We’re well and truly starting the school year and I thought I’d share my lunchbox approach, from containers to contents to labels. Who knows, maybe something in here will help you. If not, at least I have this documented so I don’t forget.
I’ll admit, lunch is my jam. As a kid, I rarely had sandwiches for lunch because I had issues with dairy and at the time it was common for sandwich bread to have dairy in it. If I did bring a sandwich it was always on Jewish rye bread so it was parve (a neutral Kosher food containing no meat or dairy). And then it was fluffernutters (before nut-free schools were standard). Mostly though, I brought homemade sushi or whatever random food I was into. To this day, I love interesting lunches. In California, I’d make my own yogurt cheese and create little smoked salmon sandwiches with dill and lemon zest. More recently, I loved my stainless steal tiffin carrier for tiered lunch courses, like a tiger prawn salad, beets with goats cheese, and something sweet like berries for dessert. But LB isn’t as eclectic an eater as I was, or am, so I try to stay classic for his lunches. Here are some ideas and also a rundown on how we pack it. I’ll go over:
- What I Pack
- Our Containers & How We Use Them
- Temperature Control Foods & Containers (with recipes ideas)
1. What I Pack
LB likes to switch things up between sandwiches and snack packs, like the Dairylea Lunchable Stackers. To customise the contents to my son’s preferences, I create my own version with breadsticks or Tuc Snack Pack crackers. And, for me, I love the Charleville Snackfuls which are like grownup Lunchables. We also include these in our lunch rotation (he doesn’t like them all, but we keep trying):
• Hard-boiled eggs, peeled, sliced, and salted
• String cheese sticks
• Buttered Jacob’s square crackers sprinkled with shredded mozzarella
• Tortilla wrap with Irish butter and shredded white cheddar
• Chicken sandwich with Irish butter (he insists on Kerrygold)
Fresh Fruit & Veg
Here are all the lunchbox fruits and veg we’ve tried. Again, some are hits and some are misses, but we keep trying:
• Apples (I coat the slices in lemon juice to prevent browning)
• Pre-peeled easy-peeler Clementine orange
• Raw carrot sticks
• Sliced sweet bell pepper (it goes well with the hummus)
• Sliced grapes
• Stemmed strawberries
For fruit, we’re all about California raisins. I’m of the generation that still starts humming ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ when you see California raisins. And there’s so much you can do with them. I also LOVE Emily Fruit Crisps. They’re just dried crunchy apple bits. Like potato chip crunchiness, but fruit! Plus, these are self-contained so I just pop one in the lunchbag and that’s it! But my son prefers the raisins because of flavour.
For savoury treats, we never put potato chips (aka crisps) in the lunchbox, so it’s Little Dish Chickpea Pops or Love Corn. Though LB isn’t a fan of these, AH adores them. You know cats running when you use the can opener? Yeah, AH is like that when he hears me open a bag of these. No joke. On a side note, I also love adding Love Corn to salads for a crunch instead of croutons. Which is fun for adult lunch boxes! Here are the savoury snacks we use in our rotation:
• Breadsticks (this is the one my son prefers)
• Chickpea Pops
• Love Corn
• Corn tortilla chips (plain, not Doritos)
• Goldfish crackers (which are VERY hard to get in Ireland)
• Rice cakes (he loves the salt/vinegar ones)
2. Our Containers & How We Use Them
Ok, it’s all well and good to give you ideas and tell you what I put in my kid’s lunchbox, but let’s be real that what I do also requires washing things. And there’s ALWAYS mashed fruit or something I don’t want to touch. I’m putting it out there right now… I am not so proactive as to immediately unpack, wash, and repack his lunch after school to be ready for the next morning. Nope. I’ve tried, but there’s no real benefit and waiting the 16 hours seems to please LB more because we’ve found day-before prepped food makes the bread soggy. But we chose a selection of mostly reusable containers which wash well and hold up to daily
abuse use by a seven-year-old. These containers are versatile enough for our own use as well, which means that when my son has outgrown them, they’ll still have a purpose with the rest of the family.
Each and every container has a sturdy name label on it that I ordered two years ago and they’re still going strong after school bags, dishwashers, and more than any container should endure or see in its lifetime. I bought the labels from My Nametags. For clothing that goes in the tumble-dryer, I bought separate ones from Name Tag Robot which iron-on and stay until well after my kid as outgrown the item.
