-access spot. That way, it's easier for kids and the-not-lunch-packing-spouse to help out. Huh!

I used to try to stick to family sized vs. individual sized bags of snacks (more value and less packaging waste), but over the years of running from one activity to another, I've found that those individual sizes are a life-saver when you are on the move so much. I do still use the family size snacks and pack them in my Blue Avocados for lunches with hopes that even the little things like that help reduce waste at least a little bit.

Be creative with the space you have. My pantry is ridiculously tiny and I had to get creative to support my hoarding tendencies. I squeezed out a lot of extra room by adding hanging this wire rack on the door and the mini adjustable shelves on the side pantry wall, making use of some unused precious space. A big thanks to my hubby for doing all the grunt work without haste so I could make these lovely, handy dandy, DIY custom organizers out of cereal boxes and such to further organize the wire shelves and various drawers. ;)

And since this STILL wasn't enough space, I created a secret annex right in my own kitchen and I always get a kick out of people's "WHOOOA!"s as I lift it open to get out my overflow snacks and sundries. ;)

Organize the bento gear
Carve out a little space to store some of your most-used bento gear. Put it all in one central location, or a steal small niches here and there to make it work for you. I would love a giant kitchen with endless drawers and cabinets, but alas, such is not the case. So, I found some conveniently located spots here and there that make my lunch packing flow naturally.

I cleared out a drawer to house all my misc bento picks and treasures. They sit right below the counter I use to make my lunches. How convenient! This drawer is organized by using re-purposed plastic mushroom containers! Let it be known that during this process, my family ate an abnormal amount of mushrooms. ;)

I used this nice built-in shelf that's located at the end of my island to store my cookbooks, bento boxes as well as other bento tools and my lunch bags on a wire cart.

Take a little time to peruse some lunch ideas, either on your own or with your kids and make a list of the those lunches your kids do enjoy (and therefore will eat!). There are some lunches that I love to make but the girls just don't like to eat, like pinwheel sandwiches, so I finally gave up and crossed them off my list. No more waste, no more annoyance and no more turned up noses. It's ok to admit defeat sometimes. ;) Be sure to make a plan, weekly, daily or whatever works for you, on what you wanna pack when. MOMables and Doctor Yum are great resources for more healthy lunch and meal ideas.

Here's a round up of a variety of lunches I've packed over the years. Maybe you and your kids will find something to try!

lunch boxes, fun lunches, healthy meals for kids, easylunchboxes

Basically, lunches tend to fit into one of a few categories:

Sandwiches: I pack a whole lot of sandwiches but I really try to mix it up using different types of bread like regular sliced bread, bagels, pretzel bagels, hot dog buns (these make great mini subs), hamburger buns, leftover French bread, English muffins, croissants and filled them with a variety of things like deli meats and cheese, fried eggs and bacon, meatballs (though these tend to get a bit messy I've been told), hot dogs, cream cheese, fish sticks, chicken patties, roasted chicken, rotisserie chicken, you name it!

Pizza Lunches: Whether they are from the frozen section or homemade-ish, the girls love their pizza and I've found that they aren't such a horrible lunch to give. The varieties I typically buy, Mini Pizza appetizers and Bambino pizzas from Trader Joe's and Annie's Homegrown Pizza Pockets, are all pretty high in protein and aren't super high in carbs. I also like to make my own using bagels, English muffins, leftover French bread and even crescent rolls and puff pastry in pinwheel form. While I know they are not piping hot (or even close to it!) when they eat them at school, somehow, the lunchbox always comes home empty!

DIY Cheese and Cracker and Pizza Lunchables are always quick and easy to throw together and kids have fun eating these much healthier versions of the ones you buy in stores. The cheese and crackers, I can totally understand, but I don't quite get why they love the pizza lunchables so much. Maybe because it has the word "pizza" in it? ;)

Warm Lunches: Pastas like mac & cheese, tortellini and baked ravioli are a huge hit in my family. Chicken tenders, fish sticks and popcorn shrimp sometimes find their way into our lunches, too, when I'm really in a pinch. They get a little soggy sometimes, though, so be forewarned. If you let them cool off before putting the lid on, they fare much better sogginess-wise, but the trade off is that they aren't as warm when they eat them. Leftovers such as casseroles, lasagnas, soups, etc also make for great warm lunches. MOMables has a great post about How to Warm a Thermos.

