If you’re reading this on the day of publication then we’re likely either chugging along the Connecticut shoreline en route to my parents’ house—or else we’re running like maniacs through the corridors of Grand Central, bags flapping, children running amok, just trying our best to catch our train before it pulls out of the station. What’s very certain is we’re with two kids and both of them are suddenly hungry.
What’s a parent to do?
Well, if you’d taken a tip from me the last time we were on this train, it was to buy two packs of peanut M&M’s at Hudson News before barely making the train and calling it a day. (Not to worry: My kids ended up munching on a container of far healthier train snacks packed, unbeknownst to me, by their dad.) We can’t all be at the top of our game all of the time.
This time around we’re slightly better prepared, with neatly arranged snacks in neatly sectioned off stainless- steel lunchboxes. Planet Box sent these for us to try in anticipation of a new school year and in celebration of Plastic-Free July. Obviously I think they’re terrific. So neat! So organized!
Faye’s starting full-time public Pre-K in the fall (and Silas will also be enrolled in all-day out-of-the house childcare), which means our weekday lunchtime routine will shift a bit. If my M&M’s tale didn’t already convince you, I have no designs on claiming the title of champion lunch packer. Mornings are hard enough for me, without waking up at dawn to tuck handmade sushi rolls into lunchboxes. (I’ll leave that to my sweet internet-pal Kaity.) But I do hope to supply lunches that are healthy and nourishing, and most of all, that get eaten. What I know I’ll strive for mostly is simplicity. I won’t want their lunches to create a whole bunch of packaging waste or food waste, so the goal will be foods with a high likelihood of getting gobbled, a low-risk of getting tossed, and most of all, something that doesn’t require a special early wake-up or advanced knife skills to concoct.
In the spirit of solidarity, and because we could all likely use some inspiration, I thought it might be nice to gather lunch ideas from the hive mind. What are your favorite things to tuck into kiddo lunch boxes for meals on the go?
I’ve been having to do this for the first time this summer for camp and it hasn’t been as stressful as I feared. It’s actually kind of nice sending in a meal they can’t haggle with you about. Having lots of berries, apples, and cut up veggies in the fridge makes it easier. For the “main” the only thing that gets fully eaten so far is bagels with cream cheese (I buy a few on the weekend and freeze them) and pesto pasta. But I don’t feel so bad about the carb-i-ness when the rest of the bento spaces are filled with veggies. Can’t wait to hear what other people say- -need some new ideas!
Cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches on hearty bread are a go-to since packing lunches for my 3-yr-old. Plus some fruit, etc. I learned early on that not only does he need something healthy and that he’s sure to eat, but nothing too far from what other kids eat. He’s always been a fantastic vegetarian eater, but all it takes for another toddler to say, That’s yucky!, to have it toss his from his repertoire. Striving for balance over the course of the day or the week is key – for us, at least. Good luck!
My son will be starting kindergarten in the fall and I’m still trying to figure out the best lunch box system, let alone what to pack. Planet box looks awesome but we already have the lunch bag which the planet box won’t fit in so I’m not sure if I should buy something that fits what we have or not. Thanks for sharing lunch ideas!
Hi Erin, such lovely lunchboxes! Somewhat relatedly…and I hope this isn’t too personal…are you and James raising your children as vegetarians? I’m one myself (pescetarian, technically, I guess), and as I’m expecting my first child, I was curious how you’ve passed on your own beliefs and habits to your little ones, while making sure they’re getting all the nourishment they need!
Mostly! Our kids eat the same way we do, which is mostly lacto-ovo vegetarian with occasional fish! We’re very confident they’re getting all the nourishment they need with a largely vegetarian diet!
Thanks so much! First time expecting is scary in so many ways…always helpful to hear others’ stories and practices!
S, I also like this blog (ohdeardrea) for lunch ideas (we’re not vegetarian or vegan but eat many meals that way): https://ohdeardreablog.com/category/wellness/what-marlowe-eats
Thank you! Bookmarking!
I used planet box for both my kids, but especially my son who had food allergies so a lot of common kid foods (like pbj sandwiches or cheese) didn’t work for him. There are pros and cons & eventually we stopped using them, but I still think they are good.
