Faced with a picky eater and a budget, I’ve scoured the internet (ok, mostly Pinterest) to come up with these nifty homemade school lunch ideas.
There are soooo many things they don’t tell you when you decide to have a baby … we could talk about that subject for DAYS. (What do you MEAN my feet are going to spread and go up a WHOLE size?!?!? Bye bye cute heels.)
One of my biggest “aha” moments came when my kidlet started school. Silly me … I thought graduating with a B.A. in English meant I was done with things like homework, dioramas, protractors, and band instruments. No no. You get to re-live all the horror, in real time, with your kids. Oh JOY! Well I can now add school lunches to that list of items I never wanted to visit again.
Hot lunch (as it was called back in my day) seems to be getting a little better at our schools (thanks Jamie Oliver!), but it’s not always ideal, nor is it always affordable for a single mom on a budget.
Trying to avoid processed “lunchable” type meats and cheeses can take its toll, but here are some cool ideas I’ve picked up along the way for my picky kid. Perhaps some of these will work for your family too.
The containers … firstly, those reusable, sustainable sandwich bags I told you about last year are great, but as your kid gets older, they need more food to be packed … and display can be just as important as what you’re packing. Think: Bento boxes! Whether you find ones (BPA-free) to buy or fashion your own, a box with compartments is key. You can separate using things like paper cupcake holders to make your own sections.
Now, what to put in them? Obviously fresh fruits and veggies are a must. And while baby carrots and ranch dressing masquerades as chips and dip, my kid sees that stuff as just plain uninspired. So I’m getting creative. Alterna-dips! For dippers, try organic banana chips, apple slices, and sliced bell peppers. For the dips, try organic peanut or cashew or almond butter. If you’re nut-free, you can make your own dips with cream cheese mix ins … strained Greek yogurt, hummus, salsa, guacamole, etc.
Speaking of yogurt, my girl loves mixing her yogurt. So I put some plain, strained Greek yogurt in one of the compartments with a big spoonful of strawberry preserves next to it. She does the mixing herself at school. It seems silly, but it works!
Edamame is a great cold snack, as is any cooked veggies that you freeze overnight. They will thaw by the time the lunch bell rings and they’ve got yummy cold carrots, peas, and corn to pop as a side.
Hard-boiled eggs are also a great idea for protein, and one that’s often over looked. My kid, oddly enough, hates the yolks (how is that possible!!??) so it’s a little extra work for me.
She’s also not big on traditional sandwiches, so I get creative with cookie cut outs using whole grain bread or ditch the bread altogether in favor of lettuce wraps. I will scoop a helping of tuna or egg salad and include some nice crisp lettuce leaves in a separate compartment so she can “roll her own” at lunch.
Try home made snack bars and mini muffins packed with whole grains and protein if you’re a baker … it’s a little bit of sweet and a whole lot of nutrition. Bake those mini muffins and freeze them and they’ll thaw by lunch time.
Proteins? I’ve tried cold turkey meatballs, cold bbq chicken wings, and organic ham roll ups with pickles. Shish kebobs of protein, veggies, and cheese are also cool looking and easy … just make sure your kids don’t get in trouble with those pointy sticks after.
I always mean to leave little notes of love and encouragement in my kid’s lunches, but sometimes a mad dash in the morning doesn’t leave me enough time. (I know, you should always prepare the night before … but GIMME A BREAK!)
A cool little alternative is carving a message in the skin of a banana with a toothpick. By the time they get to school, the banana will have oxidized enough for the message to really stand out.
These are just a few back to school ideas obviously, and I’d LOVE to hear yours in the comment section! Good luck, and happy lunching!