Salads: Taco salads and pasta salads are 2 kinds of "salads" that I can get away with packing for lunch. Here's an awesome pasta salad lunch that I pack the girls. They always gobble it up and I love that they love it, ESPECIALLY Big Sis!

Along with the entrees, we pack a variety of snacks. I make the entree, the girls pack their snacks which I find pretty helpful in the mornings, since I am not a pack-it-the-night-before kinda girl even though I'd love to be. :)

For Snacks, I TRY to pack fresh veggies and fruit. The fruit doesn't seem to be a problem, but for some reason the veggies take more effort to eat (probably for lack of desire, haha) and have been coming back uneaten more and more, so lately I've just been saving them for dinner time when they always have at least a couple veggie sides. Sometimes the fruit is fresh, sometimes it's pre-packaged like diced peaches and mandarin oranges for Little Sis and GoGo Squeeze Applesauces or Brother's freeze-dried fruits for Big Sis who has never been a fan fresh fruits. Luckily, she eats her veggies. :)

Along with the fruits/veggies, I like to add in some extra protein whether it be in the form of cheese sticks, yogurts, hummus, peanut butter crackers for Big Sis only! or the occasional packet of beef jerky. Let me know if you think of something else yummy I can add to my rotation!

And of course you can't forget the crunchy snacks! While I try to keep the carbs to a minimum, they are so yummy and meals just seem incomplete without them. I try to pack the whole grain varieties of pita chips and crackers. Veggie sticks and pretzel flats are always a hit and the girls sometimes get lucky and get potato chips. Popcorn is always a hit, too. A new favorite in our household are SkinnyPop's popcorn and mini popcorn cakes. I LOVE that they are non-GMO and specifically state they are Peanut/Tree Nut-free. Woo hoo! Popcorn is a hard one to keep fresh so I find packing the pre-packaged stuff works best.

Lastly, Treats! I wavered back and forth on whether to pack treats in lunches or not and even wrote a post about them many years ago: "To Treat or Not to Treat?", that is the question. I'm happy to report that we're still largely a "no treats during the week" family minus the occasional one for special occasions, of course. Even the treats in lunches have waned quite a bit, as they've gotten older. When I do pack one, it's usually fruit snacks or some homemade one I had leftover, but in general, we keep even the lunch treats to a minimum now.

My last tip is one that I'm not very good at doing all the time, but it really can be a huge help to get those little hands involved. Not only can they pick out/make what they want, they only have themselves to blame if they don't eat it. lol. I usually get the girls pack their own snacks and fill their own water bottles while I handle the entree. On occasion, they will pack their own lunches, but that's mostly when I am out-of-town or out-of-commission.

That's it for now. I may add to this post as more ideas/tips come to mind so be sure to check back! or leave me questions if you have any!

And be sure to check out my Pinterest and Instagram accounts for more ideas!

In addition to these 2 other boards on Pinterest for tons and tons of ideas:
Bento Bloggers and Friends

Thanks so much for stopping by and please feel free to make my day by leaving me a comment, joining my blog in the top right corner, following My Epicurean Adventures on Facebook or on Instagram - the more the merrier! :)

Christine, aka happyvballgirl :)

Here are some items used in this post. To see a full list of my favorite bento gear and such, just visit my "Products I Love" page! :) Any purchases made through these links earns me a little extra cash to support my bento habit, which my hubby would really appreciate. haha! So thank you!!! if you choose to use any of 'em! :)

Here are some affiliate links to the products I love and use on a daily basis. Well, I don't use ALL of them everyday but I do use at least 3 every day... you know what I mean! :) Feel free to ask me about any of 'em! Any purchases made through these links earns me a little extra cash to support my bento habit, which my hubby would really appreciate. haha! So thank you!!! if you choose to use any of 'em! :)


1 comment:

Torres said...

The right gear makes things a lot easier.