They will tell you all the pros on their website so I am going to share the cons:
They are expensive. If you have the kid that forgets anything that isn’t strapped onto him, this could be a source of stress. Usually school staff knew it was my son’s lunchbox as he was the only kid with one like it, but if no one notices, it might be gone.
They are heavier than their plastic counterparts. Not impossibly heavy, but they do get dropped and can dent or (hopefully not) another kid could get hit with it.
If you like to prep your portions ahead, this is a bit more work, as you have to wash it out before the next use, compared to ziploc baggies or multiple plastic containers that you could prep ahead.
The drink holder is on the outside of the case. I prefer to have everything inside a lunchbox, but that’s just my preference.
That being said, we still have ours and I imagine we will use them again, maybe when my kids are prepping more stuff themselves. It is appealing to look at all the food laid out in the planet box, closer to eating off a plate.
Adding that it’s not leak proof and doesn’t keep warm foods warm. The whole thing requires cold foods that have no juice / liquids. That said we still use it and look to weelicious for planetbox inspo!
Hey there: The lunch boxes that we have came with two lidded containers that fit inside and are leak proof for anything that might need it!
I wanted to add that I made a big purchase of two planet boxes when my son started kindergarten and my daughter was in preschool. They’re now entering fifth and sixth grades. They both walk to school and carried their Planet Boxes in their backpacks even in kindergarten; weight hasn’t seemed to be an issue for us. My son abandoned his planet box in second or third grade (I’m not sure exactly why), but my daughter is still going strong with hers, and I LOVE being able to use the one my son is no longer using to alternate days. I found when they were both using them that my most dreaded task in the evenings was having to wash and dry both planet boxes to pack them again for the next day. They’re just a pain to wash. That being said, they’ve held up fantastically well (including the case – I anticipated having to replace the case at some point, but she’s now been using it for 6 years and it shows absolutely no signs of wear) and my daughter always eats her entire lunch, no matter what I put in it. I often put dinner leftovers in the round container and we haven’t had any issues with leaking. I also strangely enjoy filling all the compartments. It’s much more fun to pack her lunch than his (I use Lunch Bots containers for his lunch, which have also held up great over the years).
Just thought I’d throw in my experience: we are not vegetarian so we serve our 1-year-old meat from time to time, but honestly, he’s not that excited about it. Usually, he’ll chew on it a bit and then spit it out. What he loves, and gets most of his nourishment from are eggs, cheese, vegetables, and legumes, and he’s a happy, healthy bouncing almost toddler 🙂 Good luck, you’ll do fine!
This resonates with me so much! Our three toddlers currently go to day care two days a week, and they are provided two snacks and lunch there. In September, we are switching them to a nature-based day care three days a week, and my biggest worry about the switch is actually the fact that I will have to pack lunches now! I’m certainly no Kaity, and though her son has some seriously envy-inducing lunches, I forsee my kids getting pb&j three days in a row. What’s a kitchen-hating lunch packer to do?
I find it easiest if the person who makes dinner, or cleans up dinner, packs the lunch. Then they can easily tuck some leftovers into the lunch box, grab a handful of berries, slice a cucumber etc. Then stick it in the fridge and it’s ready to go in the morning. No complaints so far about cold lunches.
I think you’ll probably have to keep the pb&j at home. Most daycares and schools are nut-free zones. This puts a big crimp in our lunch-packing too, since our almost three year old (who actually started out with a mild nut allergy but outgrew it, thank goodness) eats a lot of peanut butter and peanut noodles. 🙁
What about sunbutter, Debora? It’s made from seeds, not nuts, and it tastes pretty similar in a sandwich!
Pack leftovers! I always make extra at dinner and pack lunches the night before. It’s a familiar food since the kids have already eaten it. And if it tastes better hot then it gets warmed in the morning and we use a thermos
I hope you do a round up of all your favorite suggestions! (And planet box gives your readers a discount 😉 We’ve been doing hummus wrapped in a tortilla (less mess), an apple, baby carrots, and a fig bar. We have a deal that whoever puts the baby to sleep makes the toddler lunch while the other is putting the toddler to sleep, so everything is ready in the morning. The no nut thing is a challenge for veggie families so looking forward to hearing other suggestions!
Hoping the comment thread will be a good resource! (And would be so great to work on a formal collaboration with PlanetBox!) Yes! Was thinking about the nut issue this morning as I ate peanut butter toast with bananas!
