The Ultimate School Lunch Post

August 16, 2010

Have you heard? (How could you not!) It’s Back-to-School season!

And just like for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the rest, we get bombarded with a shit ton of back-to-school marketing earlier and earlier. (Since when has “back-to-school” reached holiday status?!) While some of it is super helpful, the sheer amount of information and advice is enough to make you go batty.

So I’m going to do you a solid. I’m going to give you the only five pointers you need to pack yummy and healthy lunches that will keep kiddo well fed without any extra work for you.

And don’t forget to chime in with your tips, too. Together let’s make this a one-stop shop for back-to-school lunch ideas.

1. Plan for leftovers.

I know it sounds labor intensive, but planning ahead saves time in the end. Seems counterintuitive, I know, but it’s true. Every Sunday, I make a meal plan for the week. If you can’t do that (or don’t want to), at least plan ahead enough to make an extra portion of one or two dinners per week. That means one or two lunches done. Just like that.

2. Go international.

We love sandwiches here in the States. And why not. A good sandwich—sometimes even a mediocre one—is just what you need to hit the spot. But, day after day, they can get a little old and uninspired. I mean, how many PB&J’s or turkey sammys can one kid eat? (Probably a lot, but it certainly doesn’t help get them excited about food.) Instead, think crepes (make ahead and freeze), quesadillas (ones like these filled with red chard and mushrooms or butternut squash and avocado are more delicious than you’d think at room temp), dosas (made easy if you get a mix, make like crepes and freeze), and hand-held pies (these Syrian spinach pies are made with store-bought pizza dough and a no-cook spinach filling). All of these things are easy to fill with standard sandwich stuffers or more creative and nutritious vegetable fillings.

3. Use your freezer.

I’ve already mentioned freezing several times, but it bears repeating. Use. Your. Freezer. Which, by the way, brings us back to planning. When you make something that’s also good for the lunchbox, be sure to cook extra. Or plan a time when you can cook for a a couple of hours to stock your freezer with goodies that’ll make packing lunch easier for the month: crepes, dosas, veggie fillings (e.g., chickpea, spinach and potato mash), a shepherd’s pie, zucchini or sweet potato muffins, baked chicken fingers, or polenta squares which can be layered or topped with good stuff. It doesn’t have to be fancy. And, if you do a little planning, it doesn’t have to be often. You might even consider sharing the responsibility with some friends: once a month make everyone in your “club” responsible for cooking 2 lunchable items for the whole group. Five participants equals ten lunches (enough for half a month of school!) ready and waiting in your freezer.

4. Pack fruits and veggies.

I hear you chuckling. Especially you parents of older kids. But hear me out. (Many of you laughed when I wrote, more than once, about why hiding vegetables misses the point and that turned out to be sound–even recommended!—advice.)

Day after day, offering a well rounded lunch with a main entree (if you will), a snacky thing like muffins, granola bars or yogurt, and a bunch of fruit and veggies sends a clear message about what makes a good meal. Sure, many kids will leave the fruit and veggies. Let them! If they’re really hungry, they’ll eat it. Or they’ll trade and negotiate to end up with someone else’s more appealing lunch box item. Fine. (Kind of savvy, even.) Kids will do this and we can accept that without being in collusion with them. All you need to know is that you did your job by providinh a healthy, well-balanced lunch. Period.

5. Don’t care what others think.

Your child will not be scarred by having a lunch that’s different from the other kids. I know. When everyone else had Twinkies and PB&J, I had Greek food and snacks from the health food store. My lunch sucked. (Unlike me, my mom did not know how to do healthy without doing lame.) Do I still talk about it to this day? Yes. But I also love food and cooking and, as far as I can tell, none of my issues stem from what my mom packed for lunch.

