Liven Up Those Lunchboxes!

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Both of my kids started school this week and it has been a very strange few days for me. For the first time in eleven years, my voice echoes off the walls during the day. I find myself sitting down to work and waiting for someone to need something before I get started. I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually but for now the silence, and ability to actually get things done from start to finish without interruptions, is positively unnerving.

I’m so glad I at least have a dog who talks to me from time to time and asks to be let out.

With the onset of school most parents start to fretting over the inevitable lunchbox dilemma.

What will I put in their lunchboxes? How do I keep it from becoming boring?

First of all, there are a few things to keep in mind here. You are mostly trying to keep it lively for you. The majority of kids have no problem with eating the same thing day in and day out if it is what they like. Trust me, I’ve packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at least three times a week for five years now. It’s funny how we take these kids who ask for macaroni and cheese at every meal and suddenly expect them to be bored by having the same thing twice in one week.

Secondly, remember to think outside of the box when it comes to your kid. Don’t try to fit their lunch into everyone else’s mold. Just because Wally and the Beave took a sandwich and apple to school each day in a brown paper sack doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good parent if you end up sending tofu and peanut butter (Extreme example here. Neither I nor my children have ever actually eaten tofu.)

When Brady was in preschool, I sent him a traditional lunch the first day. Sandwich, fruit, chips. His teacher came to me after school all worried because “He wouldn’t eat a single bite of his lunch”.  She said he seemed hungry but wouldn’t touch it. It occurred to me that my son didn’t like sandwiches at the time. I felt compelled to send a sandwich though because, well that was just what I felt you had to do. I told her “Okay, tomorrow’s lunch is going to look strange but I promise he’ll eat it”. the next day I sent a container of cherry tomatoes and a container of grapes. He ate every bite and his teacher was thrilled. Sure it lacked protein but just remember that this is one meal out of their day and I’m pretty sure no one expects us to eat the entire food pyramid in one sitting.

A third thing to keep in mind is that what you pack does affect how they function in school. I try to make sure the channels of communication are always open between my children’s teachers and myself. They will notice if there is a problem with your child long before it shows up on the report card and the sooner you know the better your chances of helping. One week, Brady’s first grade teacher said that he had been suddenly having a hard time paying attention in math. This wasn’t like him and I was so grateful that she pointed it out to me. I asked her what time math was as I searched for possible reasons. Turns out, math was directly following lunch.

Well, that week I had taken Brady to the grocery store with me and relented when he asked for these new drinks for his lunchbox – not paying a lot of attention to the fact that they had over thirty grams of sugar. You add that to the sugar in his flavored yogurt and we had a hyped up kid right about the time math rolled around. I immediately altered his lunch and the teacher noticed a difference the very next day.

What to pack?

A lot of us have picky eaters (fortunately, most kids grow out of that!) and we rack our brains trying to think of things to pack in their lunches. I’ve found it is a lot easier if you’ll sit down and make a list, dividing it into categories. When I did this for Katy Rose I was pretty impressed! I taped my list on the inside of my pantry door for easy reference. I don’t have to worry about this with my oldest because he pretty much eats anything that isn’t nailed down at this point in his life. Categories to consider are: Protein, Vegetables, Fruit, and Carbs.

Think beyond the sandwich.


Sometimes you get tired of making sandwiches, occasionally kids get tired of eating them. There are other options.

Note: The following items are from my list of things my Katy Rose will eat, meant as inspiration to get you started on your own lists.

Then I got to thinking about protein that Katy will eat. The only sandwich she will eat is pb&j and I wanted to offer more options. When I sat down to make up a protein list, I was surprised again at all of the options I came up with of things that she likes!

  • Tortilla “roll up” Sandwiches. If it can be put between two slices of bread, you can roll it up into a tortilla. Brady loves these.
  • Cheese – this is something I’m doing for Katy this year. Sometimes she wants a sandwich, sometimes she just wants a piece of mild cheddar cheese.
  • Peanut Butter Balls – These are a powerhouse of nutrition, and I like to substitute honey for the corn syrup. They are filling and full of protein, handy because they are kept in the freezer. Katy and Brady both love them.
  • Peanut Butter between Graham Crackers
  • Peanut Butter on Celery -I often make these and put them on a plate to serve with supper. This is my kid’s version of a “fancy appetizer”

Fruits also make a great side item or dessert. What fruit will your child eat?

I started making a list of fruits my picky eater would eat and was surprised at how long it was!

  • Melon
  • Cantaloupe
  • mandarin oranges (I keep cans in the pantry, drain them and put in a little container)
  • Canned fruit salad
  • apple sauce
  • strawberries
  • grapes
  • blueberries, raspberries
  • bananas

Here are some side items that made Katy Rose’s list:

  • Pudding
  • Yogurt
  • Chips
  • Crackers
  • Popcorn (I often pop some in the morning and pack it with lunch)
  • Carrots
  • cucumbers

So for someone who I thought of as a strictly PB&J gal, I now have a list of plenty of options thanks to taking the time to think it out and write it down.

Don’t forget the pixie dust!

This is my favorite part of packing lunches and the one my kids look forward to most,

sprinkling a little Mama Magic into each one.

This is my supply box. I keep some stickers, plain white index cards, and sharpie markers.