We aren’t vegetarian but for whatever reason, our kids’ lunch sandwiches are. PB is banned from our preschool so we’ve done a rotation of sandwiches with cream cheese (with or without jelly), hummus sandwiches, and occasional almond butter (which is allowed but expensive!)
I had bought sunflower butter at the beginning of the year but, hooray, no nut allergies at preschool! Thank goodness as walnuts are the one thing that always get eaten. I’ve heard that the elementary school here allows nuts but there’s a separate table (if your best friend is a different class you make sure to bring nuts!)
We love our PlanetBox! E has had hers for three years now and it’s still going strong. She’s heading into first grade this year so the Rover offers enough space for a variety of taste but also in a quantity to fuel her day. We tend to offer turkey sandwiches, but also quesadillas, veggie fried rice, leftover pasta, English muffin pizzas, and hard boiled eggs all make regular appearances. Celery with cream cheese and raisins/craisins, dill pickles, Persian cukes, berries, apple or pear slices, and sometimes treats like veggie straws or cheddar bunnies, fill out the other compartments. I like that I can usually rummage through the fridge and cupboard to put a well-rounded lunch together—I can do it bleary-eyed in the morning while I brew my coffee at this stage…
My kids are peanut butter, one takes jelly, one does not, and yogurt everyday. (I keep waiting for when they decide to branch out!) That plus a piece of fruit, maybe a small sweet treat, and water. I’d love to know of any leakproof, non plastic, reusable yogurt containers anyone has used and liked.
Yes! I’m not sure what the nut rules might be in our cases, but I’m a big fan of pb&j (or no)! We’ve been putting yogurt into the containers that come with this new lunchbox we’ve been using! The silicone lid keeps things from leaking and everything stays nestled in the box!
I can second the planetbox containers with the silicone lids. They do not leak!!!! We love them.
I’ve always packed yogurt in Ball jam jars. I do have a set of the plastic lids to avoid the metal ones rusting, but the tiniest jam jar sizes would be perfect for a kid portion of yogurt! Bonus: they are cheap and I’ve never had one break.
I’ve been looking into silicone popsicle molds so we can freeze yogurt in them to eat as squeezy pops.
My momma would often pack us ‘snack lunches’ when time or groceries were in short supply. These were my favorite lunches- Tupperwares of cheese and crackers, sliced apple, peanut butter. Sure I sometimes traded my GORP for a fruit roll up, but that’s unavoidable. Good luck!
We went from sandwich/peas/fruit/cookies to olives/peanuts/crackers/veggies/fruit/cookies and back this summer. With the occasional slice of leftover pizza thrown in for variety. We’re also a big fan of Lunchbots boxes.
Four kids here- 2 with food allergies. We have a simple rotating lunch menu that echoes our equally simple rotating dinner menu. Each night we set aside some leftovers for the next days lunch. All foods are kid approved and mom approved for nutrition purposes. Flavorful dips help make everything more appealing. For example – we grill every Sunday. Monday lunch is leftover grilled meat or veggies with a dip, brown rice with Parmesan and butter, and sliced summer fruit. So in the morning all I need to do is assemble everything or reheat and put in the thermoses. Monday evening we make a big dinner salad with the rest of the leftovers from the grill and a big pot of pasta for the kids. Tuesday lunch is leftover pasta, cheese cubes, veggie spears, and grapes. Etc – you get the idea- cook extra at dinner to give yourself a helping hand with lunches. They never seem to have much time to eat at school anyway so keep it simple and easy to chew (better chance of it being consumed!). Lastly I always make sure to have a high fat/high protein snack ready after school to head off those after school crankies (nut butter with fruit, Greek yogurt smoothie, avocado toast, etc).
This is genius! Would you mind sharing what the “etc” is for the rest of the week? I’m curious because I’ve never gotten this down pat but I have three kids, work full time, and do the groceries/cooking stuff. I love the inspiration you’ve already provided!
Absolutely- shopping/cooking for a family is already a full time job!!
Tuesday dinner: Taco Tuesday (I rotate the taco filling each week- ground turkey, black beans, shrimp or fish, carnitas, crock pot salsa chicken)
Wednesday lunch: Deconstructed Tacos (taco meat, corn tortilla chips or corn tortillas (on the side) shredded cheese, salsa in dip container, apple slices with lemon juice and cinnamon)
Wednesday Dinner: Make your own quesadillas or grilled sandwiches with roasted vegetables or veggie soup in the winter.
