As many of you know, my daughter is in Kindergarten this year, therefore we’ve now entered a new phase in life: the don’t-forget-to-pack-a-lunchbox-every-single-school-night phase. And, oh yeah, it needs to be comprised of healthy ‘real’ foods and be somewhat balanced. Plus, it needs to give her enough fuel and energy to make it until she gets off the bus at 4:15 in the afternoon. (Or is that early evening? I’m going with evening since we put our kids to bed just 3 hours after she gets home.) Anyway, even though I care if my daughter’s lunch is somewhat healthy, that doesn’t matter at all if she won’t eat it. Well, I think we’ve done a great job so far. She either packs her own lunch all by herself or I ask for her input if we’re running low on time. When it comes to packing a school lunch, we make a great team. Now, when it comes to picking out an outfit each day? Not such a great team. Ha! We definitely don’t see eye to eye on what does or doesn’t “look cute.” She even told me last week–in her pouty & upset 5 year old way–“I think you want my hair to look pretty…and I just want it to look…normal!” Oh my… I’m telling you, I’m not sure how we’re going to make it through the teenage years when she is already exerting so much opinion and attitude over her looks and clothes at 5 years old!!
Anyway… 🙂 I’ve been taking a picture of her lunchbox every day and we’ve already compiled over 15 different ideas for you! (There were several more photos, of course, but I took out the repetitive lunches so as not to bore you with the same things over and over.) 🙂 I know that every kid has different likes and dislikes, but I’m hoping that by sharing this post today you can find at least one or two new ideas.
My daughter loves that packing a lunch has become HER responsibility. Most days, she takes complete control and does ‘almost’ everything herself, however, there are days when I either take over due to lack of time or because she’ll burn or cut herself if I don’t step in. Either way, she always has a say on what goes into her lunch. And even though I think it’s always good to expose kids to new foods, I don’t think school lunch is the right time or place for that. I like sending foods that I know she’ll eat and enjoy, that way I know she’s getting enough fuel into her body to keep her going (and learning) for the rest of the day. Besides, I have dinnertime to scare her with new veggies! 😉
I’m also learning that the amount we pack is crucial. Pack too little and she’s “s-t-a-r-v-i-n-g” when she gets home. Pack too much and she feels stressed and rushed because she can’t eat it all in the short period of time she has. It’s definitely been a learning experience all the way around…for both of us!
Here are 15 Real Food School Lunchbox Ideas for you (in no particular order)!
- Leftover cold shredded chicken from making a whole chicken in the crock pot, honey mustard for dipping, a hard boiled egg, a Babyel cheese circle, raw bell pepper slices, and a square of dark chocolate for dessert.
- Leftover cold homemade whole wheat pizza (with Italian sausage), cherry tomatoes from our garden, and baby carrots.
- Two Applegate turkey slices rolled up, corn cut off the cob, Earth Fare organic whole wheat thin crackers (not 100% real food), cheese slices, and a square of dark chocolate for dessert.
- Whole wheat mini pita pockets from Whole Foods (though, they do contain canola oil, which isn’t my top choice), organic pizza sauce, Applegate pepperoni cut into fourths, a cut up slice of organic cheddar cheese, and organic blackberries. (A much better alternative to the Lunchables pizza kit!!)
- Leftover (cold) cheese quesadillas from the previous night’s dinner, organic salsa, cherry tomatoes, a cut up organic apple, and a square of dark chocolate.
- Leftover (warm) homemade tomato soup, a grilled cheese sandwich, and Annie’s Bunny Grahams (not entirely ‘real food’ approved). This ended up being too much food, so next time I won’t send the bunnies, anyway.
- Peanut butter roll-ups on organic whole wheat tortillas from Whole Foods, chopped up raw organic cauliflower, a Babyel cheese circle, a healthy cookie, a few organic apple slices, and a square of dark chocolate. (Note: Also too much food for her. This lunch was from the earlier days of school…we’ve since learned!)
- Homemade trail mix made with dry roasted salted almonds, organic raisins, and mini Enjoy Life chocolate chips, half of a turkey/cheese/mustard roll-up on an organic whole wheat tortilla from Whole Foods, raw cauliflower, a Babyel cheese circle, and a square of dark chocolate.
- Applegate turkey, cheese, lettuce, and honey mustard on my homemade whole wheat sandwich bread, raw cauliflower, a hard boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, and Enjoy Life chocolate chips. (This was her first school lunchbox ever. The poor girl ate everything BUT her chocolate chips because she ran out of time. So proud of her for eating everything else first, though, I don’t know if she’ll make that ‘mistake’ again…) 🙂
- Whole wheat mini pita pockets filled with peanut butter (I sandwiched the first two until I realized that was kind of silly and that I should put the peanut butter inside the pockets.), string cheese, apple slices, and blackberries.
- Half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on homemade bread, cherry tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, a Babyel cheese circle, a box of organic raisins, and a dark chocolate square. This was also the day that she took water with fresh lemon juice squeezed into it. (Note: she ran out of time and brought the box of raisins home, untouched.)
- Leftover (warm) rotini pasta bake (using this slow-cooker lasagna recipe) and a pear from a neighbor’s yard.
