I started paying a little more attention to lunchboxes when I noticed my girls were complaining of being STARVING the second I would pick them up from school, yet I open the lunchbox and they barely touched it!
So I started thinking a little more about what I was putting inside and trying to make the lunchbox a little more fun for them. Now I am not an expert on nutrition or a food stylist- I am just a mom that can only spare 2 extra minutes to make lunches more appealing.
As an added bonus, I started packing my own lunch based off what I was giving the children. I get so busy during the day it is hard for me to sit still long enough to make myself a proper meal so this has worked out great.
There is also a nifty printable at the bottom of the page with all sorts of lunchbox ideas in one place. You can just print that out and tape it to the inside of the cupboard or whatever to get quick inspiration. I also took a handful of photos of various lunchboxes I have packed over the last few weeks to give you some quick visuals.
Note, I try to stick with healthy foods for my kiddos and I try to keep the food for me and the children as close as possible (to save time and waste).
My kids have the cute little lunchbags but one thing that makes life easy is to have some sort of Bento box. It makes the presentation a little nicer I think and you won’t have all the waste of those little baggies everywhere.
Here are a few I like:
Easy Lunchboxes- these get fantastic reviews. Get 4 for $14.
Lock n Lock boxes. I like these for smaller children. These come with little plastic dividers inside the box so you can adjust according to the size of the items you put inside.
My favorite thing to use to make lunch fun for little ones are cookie cutters. You can get tons of shapes from letters to dinosaurs for $1.00 each at Joann’s Fabric or Sur La Table or the Target Dollar Spot. You can also just use a glass or the lid from a water bottle to make different size circles. (Williams Sonoma has really fun ones for Star Wars fans). I use these to cut shapes for sandwiches and the small cookie cutters are great for cutting cucumbers and sliced cheese into shapes. Pepperidge Farms makes a Goldfish bread to make it even easier.
Silicone cups. These are great to add a little color and also to provide extra separation in a box. I use reusable cupcake liners and try to put the veggies in there so they look more attractive.
Food picks. These can be a handy alternative to a fork or use them to keep things together- you might do a grape tomato and a chunk of mozzarella cheese for example.
Lunchbox Notes. I usually add a little note or a sticker to lunchboxes. My girls don’t read but something bright and cheerful in the lunchbox makes them really happy. Remember how exciting it was to get to the bottom of the cereal box to get the little prize when you were a kid? This is the same idea. I try to keep it simple so they actually eat lunch and they don’t fool around with little treasures in the lunchbox.
Plastic Easter Eggs- dig through your Easter stuff because these are really fun to use as an alternative to a baggie and store little crackers or small cookies inside. You could also tuck your lunchbox note inside.
Brightly colored napkins. I usually grab these on clearance in the party section year round. More fun then a paper towel.
And here are a few sample lunchboxes that I have packed recently- these are all very simple ideas. You can check out my Back to School board on pinterest for links to several sites that offer really fancy ideas on bento box lunches.
Mini Slider bun sandwich with turkey and cheese. Easter egg with Annie’s crackers. Silicone cupcake cup with sliced carrots. Strawberries and blueberries. Plus a fun napkin at the bottom.
Depending on what your kiddos like- I can use leftovers from dinner the night before. This is orzo pasta with grape tomatoes and chopped mozzarella cheese. My girls will eat this and I include a little salad dressing on the side to use as a sauce (that one is Annie’s Artichoke dressing- the kids like the pasta plain but I use the dressing.)
Homemade mac and cheese in a thermos is another idea. Otherwise I am not a huge fan of cold pasta so I usually don’t put that in lunchboxes.
I do quesadillas sometimes instead of sandwiches. These don’t take long to make and you can do plain cheese, cheese and pepperoni, cheese and black beans etc.. etc… I also used a tiny cookie cutter to cut cucumber slices and then added salsa and guac and sour cream. One of my girls loves all the little dipping things and my other child won’t touch them. If you do a pizza quesadilla, marinara is a great dipper and you can put whole black olives on the side instead of salsa.
For a lighter lunch or snack time, sliced apples, peanut butter or nut butter and little cheese cubes (I used a mini cookie cutter to make heart shapes). You could also toss in a bag of pretzels or crackers with this.
This is one way to use up leftovers or if you are seriously short on time. I just packed up smoked sausage and there is a little ketchup in the pink tub. We like Hebrew National hot dogs or Applegate makes great organic hot dogs that are all beef. You could easily substitute roasted chicken cubes or whatever leftovers you might have. I did carrots and there is a little dipper of red pepper hummus (only kind my kids will eat) and a small fruit salad.
For those times that you run out of bread or you want something different- you can just roll some sort of lunchmeat around cheese. This is sliced turkey around cheddar but any lunchmeat works or try pepperoni around mozzarella. I also did applesauce (the Lock n Lock boxes hold this tight for me) and celery with peanut butter.
I like breakfast items for lunch too- especially for kiddos that have early lunch periods or don’t eat a lot for breakfast. This is one of my favorite little homemade breakfast lunchables because you can make this a few days ahead and keep it in the fridge.
This one has a hard boiled egg, frozen blueberries, granola, and that is a fruit dip (see recipe here) but I eat it straight as yogurt. I used paper cupcake liners instead of the Bento box divider to make it more cheerful. You could do slices of waffles with a peanut butter dip or maple syrup dipper, little mini pancakes with sliced apples and cinnamon on the side… fruit salad with yogurt etc… etc… I prefer greek yogurt because it is much thicker and holds up better in a bento box.
Usually the girls get water in a fun cup but on a day when I need to keep things cool I might tuck in a frozen smoothie or frozen Honest Kids pouches.
::TIPS AND TRICKS.
Here are a few little tricks and tips:
- I love blueberries in lunchboxes because they can be frozen so you always have them on hand. I tend to do at least two varieties of fruit in lunches to make it more colorful and frozen blueberries can help to keep the rest of the fruit cool. You can also freeze grapes!
- To keep apples from browning, check out the little tip here.
- If your kiddos will eat guacamole on sandwiches or as a dip for veggies, try adding a handful of toasted almonds and puree. Gives it a little extra crunch that is super yummy. (tip courtesy of Chef Sam Talbot.)
- You can make ahead smoothies and keep them in the fridge! Pack these in a lunchbox to keep it cool all day for a special little treat.
- You can also do very quick DIY Uncrustables. Pop these in the freezer and take them out in the morning. They are ready by lunchtime!
- One last tip is to prepack one lunch and keep it in the pantry. This is perfect for mornings when things are just insane- especially for those of us with schools that don’t have cafeterias. I keep applesauce cups with a disposable spoon, granola bars, dried fruit, little pretzels in baggies, a juice pouch etc… in mine. You won’t win Mother of the Year for nutrition but this is great to have ready to go just in case….
I hope this is helpful and most of all, I hope this is stuff your kiddos really will eat.
*I would love for people to share this guide but please link back to the post and not to the free printable above.