Thursday Lunch: Pizza day – non allergy kiddos buy pizza at school and I also send carrots/ranch dip with applesauce in a lunch container. For my gluten free kiddos I bake a frozen GF pizza during breakfast and cut it up for their thermos.
Thursday Dinner: Breakfast for dinner (usually veggie scramble, frittata or omelettes, hash browns or shredded sweet potato hash, with a fruit/veggie smoothie)
Friday lunch: Breakfast for lunch (hash browns in thermos or leftover french toast sliced into spears with syrup in dip container, hard boiled egg (prepeeled), sliced up cold turkey bacon, berries)
Saturday/Sunday lunches are typical sandwiche fare.
One last thing- for our big Sunday grill up dinner I rotate the marinade/ flavors each week: Moroccan, Chile/Garlic/Lime, Thai, BBQ Sauce, Buffalo Sauce, Lemon Garlic Herb. Then for our Monday big dinner salad I pick veggies and dressing to compliment each week’s flavor. (I.e. Sunday= BBQ Chicken Thighs with sauce, Monday = BBQ Chopped Chicken Salad). This is so we don’t get burned out. Hope this helps! Carrie
You are amazing, Carrie! I would love to be this organized and resourceful. Thanks a million for all the ideas. #momgoals
The lunches that get eaten up w/ barely any leftovers seem to be what I call “appetizer lunches”. Little bits of a few different foods. Crackers, cheese, fruit, veggies, hummus, uncured pepperoni. I really love the stainless steel containers with sections, makes packing lunches nice & easy – we use the Lunch Bots brand…I have one container that is still going strong after 11 years.
Ma of three—I too find the appetizer lunch is the way to go. I had been doing leftover dinners in thermoses, or more elaborate lunches and they’d come back uneaten. They don’t like when things get mushy….so: meat sticks (TJ’s have great ones they love), veggies, hummus, crackers, cheese, olives, sometimes cold pesto pasta, mini bagels w cream cheese, wraps w cream cheese and sprouts, wraps w pbj (our schools allow nuts), nuts, cranberries, protein balls, etc.
Another endorsement for these kinds of lunches, but I get fancy and call them “charcuterie style”. Each kid gets: a protein, a veggie, a fruit, some crackers and a dessert. Assembling the lunches for the next day takes me about 10 minutes after dinner.
I personally found the stainless lunchboxes too cumbersome, leaky, expensive, and hard-to-open (I really tried to love them!) so I ended up with some cheap, solid plastic ones (Starfrit) and use a combo of littler containers with lids and silicone cupcake molds to keep the foods separate (heaven forbid that things touch!).
My 2 year old has the same lunch box and her lunches look much the same. She eats a lot but is particular so while I had grand plans of just feeding her what we eat that hasn’t been how it’s played out. I send fruit – non juicy stuff like grapes and blueberries and veggies like cukes and tomatoes. Fruit is always eaten, veggies maybe 25% of the time. I send prunes or dates for a treat and a cheese stick, crackers (bane of my existence – child would live on bananas and crackers) and then rotate beans/rice, burritos, pasta, yogurt, PBJ, sometimes other dinner leftovers for the “main.” So far hasn’t been driving me too crazy! I waffled on the expensive lunch box but so far I think it’s worth it. If others are considering, I bought just the metal Rover box (comes with the cups) straight off the Planet Box website and it was cheaper than what I could find on Amazon, etc – those packages included the lunchbag too which I didn’t want.
After their carb-heavy breakfasts, I try to leave carbs out of their lunches entirely. This is pretty much what my kids eat for lunch everyday: cubed extra firm tofu, halved hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with soy sauce (not keen on the salt but my son was threatening to mutiny on the eggs and the soy sauce has saved the day), some sort of hard cheese cut into sticks, Larabars, steamed broccoli, carrots, a banana. I’d love to change up the fruit and veggies but guess what happens if I do? 😉
Also, if I stick a mini popsicle stick (we reuse ours as infinitum but it works without the sticks too!) into pieces of watermelon and then freeze them, my kids think they’ve won the lottery.