With them I can do all sorts of fun things!

The index cards are perfect for little notes. For children too young to read, you can draw pictures or just keep it to the words they know how to read, such as their names. This was the note I had in Katy Rose’s lunchbox on her first day of Kindergarten. I put them in a little sandwich bag to protect them from moisture.

I never set out to be a “Ma”. I had planned on being “Mama”. When Brady was four years old, though, he started calling me “Ma” instead. I asked him about it one day and he replied “Well, you know I’m getting older now and when I say Mama, it kinda sounds like baby talk”. I decided then and there that as long as they were saying it with love ‘Ma’ was fine with me. Of course, when his sister came along, she followed in her big brother’s footsteps. Now, every time they say my name I feel like Caroline Ingalls but oh well…

For the older ones, even if they seem too old to value such a thing, never underestimate how much a little note can do for a child. I put this one in Brady’s lunch on his first day of fifth grade. When I picked them both up from school and asked how their day went, the first thing out of both of their mouths was to tell me they got their notes!

Another fun thing I like to do is use my sharpies to decorate lunch containers. These are the little sandwich thingies from rubbermaid.

(Note: I have zero drawing talent. I can barely draw stick people. It’s the thought that counts though!)

This is a compartment container by Ziploc brand.

You can draw a design on the underside of it so it doesn’t touch your food, but remember to write any words backwards!

This is a neat way to decorate your child’s lunch for the holidays, too.

I like to keep my eyes open for sales on printed napkins and sometimes I just pick up a package of some character my kids like, they are usually about two dollars for fifteen to twenty napkins, which isn’t much of an investment and will really brighten up a lunch for a surprised child, especially the younger ones!

When it comes to lunchboxes themselves, there are a few that i love and a few that I avoid like the plague (but they still manage to come into my home each year).

These are my favorite. It is a traditional design but with lots of room inside for a drink thermos, sandwich container, and plenty more. I try to steer my kids towards these whenever possible. The other designs and shapes are ones that I find difficult to pack, limited on space, and with no room for a drink thermos so I’m left with only juice boxes as an option. Juice boxes can get expensive and my kids tend to drink a little more than that with their lunch so I prefer the little drink thermos.

There are a lot of Bento lunchboxes out there and I love the concept because you can pack several different smaller servings but still have a great variety, but after extensive shopping both online and in stores, I have yet to find a bento box that wouldn’t leak and was suitable for younger children. Expecting either of  my kids to keep their lunchbox in an upright position from the time they leave the house until the time they get to the lunchroom is entirely unrealistic. A lunchbox has to be able to survive a trip on the Wabash Cannonball in order to make it with my kids! (the Wabash Cannonball was a country music song but they named a roller coaster after it at the old Opryland. It was a beautiful roller coaster!)

I did find this one on the left and I actually ordered it…but my GOODNESS it is HUGE, and it also relies on little hands taking the time to close it carefully when they are done with lunch, pressing down and sealing all compartments to make sure any leftovers don’t leak into their bookbag. Umm yeah, not gonna happen. I’m happy with my traditionally sized lunchbox and rubbermaid containers. A few plastic bags won’t kill anyone, either. I repent by reusing my sandwich containers and drinking thermos.

The lunchbox on the right is another design I really don’t care for. There isn’t room for a thermos in the main compartment and whatever you put in the bottom compartment is most likely going to be forgotten. Having said this, I’ve also found that the coolest designs will only come in these types of lunchboxes. ~laughs~

This is the most durable drink holder I have found. Brady is still using one that I bought him at the beginning of school last year, and that is really saying something for quality! They don’t leak, they’re easy for young kids to operate, and they keep beverages nice and cold. They are a bit pricey, about $13 each, but considering how long they last I think that’s a value compared to most things out there. I got these two at Target but I’ve also seen them on occasion at Wal Mart. They are Thermos brand. I love, love, love, love them!

Ice Packs are a must at our house. I get them for fifty cents to a dollar each and try to keep four or five in the freezer because I usually don’t open yesterdays lunchbox until I’m ready to pack it again, so I need a freshly frozen ice pack. I’ve also seen where a lot of folks freeze juice boxes and put them in to keep everything cool

I do like to freeze yogurt sticks, though, and if they aren’t completely thawed by the time lunchtime rolls around the kids still enjoy them just as much.

These little d clip keychains are wonderful! I get the in the automotive department, where you have keys made.

I hook the keychain onto Brady’s backpack handle…

and he can easily clip his lunchbox onto his backpack.

And these are little keytags that I picked up in the automotive department over at Wal Mart. There is a little slide in plate you can put names on. I have them on both of my kid’s lunchboxes and backpacks. They are very handy and I paid about $1.50 for three of them.

So these are my ideas to help brighten up lunchtime preparation for you and lunchtime enjoyment for your precious children. If you have a handy tip or idea, please leave it in the comments below.

Feeding their little bodies is important, but don’t forget that you are also feeding their spirits as well.

‎”Always hug with both arms

and never be the first to let go”

Thanks to Dolores for sending me this. Click here to submit your quote!

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  1. Thank you soooooooooooo much!!!!! I love the suggestions… My oldest is 11 and pretty easy but my new kindergartener is a princess who is very picky!!
    Thanks again!!

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