Life is busy as a mother of four boys between the ages of 2 and 10 and stepmom of a teen girl. For the past two school years I allowed my boys to get lunch at school since it is provided for free to all students. I thought this was a great way to save money and assumed they were getting a decent meal but they always came home starving. They would eat a such a large snack that they didn’t want dinner but would be hungry again by bedtime.
The school offered free breakfast and lunch over the summer and since my children were attending a summer program, I allowed them to eat there. Again, they would come home hungry. I know my children are bottomless pits, but this was over the top. I discovered the portions were more snack size than meal size. Lunch included a choice of two cheese filled bread sticks, a Trix yogurt or two pieces of sliced cheese, as well as milk, fruit and a vegetable. This just wasn’t enough to get them through the day.
This year is full of changes for my family, which includes a new school. Their new school doesn’t offer free meals for everyone, so breakfast is 75 cents and lunch is $2. The menu is very similar to their old school, so I decided they will be packing most days since full bellies, allowing them to focus on learning, is important to me.
In the past, we let them pack for themselves, but they would take at least 10 minutes to do so and what they chose wasn’t always the best lunch. This year I decided to set aside time every Sunday to make lunches for the week. We looked on Pinterest together, so they felt like they were part of the process. My 7-year-old’s biggest request was lunchables. I decided to make my own.
I slice up a block of cheese, bologna and pepperoni and add a few crackers. I include another protein item like a hardboiled egg or granola bites. I use cupcake liners to keep everything separated and the crackers from getting soggy. To switch things up from the normal meat and cheese slices with crackers, I will make wraps, bagel sandwiches or tuna salad and include that is the main item instead. My preschooler loves uncrustables (peanut butter and jelly with no crust) so I plan to make my own this week.
Extras: I bought several plastic shoe box containers and recruited the kids help to load the bins that are stored in the pantry. We stock them with snack bars, fruit snacks, applesauce, fruit cups, pretzels, Goldfish and other easy to pack items. We have a bin in the fridge with baggies of carrots and tomatoes. I pack Jello in four-ounce Tupperware containers. The freezer is stocked with Gogurts and icepacks.
More Ideas: I plan to buy each child a thermos for the cooler months. This will allow them to pack soup, mac-and-cheese, pasta, chicken nuggets and more.
Prep Time: My 10-year-old enjoys helping prepare the lunches. It takes us ½ hour to an hour to prep lunch for the whole week and I know they are getting a healthy lunch that they enjoy. The kids throw what they want in the lunchbox each night and I check to make sure they aren’t sneaking too many fruit snacks or chips and it makes the week easier for us.
The kids still want a snack when they get home, but it is small enough that they are ready to eat dinner with the family. What do your children pack for lunch? Any tips or recipes you would add?
Written by: Katie Wiederhold, Kenton County Public Library patron and mother of five.
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