Same! I find school snacks are so carb heavy. Then lunch comes with three variations of crackers and “healthy chips,” fruits and yogurt. Basically snacks on repeat.
We use the stainless steel small boxes from our local Daiso and stash them in an insulated lunch bag. Our kiddo takes a boiled egg, red pepper strips/cucumber/jicama, cheese, and fruit. We like to keep the boxes separate, as opposed to the Planet Box where all the food options are available immediately, because the teachers make sure she eats her veggies before she gets to eat fruit. Otherwise, she would only eat fruit and leave everything else! I try very hard not to include carby items because preschool feeds her those for snacks.
Our perennial favourite is tamago with purple rice and sugar snap peas.
Sunbutter is top-8-allergen free, just for worried folks. I have a peanut-allergic toddler and so appreciate the consideration of others. If your kids like sunflower seeds, they might go for sun butter.
One of my go-to’s when I was packing this school year was chopped apples mixed with lemon juice and cinnamon (one of my kids likes honey so he would get honey as well). It’s quick to prepare a batch and it’s sweet even sans honey.
Or you could do what my French family did when I was a nanny and ALWAYS send dinner leftovers. Nothing like microwaving leftover fish as a second-grader for making lots of friends!
I have one picky eater and one that will pretty much eat anything. Thankfully they are fine with minimal variety! At the end of the day, I just want them to eat what we pack, so it’s rarely a perfectly well rounded meal. But our formula is half a sandwich (pb&j, or just jelly and my oldest actually just wants regular butter on bread…siggggh…but whatever! Ha!), some pretzels and dried fruit (which they equate to candy) and then fresh fruit which rotates based on season. I also pack a small tin of homemade trail mix that my kids eat as an after school snack. Sometimes we run out of food due to poor planning, and on those days I quickly cook up some pasta in the morning and throw it in a thermos to stay warm.
Edamame is also sometimes thrown in the equation!
1. Sunflower butter is super yummy and nut-free. We get ours at Trader Joe’s!
2. Have you seen this series on F52? I’ve been following for years. https://food52.com/tags/amanda-s-kids-lunch
3. My kids are very into quesadillas right now. I fill them with any combination of beans, cheese and a smashed up leftover veggie (like steamed broccoli, roasted squash, sweet potatoes, etc) then press them into a folded tortilla in my cast iron skillet.
I LOVE Amanda’s kids’ lunch series!
On the subject of Planetboxes, I wonder: if toddlers can get into them; and if the contents leak from one section to another or out of the box altogether? I know yogurt or very runny things need to be in a smaller, sealable container, but what about juicy berries, salad dressing, general veggie run-off?
As far as lunches go: yogurt in a thermos every day, sun-butter for nut-free classrooms, and one of my sons prefers grilled sandwiches or quesadillas (he eats them cold) because he likes the way the ingredients are glued together and nothing gets soggy. Mini muffins (we like zucchini-carrot-spice) are always a good treat!
They have a genius latch that makes it really easy for the kids to open. Anything leaky should go into the little containers, but those don’t leak!
My daughter often comes home with lots left in her lunch box (kindy was a challenge- there is just so much to watch during lunch time!) but I found instead of having an after school snack ready, if I opened her lunch box and set it out while she was doing coloring or such- the rest of the box was eaten. So I didn’t stress if only the cookie and the cheese bites were gone- her hunger when she got home meant the veggies and sandwich would soon be consumed as well!
My Japanese mom used to pack us three musubis (riceballs ) each with different fillings–pickled vegetables, salmon, cucumber, etc. They were great because the didn’t need to be warmed up or refridgerated. She’d also include a piece of fruit and a small treat of some kind. Musubis are easy to make either by hand or in a mold. Mom had a mold that made three at a time. I miss her lunches. She always salted the rice perfectly. 🙂
This sounds delicious! I need to look into getting one of those molds for my own lunches.
My go-tos for on-the-go lunches are: hummus, crackers, fruit; PB or sesame seed butter & honey; pasta salad with peas and carrots (dressed with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt) and fruit; cheese, crackers, and fruit. Snacks are usually fruit or crackers (depending on what is with the entree) and some sort of snack bar/energy ball/etc.
My best advice is to find what works and rotate those few things out. Good luck!