- Really, ANY leftovers from the previous night’s dinner would work. If you have leftovers and your kid liked it the first time around, send it the next day for lunch! Here are some dinners of mine (that my daughter LOVES) that would stay warm in a Thermos for several hours: mac & cheese, chili, calzones (cut into bite sized pieces), spaghetti & meatballs, taco beans with shredded cheese, and pizza lasagna (to name just a few). Throw in a side of raw veggies or fruit and your kid has a complete and filling meal! This is leftover Cheddar Sausage Bake cut into pieces (with an apple she picked off the tree herself).
- Whole wheat waffles (with chocolate chips, in this case) cut in half, toasted, and spread with peanut butter, served with a side of corn. My boys love this lunch idea, but my daughter isn’t so crazy about it, which is why it’s not pictured in a lunchbox. 🙂
- Cinnamon Raisin Quick Bread from the 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook (or any other quick bread recipe) with peanut butter, a hard boiled egg, cucumber slices, orange slices, and a square of dark chocolate for dessert. (You could also use cream cheese in between…but I tried this once with my kids and they all hated it…so, peanut butter it is!)
She takes water for lunch every day, except for the one (noted) occasion that we squeezed fresh lemon juice into it. She loved it and thought it was quite the special treat. (Thank you to one of my readers for suggesting that idea!)
Other recipes that would work great in your kids’ lunchbox:
- ABC Muffins
- Apple Honey Oatmeal Muffins
- Apple Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
- Whole Wheat Cinnamon Raisin Bread
- Baked Applesauce Donuts
- Pumpkin Spiced Chocolate Chip Donuts
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Dip with apple slices
- Homemade Graham Crackers
And, for total disclosure, some of her lunches aren’t as ‘real food’ approved as I would like. There are days sprinkled here and there when I really need to make a grocery store run (or bake a loaf of bread) and have simply run out of good options. On these days, I cheat a bit and use some of our ‘organic junk food’ that I buy for when we’re in a rush (or traveling). Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies are something that I like to keep on hand (though, I’m a little torn on this now that they’ve been bought out by General Mills…).
A package of Clif Kid Z Bars was a one time buy for us, but since we were really running out of options on this particular day (as you can see below), it was my best bet. Though, in all honesty, I’m pretty sure my daughter didn’t mind a bit. 🙂
And, as you can see, we tend to do a lot of ‘repeats’ of certain lunch components (raw cauliflower or dark chocolate, anyone?). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right??? 😉 I figure if she’s happy with her lunch and it’s filled with healthy foods, then we’re good to go!
Here are links to all the lunchbox gear we use each day:
PlanetBox Rover Lunchbox – I wasn’t sure how my daughter would like this lunchbox, especially once she started school and saw what other kids had. Surprisingly, though, she loves it and has told me that the other girls think her lunchbox is really neat. Phew!
Thermos Ice Mat, 9 cube – This fits perfectly into the above lunchbox. I bought two so that we’d always have one frozen, but one is probably enough.
Thermos FUNtainer Bottle, 12 oz – As many of you know, this was actually my second water bottle purchase for the year. I originally purchased her a Lifefactory 9 oz glass bottle, which we both loved, but while sitting and drinking from it on the driveway after school, it slipped out of her hands and the glass rim broke. I was mostly disappointed that a bottle marketed for kid use would have so much glass exposed at the drinking rim. I contacted Lifefactory and they told me that “they heard me” and they are working on something, but it’s still at least two years out before it’s available. Because I couldn’t justify spending more money on something that could possibly break again, I decided to try this Thermos stainless steel container. And she loves it. No surprise! Plus, I really like that it doesn’t sweat in her lunchbox like the glass one did. I think Santa might be bringing two of these containers for my boys (just not in the Hello Kitty design). 😉
Thermos FUNtainer Food Jar – This was something I purchased after school started. She kept telling me that she wanted to take hot lunches like some of the other kids and I quickly realized how nice it would be to send leftovers for lunch (just like we eat at home). I bought the Hello Kitty Thermos at Target, but I would have preferred a plain colored one like the one below. Characters always make me nervous because you never know when interests will change and something is now ‘babyish,’ plus, I read reviews online that the designs will wear away quickly. I know my daughter LOVES the fact that I bought her Hello Kitty, though, so there is something to be said for that.
The only other things I make sure to include in her lunchbox every day are some napkins and a spoon or fork (if it’s needed for that day’s food). One of these days I’d like to get some cloth napkins to send with her instead of the paper version. My husband thinks I’m crazy…and maybe I am…but I do hate wasting napkins every day. So, we’ll see. 🙂 I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I realize I can’t handle it anymore. (We don’t use paper napkins at dinner either because I use wet washcloths for the kids. It’s easier to clean up messy faces that way!) Something along these lines would be nice…
So, there you have it! 15 Real Food School Lunchbox Ideas and some of the gear you may need to pack those lunches! I hope you found this helpful. Would love to hear of any unique ideas you have! We’re only a few weeks into the school year at this point, so I’m sure we’ll eventually get a little more creative. I look forward to sharing more of these lunchbox posts as the school year goes on!