In the morning, while they’re eating breakfast and my tea is steeping (no guarantee it gets enjoyed hot, mind you), I unpack the lunchbox from the day before. We have three soft-sided lunchboxes in rotation – BB8, The Hulk, and Spiderman. I wipe out or full-on wash the lunchbox once emptied and hang it to dry. I use one of the other two for that day’s lunch. He has had them for two years (maybe three) now and they’re going strong. For my lunch, I stick with either a stacked stainless steel tiffin carrier or a neoprene washable tote from Built NY.
My parents never let me carry a brown bag lunch, which made me feel like a kid because everyone knows teenagers carry their lunches in brown paper bags (and construction workers carry theirs in the domed metal lunch boxes with thermoses in the lids). Well, I had a yellow and pink hard plastic lunchbox with a shoulder/cross-body strap and a little ice pack. And you know what my mom packed in my lunches? Sushi (with dried barbecue squid or roast nori) or fluffernutters cut into squares
Each day, he brings one Contigo water bottle with chilled water in his lunch. We’ve tried other options, such as juice boxes, but there is no food disposal option in his classroom so everything needs to be self-contained or it goes EVERYWHERE. We learned that the hard way. We love our Contigo bottles and have four Gizmos (Flip and Sip) for him to rotate through. One for lunch, one for overnight thirst. I wash the lunch one in the morning and immediately dry and refill it for that day, barring any major food disaster (like banana getting squished into the top).
For breadsticks and sturdy (not squishy) things as well as apple slices, I use beeswax wraps. I love how easy they are to maintain and that there is nothing to throw away. I have some from Hanna’s Bee-Wraps, but if you’re looking locally check out Ireland Beeswax Wraps as well. I want to make my own.
Sometimes, when beeswax wraps and hard plastic boxes aren’t possible (and before we had them), I use greaseproof paper bags from Tesco. They are 100% recyclable.
Bananas are kept unbruised in one of our banana keepers. We have had them for years and they wash easily.
We have a set of Nude Food Movers (NFM) for the squishy lunch items. One Smash NFM Sandwich Box, one snack and a Meal Box with Fruity Movers. We got them at Mr. Price in Cork City from @LeanMeanMomma‘s recommendation. The hard-sided nature of these containers means you can send it solo without a larger lunchbox, or can put it in a larger lunchbox with the drink.
Fruit & Snack Containers
We love using the Nom Nom Kids containers for applesauce, snacks from larger containers, homemade treats (like granola), and so on. The pouches are fab for applesauce and I use the recipe from @GimmeTheRecipe (first pic). The snack bags are ideal for repackaging things from a larger container (second pic). I use these for melon, pretzels, crackers, cookies (which don’t go in school lunches, but for road trips), and more. Best of all, they can go in the dishwasher! Did you hear the angels sing, I know I did. Then we let them do a final drying out on a grass-like rack. I put mango slices in there for AH for when we’re out and about. I wish I had these when he was weening, but even as a toddler they’re invaluable and so cute. And the dishwasher safe thing is up there with dresses that have pockets. The soft, flexible nature of these containers makes them great for any size or shape lunchbox.
3. Temperature Control Foods & Containers
We have three or four 10-ounce Thermos brand vacuum insulated stainless steel food jars. A Batman one, a Spiderman one, a blue one, and a Superman one. I like having them be different so I can keep inventory mentally. We use these for things that are better very cold or kept warm. At LB’s current age, he hasn’t used them much, but I have! They’re fab if you don’t have a fridge or microwave at work. Or if there is limited capacity in the one at work or it’s not near your desk – or if there’s one microwave for 100 people. If you’re going to bring something in a thermos to stay hot or cold, here are some fun ideas:
- Ham & Cheese Muffins from Ninja Mommers
- Easy Peasy Homemade Mac n Cheese from EvinOK
- Handheld Chicken Pot Pies from Pioneer Woman
- Jamaican Beef Patties from EvinOK
- Freezer Pizza Bites from Super Healthy Kids
- Polka Dot Pizza Dippers from The Good Stuff
- Mini Corndog Muffins from Hip2Save
- Muffin Tin Recipes from BuzzFeed
- Very Easy Chili and Old Bay Cornbread from EvinOK
- Chicken Corn Chowder from EvinOK
- Spinach-Artichoke Dip Quiche from EvinOK
- Chopped Salad with Wasabi Dressing like Tao Tao’s Chicken Salad from EvinOK
- Vegan Chickpea & Olive Salad with Fresh Lemon Dressing from EvinOK on Jen’s Kitchen
- Pascale’s Couscous Salad from EvinOK
- Caprese Salad from EvinOK
- Vegan Beet & Orange Salad from EvinOK
- Julie’s Dijon Vegan Potato Salad from EvinOK…or look for more ideas in my recipes section of EvinOK.com
What are your favourite lunchbox recipes, tips, or tricks?