Oh- one thing that helped me this year. Realizing that many kids enjoy and even find comfort in the same (or close to the same) thing each day. I saw all these fantastic parent blogs with new fancy lunches each day and was going that way- but then time meant dropping that. And the same cream cheese and jelly each day with some cheese, crackers, fruit/veggie. Suddenly it was being eaten more and my daughter wasn’t complaining. I think at 5/6 years old it was just nice to have one thing in her day she could predict. And it took a lot of pressure off me. Things shifted a little with seasons- but usually I would change just one thing (and keep the other 4 things the same) and then the next day pick one thing to shift. Finding a sandwich they love that is nut free is awesome- i would sneak in sprinkles of chia seed or other things to up the protein and such. But honestly, anything was an improvement from the NOTHING she was eating for her first 2 weeks of school. I started following some pediatric nutritionalists on IG and got great ideas for food and balance. And while they don’t always have the same low waste philosophies, almost all ideas can be adapted. Veggies and Virtue is one I’ve been enjoying.
Yes! Both of my kids seem happy to have the same thing over and over, for long stretches. The younger one does seem to rotate through things/ need more change – the ham will come home uneaten and we’ll know it’s time to switch to hard-boiled egg for a while. But, largely, happy with the same thing, and it really does make it so much easier on us as parents. I used to drive myself nuts trying to think up variety!
I’ve been thinking about ordering something like Planet Box lunchbox/bento box for my 34-year old partner! He is, of course, more self-sufficient than a toddler…but often forgets to eat in the midst of a jam-packed day of sales calls and meetings or relies on fast food burgers. He recently started a new fitness training regimen and asked for my help in supporting healthier eating habits so he meet his protein requirements and not be such a grump in the evenings due to low blood sugar. He is not picky (will try anything once) but is different from me in that he could eat the same thing every day and be happy. (Side note: it has been interesting to balance the aspiration of household egalitarianism with the reality that I am more likely to plan and prepare meals from scratch over the last five years, and thoroughly enjoy doing so as an act of care for both of us!)
In any case, we are really loving a Mediterranean-tapas- charcuterie vibe lately (probably akin to your picnic dinner vibe): lots of crackers with cheese and spreads like hummus and artichoke tapenade. Olives that you can buy in bulk. Cut up cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. Small hunks of salmon prepared the night before with lemon juice. Pistachios. Hardboiled eggs. Goat cheese with blueberries. I find that not only are these things easy to a) buy in bulk and b) throw into containers quickly but c) he can graze on them even if he doesn’t get a proper lunch break so it eliminates the mental block he often has around eating! And eaten all together, they feel sort of fancy and indulgent even while nutritious.
I can relate-I often have to pack snacks/sandwiches for my husband-who is a chef! He’s so busy shopping & cooking for others he forgets to eat! The cobbler’s children have no shoes and all of that…
Is it terrible that I was really excited there might be a little coupon attached to the end of this post, haha? I’ve had my eye on these planet boxes for some time and can’t seem to get my hands on any secondhand yet. Might have to just take the plunge. I really need lunch ideas as well so I’ll jusy be over here taking notes on all the comments. As always thanks for sharing! I always look forward to your posts.
Oh no! I wish! Special offers with sponsored posts only! But maybe one day!
As a preschool teacher, I see it all at snack time. Lots of Costco purchases — prepackaged cookies and fruit, Pirate Bootie, pretzels, etc. But I am amazed at how much fruit and veg I see, cut up by parents and put in a container, sometimes with a dip. I am impressed. Some parents also put in cheese with the fruit (perfect pairing IMHO), or bags of home-popped popcorn. Kids also LOVE parent-baked cookies and mini-muffins. My little request — cut big grapes in half. I worry about choking.
I’ve been using planetbox for 3 years and love it. My kiddo likes the same thing every day, apple (cut up), carrot or red pepper slices, cheese, hummus, and crackers. This works for our vegetarian kid going to a nut free school.
I aim for for food-groups, easy to eat, and appealing. My 3yo twins had their first summer camp for a week this summer and I sent:
Half turkey sandwich
Blueberries and raisins
Half stick of string cheese
Our Planetbox paid for itself recently – we accidentally left it in our second car (that rarely gets driven) at the start of kindergarten holidays and only found it two weeks later. The scene inside was horrific! If it was a plastic lunchbox it would have gone in the bin, but being stainless steel meant a good clean and a run through the dishwasher and it was back to brand new.
