Today, let’s take a look at 7 easy-to-make lunchbox ideas made with real food.
Packing a school lunch has become such a fancy endeavor. I think this all started with Pinterest and fancy birthday parties, and then trickled down to the lunchbox. Honestly, it’s just plain ol’ hard to be “average” when it comes to motherhood in 2018.
I tried to live up to this Pinterest-worthy standard for a number of years (you should have seen my kids first few birthday parties), but quickly found myself tired, cranky, stressed-out, and feeling like life was getting way too complicated (and expensive–those Pinterest-perfect parties aren’t cheap).
When it comes to packing school lunch, I feel like there are a lot of AMAZING lunchbox posts and pins out there. Maybe over-the-top AMAZING is a better way to put it. Have you seen these lunches? The sandwiches are beautiful enough to serve to the Queen of England, the fruit is cut into cute shapes and skewered on a stick, and there are multiple dipping sauce options each day for the veggies. Oh, and there are usually homemade cookies involved.
If packing fancier lunches is your thing, that’s amazing! If not, you’re in good company here. The reason I was hesitant to share my kids’ lunches over the years is because they are not what I consider to be Pinterest or Instagram-worthy. I’ve felt like I don’t have any value, or special sparkle, to add to the lunch-packing topic. Also, I don’t love packing lunches, but I know it’s part of being a parent. At some point, the kids will be able to take more responsibility for this activity, and I can’t wait!
Today, I’m going to try to add some value to this topic. I hope this post will provide some inspiration. Maybe that inspiration will come via a food idea shared in the photos, or just the encouragement that “average” motherhood done with intention and love is okay.
When it comes to packing lunches, I have a few rules:
- Keep it simple. I use a rotational menu for school lunch. This menu is displayed on a large chalkboard in our dining room, and it’s changed monthly. Sometimes, the kids will get leftovers from a previous dinner, which means that I skip what’s on the menu for that day. The menu is a guide for when I’m stuck or just don’t want to think about lunch (most days ?).
- Pack food the kids will eat. A teacher once told me, “For lunch, I ask that parents pack healthy food for their kids. I also ask that they pack food their children will eat.” Lunch is mid-day fuel for my kids, so I want their lunches to be nourishing and something they’ll actually eat. My kids aren’t big salad fans. We serve salad alongside dinner often, and the kids are encouraged to try some. For lunch, I’m not around to monitor what they’re eating (Wow, that sounds very controlling. You know what I mean, right?!) and encourage exploration. Because of this, I don’t pack salad in their lunch at the moment. When they start shoveling salad in their mouths at dinner, I’ll happily add salad to their lunchbox. My point is that there is a variety of nourishing foods they love, so I focus on these options for lunch. Dinner, or weekend lunch, is when new foods or more challenging foods may be served. I want school lunch to be enjoyable for the kids, not a struggle.
- I serve a main entree, fruit, veggie, and something crunchy. And sometimes the kids will get a treat, like a yogurt stick.
- Nut-free lunch. This has been challenging for me since we consume nuts, but the school doesn’t allow nuts of any kind in the lunchbox.
Let’s take a look at what my children enjoyed for lunch over 7 days (I’m adding two bonus photos). Keep in mind, there are some weeks when the kids eat sandwiches three days in a row, and other weeks when the kids buy lunch at school a couple of times during the week. Lunches are repeated often (remember the rotational chalkboard menu). That’s how I simplify this task. You’ll also notice that the same fruits and veggies are packed regularly, based on what’s in season and what’s easy to pack. If you’re interested in my lunchbox gear, I recommend reading this post. And if you’re looking for freezer-friendly (make-ahead) lunchbox ideas, check out this post after scrolling the following photos.
7 Real Food LunchBox Ideas
Main: jam on oatmeal pancakes (made over the weekend) // Fruit: apple slices tossed with lemon juice (to prevent browning) // Veggie: carrot sticks (prepped ahead) // Crunch: rice chips (Lundberg Farm brand)
Main: shredded chicken (from a whole chicken) and lentils cooked with rice (both leftover from the previous night) // Fruit: blueberries // Veggie: carrot sticks (prepped ahead) // Crunch: butter crackers (Annie’s brand) and mozzarella cheese slices
Main: jam and butter sandwich (the kids go to a nut-free school) on sourdough (from the market) // Fruit: grapes // Veggie: carrot and celery sticks (prepped ahead) // Crunch: plantain chips (Trader Joe’s brand)
Main: black beans and rice with cheese (from the previous night–The beans were heated so they were room temperature by lunch. My kids don’t care for a thermos at this point, so this is the next best option.) // Fruit: grapes and orange slices // Veggie: carrots, onion, cilantro, and celery in the beans // Crunch: cut corn tortillas (from the previous night) // Treat: Stonyfield Blueberry Yogurt Stick
Main: Yogurt (Stonyfield plain) and half a sandwich with sliced turkey (365 Whole Foods brand) on sourdough (from our favorite bakery) // Fruit: strawberries // Veggie: Cucumber slices and a single carrot stick (the only sticks left in the prep ahead jar) // Crunch: popcorn (Pipcorn brand) // Treat: That’s It Fruit Bar (we buy these in bulk from Amazon)
Main: English muffin pizza (I keep these in the freezer: English muffin halved, pizza sauce, and mozzarella broiled for a few minutes until cheese melts.) // Fruit: strawberries or grapes // Veggie: cucumber and kohlrabi slices // Crunch: plantain chips (Terra brand)
Main: chicken nuggets (from previous night–I use 100% breadcrumbs versus the almond flour and breadcrumb mix.) and ketchup (yellow container) // Fruit: strawberries and orange slices // Veggie: cucumber slices and carrot sticks (prepped ahead)
Love that you shared this… for those of us who are hunting for “average” and do-able options!!!
Your oat crumpets are such a hit for my kidlet, I always make extra on the weekend… and then freeze them as “emergency snacks” or treats during the week!
I like the chicken rice option you have above… looking forward to seeing how that goes!
He also loves fresh fruit + veg in the box – Some of the other lunchbox options we also use:
// Olives [interestingly enough – he loves them]
// Sweet red peppers [he loves crunching on those]
// Nuts like raw cashew – with raisins / cranberries [luckily we can have nuts]
// Chocolate zucchini muffins are a winner – he think’s he’s getting chocolate cake
// Just tried Dried Dates today – will see how that goes down.
Hey Emma, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Love these options–thank you for sharing. I think I’ll add some chocolate zucchini muffins to the rotation soon.
I’ve been waiting for this post so thanks so much for doing it! I’m an ordinary mom who needs ordinary ideas for my kids school lunches. This is helpful! 🙂
Yay, Brenda! I’m planning to get another post up in April.
What brand of English muffin do you use?
Hey Sara, I like Rudi’s brand.