5 steps to fabulous (school lunches)

5 steps to fabulous (school lunches)

Everybody has their “thing.” I didn’t know my thing was going to be creating fun school lunches day after day, but here I am, killing it. And you can too!

I’ve written about some of my favorite lunch-packing hacks before, and you can find them here and here. Today’s post is meant for the parent who wants to quickly throw together something that looks as good as it tastes. I assure you, I don’t spend hours on lunches. I don’t shape cooked rice into tiny teddy bears with black sesame seed eyes. I don’t buy a lot of extra ingredients. This is easy, achievable, and (just trust me here) fun.

STEP 1 — K.I.S.S.

In the immortal words of Dwight Schrute from The Office (US):

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“Michael always says, ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ Great advice. Hurts my feelings every time.”

I know this post is about taking your three second lunches and turning them into *maybe* five minute lunches but y’all, you have to keep it simple. (Stupid.) (Sorry.)

Come up with some easy things that 1) your kids like and WILL EAT (this is important) and 2) you can quickly make. For me, it’s quesadillas, sandwiches, “lunchables” (crackers, meat, and cheese) and DIY pizzas. I usually have this stuff on hand and it’s really easy to throw together. I will also sometimes do hot dishes like mac and cheese or soup in this cheap Target thermos. It’s worked really well for us for over two years. I try to add a fruit and vegetable each day, as well as a small dessert item or yogurt. The drink is always water in a refillable thermos.

STEP 2 — MAKE IT FUN!

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Quesadilla + pumpkin shaped cookie cutter = perfection.

Anyone can cut a quesadilla into quarters, but use a cookie cutter instead and hey! It’s fun. A cookie cutter can also add fun to sandwiches, pita bread, and pancakes (if you’re packing a brunch).

If fairs have taught us anything, it’s that people love food on sticks. Your school-aged child is no exception here. I’ll use Wilton brand “Treat Sticks” (found near specialty baking items) and use them for fruit kabobs, deconstructed sandwiches (a small square of bread, cheese, meat, more bread, etc.), or anything, really. I’ll put cooked chicken nuggets on the stick just for the fun.

STEP 3 — FIND A TRUSTY LUNCHBOX

really thank a teacher lunch (other is taco)
The above picture is a Planetbox, and this one is a Bentgo Kids.

Or brown bag it. You gotta do you. If you are going to purchase a reusable container, there are so many options available out there. You can really use anything from reusable snack and sandwich bags to small Tupperware containers to one of a variety of bento boxes. I like the bento box variety because it helps with portion control and it’s fun to look it (see Step 2).

My favorite bento boxes are from Bentgo Kids (specifically for kids in Pre-K – 2nd Grade) and Planetbox (for older, hungrier kids). PRO TIP: Buy two of whatever lunch receptacle you purchase. That way you can pack one while one’s at school – OR – have a backup in case your little angel absentmindedly forgets to bring one home.

NOTE: The boxes I suggested may seem a little pricey. I can assure you, from a quality standpoint, these hold up. However, as I said, there are so many options available out there — please don’t think these are the only ways to go!

STEP 4 — ADD SOME LOVE

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I am a huge fan of Lunchbox Love cards. They are sweet little cards with notes of encouragement on the front (or they are blank so you an write your own message) and jokes or trivia on the back. My now-second grader has loved these in lunches ever since he started eating lunch at school.

Of course, you can simply write your own little note on a piece of paper or napkin and throw it in. Add some jokes or trivia from good old google and you are set!

STEP 5 — REPEAT!

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And then one more time! Then one more time! Then-

As mentioned in Step 1 — find your simple staples, make them fun, pack them well, add some love, and then DO IT AGAIN. Every single day doesn’t have to be a brand new lunch. Lunch repeats are the best, especially when you can make them quickly and your kids like ‘em. If I try out a new design or a new food and it comes back home, barely touched, I’m not sending that again anytime soon. Kids don’t have forever to eat lunch at school. If they don’t like what they have, chances are, they won’t eat. And that leads to hungry and cranky students for the rest of the day. Believe me when I say no one wants that.