We started out with a Lunchbots container, but my three year old son couldn’t open it by himself so we bought the Planetbox Rover instead. We subdivide the sections using silicone cupcake moulds if need be. I now take the Lunchbots container out with me with snacks for my baby! I also like using The Original Squeeze reusable pouches for things like yoghurt.
I have the same thing and while it’s expensive, I love it and will use it for years. I love having one container and not 3 or 4 which was our old routine. However, my great homemade lunches have often fallen by the wayside when here in NYC school lunch became free-my daughter was then forgoing her packed lunch for free pizza, tacos, etc at school to the point where I had to call them and tell them to STOP letting her do this!
I packed hers today for camp with melon balls, tomato/basil/mozzarella salad, sliced cucumber and some homemade granola balls (from the Cookie and Kate blog/cookbook. So good). I find summer lunches so much easier than school year lunches (hello all the fresh produce!). I actually made a list of lunch ideas and taped it to the inside of my cabinet so on the evenings or mornings where I just couldn’t think I just looked at that. We do ‘picnic’ lunches often-cheese, fruit, crackers, veggies, some meat on occasion. I also make mezze platters if we happen to have hummus and tzatziki around. I find that I am way more creative with the planet box container, I guess I like seeing it all displayed when you open the lid vs having to open multiple containers. Hopefully my kid does too!
About to buy #2 for my son who starts UPK in the fall.
I forgot to add-one of our lunchbox go-tos from the very beginning are Melissa Clark’s “Dahlia’s Fragrant Chicken Fingers”-they are so easy to make, so good, have lots of flavor and my kid love them, and have since they were 1 or so. I credit those things for making them such good eaters-all of those flavors are the opposite of typical baby and toddler foods. I often serve them with hummus of tzatziki to dip in, and I use ground turkey or ground chicken, whatever I have on hand. They are like a flattened out meatball and cook in 10 minutes.
Other standbys are any kind of salad we have in the fridge-chickpea, , black bean with mango, quinoa with corn and feta in the summer (A Deborah Madison recipe), etc. For sandwiches it’s cream cheese with cucumber, almond butter with jam, avocado and hummus, egg salad, tuna salad. However, someone’s comment above made me think that for my younger child starting UPK in the fall maybe routine IS more comforting at this point. I will ask him…
I might be weird about this, but I LOVE packing school lunches. A few rules of thumb:
-Get small reuseable containers for your small people with small tummies who eat small portions. This helps reduce waste and keep food from rattling around and getting broken or bruised in transit.
-Practice at home with your kids to make sure your, say, 4 years old and up kids can open all their containers by themselves. (Obviously 2 and 3 year-old are just going to need help.) Some of the fancy reusable containers I’ve bought are hard for ME to open, and if they need to wait for help from their teachers, that’ll cut into the time they have to eat and possibly lead to them being hungry later.
-Talk to your kids to find out what they enjoy eating/what’s easy for them to eat and pack their food accordingly. My oldest son invented these cheddar and spicy mustard sandwiches in kindergarten that he LOVED and ate almost every day for lunch for, like, two years. So weird, but if that’s what he find appealing and easy to eat, I’m not arguing. My daughter adores peanut butter cinnamon sugar sandwiches.
-Pack lunches the night before and stash them in the refrigerator overnight–this makes for MUCH more thoughtful, less rushed choices than waiting until the morning.
I have a rough formula for lunch packing that I can work a lot of variation into. Basically I aim for sending water, a carb, 1-2 proteins, a fruit, and a veggie.