And, while I’m at it, I don’t want you to just ignore your kid’s classmates. I also want you to ignore their parents! Nobody knows better than me feeling like other parents are thinking, “Oh, you’re the mom what packed THAT for lunch.” Yes. I am that mom. Because encouraging good eating habits is not a crime. In fact, it’s arguably one of the most important things we can do to invest in our children’s lifelong healthy habits. And no I don’t live a life of luxury where I can spend hours packing a precious lunch for my kid. I’ve found ways to do it just as fast as you madly scramble to throw together yet another ham sandwich. Don’t believe me? See 1-4 above.

Recipe & Inspiration Index
list updated Sept 2012

Main Dishes


12 Responses

  1. Kristin says:

    This is why you are my favorite food blogger! Excellent post.

  2. Tiffany says:

    Here! Here! to not hiding veg I am so with you. kids have to see the vegetable in question and go: this is spinach and I like it prepared this way. Both my kids dislike zucchini and I have lots from my garden so I do tend to brunoise it and insert in stuff but I also serve it the way I like it (grilled), and ask that they please eat some.There is complaining but they do eat it and it gets easier and easier the more we have it. This is more impressive then it seems as my 3 year old is the reigning queen of picky eaters.

  3. Alison says:

    Just found your site from Smith Bites. Great job! love your post

  4. Fancy Nancy says:

    I have never read your blog before but, I loved this one and had to leave my 2 cents! I have 3 kids of my own and I had THAT mom packing my healthy, whole foods lunch in milk bags she cut the tops off, washed and recycled long before there were a 100 cute containers to save and re-use and happily I have developed that same love for packing healthy, creative, lunches for my own kids with homemade breads and cookies and granola bars and they love to help cook and try many international foods and meal time is never dull! You made me feel very good about what I like to do for my own kids (even though I am subject to some rolled eyeballs on the playground) and I LOVE your notion that encouraging good healthy eating habits is not a crime! Love it! Great job–awesome post 🙂

  5. Cindy says:

    Hi! I’m here via Simple Bites.
    Number four is my favorite. My kid seemed alright with all her tablemates making noises of mock disgust when she chomped on her taco salad during her first week of all-day school. It’s her favorite meal and nothing they do will change that. I try to follow her lead.

  6. Cheers to you! My favorite phrase is now: Encouraging good eating habits is not a crime. You make my heart smile. Instead of eating the class’s snacks, my daughter eats her own. Now if only I could forbid the obligatory birthday crap food being brought into school every time I turn around…..

  7. Ara says:

    Indeed another fantastic post! Love it. Thank you for the ideas and for the sample recipe index. That would help us. And oh by the way, you might also like to try something that has style, and durability school lunch container. I found an amazing site which you can use as a food stacking container. It’s safe to use, reusable, long lasting and eco-friendly. Also, it has various kinds of shapes, design and sizes to choose from Happy Tiffin stainless steel tiffin carriers. Why not go for stainless steel instead of plastic bags? 😉

  8. What a great, inspiring post. Almost like a manifesto! I have my family dinners well under control but could definitely improve the variety in my kids’ lunches. It’s a lot tougher because I’m not there to inspire them to try things, and when they don’t like their lunch, they are incredibly grumpy at 3:15! But I’m excited to play with Bento Boxes and fruit leathers. Great post. I’m glad to have met you via the Motherhood chat today.


  9. Loris Merlan says:

    Thank you for giving us some honest recommendations on this topic. I have located a wide variety of honest recommendations about travel tips and some poor recommendations. Do you have any more reliable information or places on the Web that I can find more detailed suggestions? This would be much appreciated! So, continue the good work!

  10. Gretchen says:

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Am in desperate need of lunch inspiration and here you are!! I found you on Simple Bites! Keep up the good work!!

  11. One Hungry Mama says:

    you’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome! xo

  12. Cooper says:

    Irina Shayk’s boyfriend off nearly two years Cristiano Ronaldo has been named as an ambaassador for Save
    the Children. Who says that girls can’t enjoy the things that we do.

    They need to be given the space tto feel bad about life, but not at YOUR cost.

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