I hope this has helped inspire lunchtime creations of your own! If you’re looking for more inspiration, look for my lunch pics on instagram @jennievanderlugt or Facebook at Premeditated Mama. Happy lunching!

 

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premeditated meals, part 2

Here they are — in no particular order — my three FAVORITE kitchen appliances! Please know that the amazon pages listed are affiliate links and I may collect a portion of sales if items are clicked through and purchased from here.

Without further ado, the INSTANT POT!

So the Instant Pot is getting a LOT of buzz right now. But anything that can cook 2 lbs of ground beef and carrots and potatoes from stone cold raw to ready-for-dinner in about a half hour is going to get buzz. And it’s well deserved! This one appliance can do the work of so many others. It’s a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, a yogurt maker (one some models) and more! One of my favorite features is the ability to sauté in the pot before doing any pressure or slow cooking. All of a sudden you’ve eliminated the need for another pan to say, sear meat or carmelize onions.

Another great thing about the Instant Pot is that once it’s done pressure cooking, it can keep your food warm for an extended period of time. This is great for our family because when Jason’s working nights, he’ll leave our house between 4 and 4:30. If the rest of us aren’t ready for dinner quite that early, he can still take his portion and leave the rest in the pot to stay warm. There have been so many times when I haven’t started a slow cooker early enough for him to eat before leaving, and since this cooks food so quickly, it’s usually not an issue.

Cons: It IS bulky. If you don’t want to leave this on your counter, you may have to search a bit to find appropriately-sized cupboard space. It’s also pricey — consider how often you’ll use the Instant Pot before taking the plunge (for the record, I do get my money’s worth).

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Next up… the AIR FRYER!

OK, I’m going to be honest, I’m waiting for the internet to blow up about this thing. It is amazing. It “fries” your food using a tiny fraction of the oil typical fryers need, and it does this using hot circulating air. You can go pretty simple with the Air Fryer — throw in some sliced potatoes brushed lightly with the oil of your choice and in about ten minutes you have some pretty awesome French fries. BUT! The Air Fryer can do so much more than this. To date, I’ve made copycat Chick-Fil-A chicken patties, carne asada (yes, 1.5 lbs of flank steak!), DONUTS (work in progress, but I mean, they got eaten), and tandoori chicken. There are just so many things you can make with this thing, and I feel like nobody talks about it.

If you like to buy frozen foods (mini pizzas, French fries, other appetizers), the Air Fryer will crisp those up faster and better than your oven can. And while there is a range of temperatures at which you can cook different foods, the Air Fryer does not require the long pre-heating time the oven does.

Cons: Like the Instant Pot, it’s bulky and it’s pricey. If you struggle with finding time for cooking, I do recommend one or both, however. They do speed up the process!

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And finally… the ZOJIRUSHI BREAD MAKER!

I’m going to start out by listing the con for this one — it’s expensive! I absolutely LOVE this bread maker, but please know there are much more reasonably priced bread makers out there. I can’t speak to them, however, because this is the only bread maker I’ve ever owned.

I LOVE homemade bread, but it really is an event. It can take up almost the whole day, and if, at the end of the process, you learn your yeast is bad, you’re toast. (Pun totally intended.) It takes me less than ten minutes to throw all of my bread ingredients in the bread maker and press the “start” button. Or, if I’m heading to bed and want to wake up to the aroma of freshly baked bread (which is something I highly recommend), I can schedule the cooking so it will finish just as my alarm is going off. So far, I’ve made white bread, whole wheat bread, and banana bread, but there are just so many other options. Every loaf has been amazing and delicious. Now I’m kind of drooling and need to make bread tonight.

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My runner-up favorites can be found below:

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Happy cooking, premeditated family!