Carbs can be: assorted breads (slices of loaf bread in sandwiches, tortillas in roll ups, flat bread for dipping, etc. ), rolls, bagels, crackers, pretzels, pita chips
Proteins can be: peanut/almond butter (if your school allows it), tuna salad, egg salad, hummus, lunch meat, cheese (slices, cream cheese, cottage cheese, tiny mozzarella balls; I avoid string cheese), yogurt, lunch meat (a rare treat in our house, but I do get bulk ends & pieces pepperoni pretty often), refried beans, hard boiled eggs
Veggies can be: carrot sticks (rainbow carrots are a fun treat), celery sticks, raw broccoli or cauliflower if your kids will eat them, cucumbers, tiny tomatoes
Fruits can be: anything in season though I avoid bananas because they travel poorly (berries, cherries, apples and Mandarin oranges are the easiest to pack, but basically every other fruit can be peeled/cored/cut up/whatever and sent in sealed containers), applesauce, raisins, other dried fruits
I’m not going to lie, my kids get a lot of sandwiches, BUT if you challenge yourself to think outside the box a little you can make some super fun lunch variations that are also very low effort. Ideas:
-Burritos, quesadillas, tortilla roll ups (I made some with hummus, arugula, and leftover taco chicken that my kids adored last year).
-Homemade “lunchables” (cheese slices and pepperoni to layer on crackers OR flat bread, tomato sauce, and grated cheese, etc.–there are TONS of possibilities).
-Fun variations on “things to dip” (pretzels & apple slices in peanut butter & honey, pita chips & veggies in hummus, crackers & veggies in tzatziki sauce, french toast strips or left over pancakes in maple syrup, and on and on–I tend to avoid things like ranch dressing & veggies, or super sugary combos, but that’s completely up to the individual).
-Dairy bases with mix-ins (yogurt with fruit & granola, cottage cheese with berries or Mandarin oranges).
Good luck with the start of school! It’s such an exciting change!
Public PreK in NYC has free breakfast and lunch so don’t worry too much about packing food as they usually opt for the lunch all the other kids are eating.
Just learning this!
My daughter liked these tortilla ‘sushi’ pieces that I made (I just rolled up some cucumber/carrots/peppers and hummus in a wrap and sliced it to make some little rolls that are easy to pick up) but I do find that her tastes change really frequently. Some days she loves the chia seed pudding (we’re plant-based, so its how we do ‘yogurt’ because vegan yogurt is so pricey!) and other days all she will eat are the fruits. So I just make sure there are lots of everything, including sometimes just some plain cooked pasta dusted with nutritional yeast and edamame. Sometimes she eats it all, sometimes she just picks at it. My paediatric nurse practitioner mentioned something that set me so much more at ease about what she eats and its that studies show that young children will naturally vary their diet over the course of a week instead of a day (like adults tend to do) so if she eats nothing but strawberries for a day, its no big deal because another day will be nothing but chickpeas. I try to offer the things she should eat and respect her selections. To echo the sentiments of earlier comments that they often eat their leftovers on the stroller ride home from school so it all gets eaten, one way or another! Also making lunch the night before made the process SO MUCH BETTER for my non morning person self. Slowly assembling it while packing up the kitchen for the night is way more relaxing than throwing it together in the morning!
I’ve loved reading everyone’s ideas, I am so terrible at packing lunch I’ve been known to just throw an entire cabbage in my work bag on my way out the door.
I wanted to chime in to say that, as a nursery school teacher, I really dislike the design of the Planet Box lunchboxes. Granted, they might work better for older children. Many of my (2-4 y/o) students have had them and I have found that, due to their large size, they can be challenging for the children to maneuver and wind up monopolizing table space so that the children on either side of whoever brought the Planet Box don’t have much room. I generally recommend parents pack a few smaller glass or stainless or fabric containers, which have the added bonus of allowing children who are more easily overwhelmed by many food choices to focus on one thing at a time.
I really despise these kinds of lunchboxes! They seem to always be filled with varieties of snack food rather than REAL food! I much prefer one or two medium containers packed with leftovers and perhaps a fruit. I think packing things in all these separate compartments makes kids more picky about food “touching.” And I just don’t see what’s healthy about packing so much fruit and carbs/crackers/chips. We try to include a solid protein (fish, tofu, pork roast etc), some grains and veggies. All from the night before and packed during clean up. If it’s something that needs to be eaten hot, it gets warmed in the the morning and sent in a thermos. Can’t be easier than that. And it’s typically what we’re also eating for lunch so kids don’t get in the mindset of making a fuss around any meal times, including those away from home. It has been highly successful for our family and our kids eat like champs (the same food as adults)
ha! sounds like it! i’d say there are plenty of ways to make these guys work without include snack foods, but when we have enough leftovers we also sometimes go the warm thermos route! haven’t noticed any impact on my kids’ pickiness or enthusiasm for foods that touch 😉
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