Having said all that, I thought I'd share what a week of school lunches looks like around here, as well as my philosophy. (There's only four lunches here, because we've had four consecutive four-day weeks!) I'm always on the lookout for new lunch ideas, and I hope these will help some of you.
Ideally, every meal would be healthy and perfectly balanced, but the reality is that: 1) my kids hate school so a lunch of things they like makes their days a little better; 2) they'll eat fruit but veggies are a different story; and 3) they'll make up a lot of fruit, protein and calcium at dinner. So I try to pack relatively wholesome foods but also try to make sure there's a good amount of food I know they'll eat even if they don't like part of the meal. I realized my philosophy lines up pretty well with Andrea Dekker's "fun and easy school lunches" - like her, I'm okay with the food sometimes being processed and not the healthiest, because they eat it and usually enjoy it. And they get wholesome meals when they eat at home.
Here's what a recent week looked like:
my 13-year-old's lunch
my 11-year-old's lunch
- Ham & Cheese Muffins, which were a little bland. Next time, I'll add a little mustard to the wet ingredients, and use seasoned salt to up the flavor.
- some slices of pepperoni and half a string cheese (pre-shredding it for the boy who doesn't like string cheese worked and now he eats string cheese!)
- freeze-dried strawberries from Trader Joe's for one boy and roasted dried peas for the other (normally I'd pack fresh fruit like grapes or apple slices, but it was the first day of the week and I hadn't been to the market yet)
- pouches of freeze-dried pears (I love this brand) and some cheese puffs from Trader Joe's
- a fruit punch box for one boy and a coconut water for the other; both boys also have a reusable water bottle with ice water
Verdict: Neither boy ate his muffin. One took a bite, so I'm guessing he didn't like the flavors and I can't blame him!
- Homemade Lunchables with turkey, pepperoni and cheese, crackers, strawberries, a Trader Joe's S'mores cube, and 3 Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Coins (you might notice the boxes are not exactly alike, because my children have their individual preferences)
- More freeze-dried pears and cheese puffs from Trader Joe's, and another fruit punch box for one boy and coconut water for the other
- I tend to overpack a little bit because I'm never quite sure what the boys will eat, or if it's one of those days when they're particularly ravenous; my priority is just to make sure they get enough calories that they have the energy to get through the whole school day
- Verdict: They both ate well!
- Turkey and pepperoni rollups with string cheese (using the same cold cuts left over from the previous day's lunches) with grapes and a rice krispie treat from the freezer
- Trader Joe's cheese puffs and Annie's fruit snacks
- An apple juice box for one boy and coconut water for the other
Verdict: This was the hit of the week - one lunch box came back completely empty, and the other had only a couple of grapes and the fruit snacks!
- Chocolate chip banana bread mini loaf from the freezer, with grapes and a rice krispie treat (also from the freezer)
- Japanese "potato sticks" packets and Annie's fruit snacks
- A fruit punch box for one boy and coconut water for the other
Verdict: Mixed results. I think maybe one boy wasn't particularly hungry, or maybe he just doesn't like my banana bread anymore!
A few more notes:
The plastic containers I use are the Sistema Small Split containers that I got in-store at Target. I have two of each color, and my older son always gets the green one and my younger son always gets the blue one. Since I pack similar but different lunches, the different colors makes it easy to quickly differentiate which container goes with which kid.
Having some baked goods in the freezer is a life saver when it comes to packing lunches. I bake all kinds of mini loaves in this mini loaf pan, which I picked up at Target. I'd been hoping that the ham and cheese muffins would be a convenient addition to my freezer stash, but I have to work on tweaking the recipe first.