This has been my first year with a “school kid.” Sure, it’s preschool and it’s only three days a week, but the school transition is a big one for every family and one of the things that I eagerly awaited was packing Honey’s lunch each day. In preparation, we made and froze muffins and intricately designed crackers. There were decoratively cut veggies and homemade goodies. I was determined to win some elusive “best lunches award.”
And wow, was that exhausting! I became burnt out pretty quickly, trying to keep up with the elaborate creations of blogger mama friends or Instagram accounts full of cookie cutter sandwiches, personalized plates, and the like. And how incredible those mamas are who can keep up with that — how I envy them!
But in line with my resolutions for 2017, I’ve revamped my lunch making plans for the new year and the key for me is:
Keep it simple, mama!
And in case you’ve hit a wall on lunch creativity for kiddos, or even yourself (!), here are a few tips on how I’m doing just that.
INVEST IN GOOD GEAR
There are so many great lunchbox products on the market. I’ve experimented with quite a few and my favorites are pictured below. I don’t use them all every day, but I do like having several different options, and they are all sturdy and reusable!
- BENTO BOX: Plastic or stainless steel, these are both fun to fill and fun to open up full of yummy surprises. We use a small one by BentGo Kids.
- SNACK BAGS: Rather than using Ziploc bags, we have several sizes of reusable, washable fabric snack pouches from Lunchskins.Check out these: Lunchskins Reusable Snack Bag 3pk – Stripes; Lunchskins 3pk Reusable Sandwich Bags: Apple Orange Pear; Lunchskins Resuable Sandwich Bags (Blue)
- THERMOS: Both hot and cold foods, especially soups or mac-n-cheese, yogurt or fruit salad, keep their temperature in a good thermos. They are a bit pricey, but have proven to be worth it! Ours is a kid size Thermos brand. Check out this Thermos Funtainer 10 Ounce Food Jar, Purple
- CUPS, CONTAINERS, UTENSILS, OH MY: Before Honey was born, I fell in love with the products by Replay Recycled. We still exclusively use their plates at home, and their forks and spoons always go into the lunch bag. Add the sip top no-spill cup and snack stackers for messier foods, and you’re on your way to easy lunch packing! Check out these:Re-Play Made in the USA 3pk No Spill Sippy Cups for Baby, Toddler, and Child Feeding ; Re Play Divided Plates for Babies and Toddlers (Set of 3); Re-Play 8 Count Utensils, Under the Sea
KEEP EASY FOODS ON HAND ~ Keep a stock of healthy, easy, and quick foods you know your kids are sure to eat. For us, it is carrot sticks, cut up peppers, cherry tomatoes, hummus, fruit, pretzels or veggie sticks, and Larabars. Now yes, these may seem like snack foods. But my kiddos are more grazers than meal eaters, so a bento box filled with several healthy options is perfect. Add in your kids’ favorites too ~ string cheese or pre-cut chunks of cheese and meats, trail mix, etc.
PREP & FREEZE (if you can) ~ One thing that always saves my sanity is making up a big batch of healthy muffins, protein balls, or veggie tots when I have time on a quiet morning or weekend. I portion them out and keep them in the freezer to add to lunches (and eat as snacks at home, too). Knowing these things are there is definitely a stress reliever on crazier days or when the fridge is looking bare.
USE LEFTOVERS ~ If Honey loves dinner and there are leftovers, it is the first thing to go into lunch. From veggie mac-n-cheese to barley soup to veggie curry or lentil loaf, I use what I have first before I make something new.
HAVE A ROUTINE ~ When we get home from school for the day, I unload backpacks and wash up lunch gear. Everything is stored in a basket on the counter for easy access. And then after dinner, when I’m washing dishes and putting away leftovers, I pack lunch and put the whole thing in the fridge. Anything that needs to be heated goes on the stove in the morning and into the Thermos before we walk out the door.
These things have proven to work best for Honey and I. And sure, if there’s extra time for an elaborate and adorable meal to be created, I do it. But more often than not now, I just want lunch packing to take less than five minutes and still be healthy and yummy. And most of the time, the lunch bag is empty coming home ~ a sure sign that I’m doing things right.