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

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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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lunchbox love

School mornings can be rough. Between rousing a kindergarten-sized sleeping beauty, squeezing clothes on a living, breathing Gumby doll, and repeating “eat your breakfast! please eat your breakfast!” five million times, it can get a little trying. Usually I spend the mornings trying desperately to keep my cool until the sweet sight of the yellow school bus rolls up and I can drink coffee and sigh in peace again (relative peace; I still have a toddler yelling “STOP!” and throwing food on the floor).

My best trick for navigating the busy school morning is my best trick for life in general: plan ahead. Before I go to sleep, I have a filled backpack and shoes (or boots) laid out near the breakfast table (along with snow gear, if applicable, which is often the case). If I am feeling particularly inspired, I make a baked oatmeal or mini quiches that will only need to be reheated in the morning for a quick breakfast. But my favorite bit of school prep is absolutely, without a doubt lunch.

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I’m a very big fan of writing on fruit.

My kindergartener, John, is allowed to choose hot lunch up to once a week, but this was a much bigger deal in the beginning of the year. Now he usually prefers his lunch from home (and I love that!). We use the LaLa Lunchbox app to get inspiration for his lunches (see my post here), and I generally pack his lunches in a Bentgo Kids Children’s Lunch Box, in an insulated bag, along with a bottle of water.

But the best part of the lunches, by far, are these tiny little cards I found in the Dollar Section at Target last summer (what can’t Target do for us?!) and have been in love with ever since.

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John saw this today and seriously said, “Mom, you can put these in my backpack, too. See? You should do that. Do I have a binder?”

These neat little cards come in packs of 12, and each card either has kid-friendly trivia or a joke on the back. Example: Did you know the last animal listed in the dictionary is the zyzzyva?  (I didn’t. I do now. It’s a tiny red beetle. Lunchbox Love cards — educating students of all ages!) The front either has a sweet little note — example: Find something you can like about everyone you meet — or it’s left blank so you can write or draw something original.

So what do I do with these cards?

Well, first of all, I put them in lunches.

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For the record, he ate those nuggets cold (and he liked ’em!).
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Homemade DIY pizza “lunchable”
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I’ve never tried make-your-own taco lunch before. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow. (PS: unrelated those are Cara Cara oranges on the right. If you enjoy fruit at all get yourself some of those, you deserve it.)

If I don’t put them in lunches, I do actually hear about it.

But wait! Lunchbox Love cards also come in seasonal varieties, so we have added some to Christmas gifts or Halloween treats. For Valentine’s Day, John brought in little bags filled with a bracelet, a sucker, a pencil, and a notebook, and we tied a Valentine’s Lunchbox Love card to the the top of each bag. He had a blast reading all of the trivia before deciding which card to give to which classmate. “This one is about butterflies and KACI LOVES BUTTERFLIES!,” for example.

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According to the trivia on the left, my children are at least part howler monkey.

But our most recent use of the cards has proven to be our favorite non-traditional usage — a treasure hunt.

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I am not an “artist,” per se. (But that smile would light up YOUR day, right? Of course it would.)

I hid the cards around the house, with clues to lead John to the next hiding spot. The treasure hunt ended, as any great hunt should, with a snack.

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I kid you not — he has requested a “Lunchbox Love treasure hunt” daily since the first one. And since our recent Spring Break was mostly cold and snowy (yes, you read that correctly), I largely obliged. Maybe next time I’ll talk up the fun experience of being the “card hider.” I’ll sit and drink coffee while he hides the cards… and OK, I’ll probably be finding them in well-hidden spots for years to come, but anything for a coffee break, yes?

Check out www.sayplease.com to see all that Lunchbox Love has to offer. They aren’t just for kids! There are packs for teens, for loved ones, for strength, for hope — these little cards can be such a light in an oft-dark world.

AND NOW A CHANCE TO WIN! If you would like the opportunity to WIN your own set of Lunchbox Love cards, please SHARE this post on facebook and tag “Premeditated Mama.” Alternatively, you can share the post on twitter and tag @premeditatedmom. Share it both places for double the chances to win! A winner will be chosen on Monday, April 18, so get your shares in before then.

la la lunchbox app review

Hello, friends!

The time has come for my LaLa Lunchbox Meal Planning App review. I’m not being paid or otherwise compensated for my opinions, but I wanted to get this info to anyone who packs lunches for their kiddos. It’s a game changer!

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In the words of Angelica Schuyler in the groundbreaking Hamilton: “I’m about to change your life.”

The beginning of this school year was my five year old, John’s, first year of kindergarten. That meant it was our first year of eating breakfast and getting ready in time to catch the school bus, and of course — our first year of packing school lunches. Never fear! I was armed with pinterest pages and instagram sites full of ideas. I bought cute sandwich cutters for PB&J’s, cute cheese cutters for homemade lunchables, and stocked up on cute containers (purchased in doubles, so my forgetful John would be covered if he left anything at school). We were ready!

Except our school is nut free, John “doesn’t like cheese and crackers at school, only at home,” and almost every delightfully shaped object came back home. One day, he said, “I really just want regular ham and cheese sandwiches everyday.” Oh, defeat.

I made ham and cheese sandwiches everyday. I threw in whatever fruits and veggies we had, and they usually came home. Eventually, the sandwich started coming home, with fewer and fewer bites taken out of it.

I knew how to send healthy lunches.

I didn’t know how to get my five year old to eat those healthy lunches.

Enter LaLa Lunchbox!

Download the app to your smartphone and your child has the ability to pick pre-loaded foods from different categories (fruit, vegetable, protein, snack) they would like to see in their lunch. You can control the food options — my first mistake was failing to remove “watermelon” from the list when I first gave the app to John, but then we had a nice talk about seasonal foods in Michigan (watermelon is not around in January).

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Use your finger to drag the foods you want from the list at the bottom to the monster’s mouth. Most fun meal planning ever!

As you can see, John chose six items (SIX ITEMS!? you might say, but fear not! you can change this number!) for this lunch, with an apple and a banana as two of his choices. Here’s where we can get creative. I love the Bentgo Kids Lunchbox (found here) because the compartments are the perfect size for a lower-elementary sized tummy. I take John’s choices and fit them into our lunchbox the best way I can. I don’t add anything extra, because I want him to eat the balanced meal he chose.

Here’s what the above plan looks like in the Bentgo and ready for school:

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Cute little banana monster, eh? John: “I liked looking at that banana… but not eating it. Can I just have normal bananas from now on?” YES. You’re killing me, kid.

All together we had yogurt (protein), cauliflower (vegetable), dried apples (fruit), banana (fruit), pretzels (snack), and a graham cracker (snack). I always send along a water bottle with his lunches. And guess how much of this came back? Nothing! (Even if he just preferred to look at the banana monster… okay, buddy).

(Also: do you love that little card above the banana? It’s a Lunchbox Love card, and you can find them at sayplease.com.)

I have been giving John the app to plan his meals on the weekends. The app organizes all of the selections into one grocery list for you, so you don’t have to sift through each day to figure out what to buy.

My favorite takeaway from this whole app (besides organization, hooray!) is that John really has a say in the lunches he eats, and he begins to understand how to put healthy meals together. 

If you’re on board and want more, there is a Breakfast app as well! Exact same concept. Pro tip: maybe remove bacon every once in a while, unless you want to start out every single day as a fry cook.

That’s it for our review! Will you be grabbing a LaLa Lunchbox app or two? Join me in lunch planning fun.