“Just pack!” and other ridiculous notions

Turkey burger with daiya cheese; bread and ketchup; brownie; pears; carrots and broccoli; fruit smoothie

When people oppose school lunch reform, one of the comments I hear is “Parents should just pack a lunch for their kids.” If I hear that in the next week, I will have to hold myself back from laughing maniacally in their face.

I started packing my son’s lunch for day care in September 2010 — it was after I watched Food, Inc. All my excuses for letting him eat regular food were kaput. I also took him off of all dairy products that month. And that October he went gluten free.  So I’ve been packing his lunch for 18 months. I have come to loathe lunch packing.

I think about it the night before and I obsess about it every morning. One recent day I even thought, “Maybe he could eat lunch today at school. I just can’t do this.” I almost had to slap myself in the face. “Snap out of it, Sarah!”

Brown rice couscous with butternut squash and pine nuts; chopped up apple sausage; apple slices and avocado; pretzels; snack bar

Recently it dawned on me that conservatively I have many years of lunch packing ahead of me. I started when he was about two and, well, I have at least seven years until he can do some of this himself, right? He helps me now, but he’s so unreliable. Charlie will say he wants something in his lunch and then he won’t eat it (I know because it comes back untouched). Worse yet I’ll pack something he loves at home and he won’t eat the same food at school. I don’t get it and I can’t predict what he’s willing to eat at school. Thankfully, I still have a reliable dinner eater…for now.

Sometimes I think about keeping him home from school just so I don’t have to pack his lunch. Crazy, right? Lunch packing is making me nuts.

Egg salad sandwiches; apple slices; veggie booty; carrots; snack bar

Packing a kid a lunch is not the answer to school lunch reform. Although it can be cheaper and healthier depending on the foods parents choose, it’s not sustainable over time for many families. I might just run screaming from my home and throw our son’s adorable laptop lunch bag into the path of an oncoming car. I’m so over it.

*I’m still taking daily pictures of my son’s lunches, intending to put them on a new site for lunch photos. I’m still developing that concept. Thanks for your immense patience.

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55 thoughts on ““Just pack!” and other ridiculous notions

  1. I hear ya! I pack lunch for 3 kiddos plus myself on occasion. 3 lunches 5 days a week during the school year and for about a month in the summer (summer school or day camps).

    I get burnt out after a few months.

    It isnt only the packing but then the cleaning of all the lunch stuff (we also use laptop lunches and/ or thermos containers). thank goodness for the dishwasher!

  2. There are many parts of being a parent that I regularly am “over.” But you do them anyway. And while you send admittedly more elaborate lunches than most would endeavor to pack, many, many more parents could at least put a simple sandwich, piece of fruit, and a baggie of chips/crackers/etc. in a paper sack. Maybe dial it back, give yourself a break for a while. And keep being a good example!

  3. I am with you, Sarah. I take pride in packing lunch for my two kids….and I hate it! I used to feel like Suzy Homemaker and actually get excited to turn my kindergartener’s sammies into hearts and stars. But really?? That feeling doesn’t last long. It A LOT OF WORK to make lunch healthy, delicious, exciting and different!

    1. My parents made my sister and me pack our own lunches from the age of about seven. While our lunches weren’t nearly as impressive as the ones you give your son, we never went hungry and we obviously couldn’t complain that we didn’t like what we’d been given!

      Perhaps more children should be taught to be self-reliant like we were?

      1. I’ve just started getting my 7yr old to pick her own snacks and sandwich spread as i got tired with her not eating the lunch i packed. most days she’ll pick plain old mayo sandwiches but she eats them and her snacks vary day to day as i found variety helped as they don’t get bored. Letting her pick her own made our morning routine a lot easier and less stressful. so i agree let them be self reliant, if anything it its teaches them how to make decisions on their own.

  4. Indeed. That retort suggests that many ignore the financial reality that millions of children in the US deserve a nutritious lunch that their families can’t afford.

  5. Ha! I chose my son’s daycare and preschool based 1a) if they served lunch and 1b) what they served for lunch (he just turned three and has yet to have a chicken nugget).

    Someday I will start to pack his lunch, and if I have to I will pack it until he graduates from high school. My mom told me I could pack my own lunch or buy it with my own money starting in Jr. High. Well, those extra five minutes of sleep were so coveted that I preferred to spend a buck fifty each day to buy a coke and a packet of chocolate donuts. And this was 20 years ago!

    I’m not looking forward to having to pack his lunch (although I’ll probably double it up for me instead of taking leftovers as I do now), but once I start, I look forward to your new website for inspiration.

  6. Sarah, if it helps, I’ve found it to be much easier to keep the late-night-galloping-brain at bay using menu planning. If I know what I’m putting in the lunchbox, I can keep my OCD at bay and actually get to sleep.

    But I wanted to say, for those of us who aren’t gregarious and outspoken, packing our kids’ lunches is our way of being heard without speaking. I take my kid’s nutritional health seriously, and I support those who are able to speak out, And I even look at them and sometimes wish I could be them.

  7. I love when summer comes so I don’t have to pack lunches! I have handed my 6th grader the responsibility to pack her own lunch, and the 2nd grader occasionally helps out. I agree that “just pack your own” is not the answer for everyone–that assumes that you have healthy food in the house in the first place. We can’t fix every social system at once; you would think revamping the school lunch system from a commodity dumping ground to a fresh, nutritious school lunch for all children would be a good start.

  8. I am an every day packer of my daughter’s lunch. The school lunches are atrocious and I stupidly let her eat them in the very beginning, then they kept sending her home because she was getting ill. The cause? The school freakin’ lunches. In our district, the elementaries (K-5) have free lunch but y’all, you get what you pay for.

    Yesterday, K- took homemade pizza with rice milk cheese (safe for dad), homemade coleslaw, a fresh fruit salad and a cheese stick. Today, we’re rocking a turkey wrap on a whole wheat pita, another fresh fruit salad that I chopped up in between yelling, “No really, you have to get up NOW!” There were also short cut carrots, grape tomatoes and cheese. Can I tell you how many times she has come home and asked me to pack extras for the kids who are harrassing her for bits of her lunch? How about some proof there? Kids WANT good food. Well, at least the kids who sit near my kid at the lunch table want the strawberries, blueberries, melon and other things in the lunch bot that isn’t in some cellophane cardboardish throw away container.

    Thanks for trying to get them to feed them better!

  9. We don’t have the option not to pack here in southern Ontario. What happens when the choice is removed? Packing lunches doesn’t bother me, but I know it annoys the mess out of many other people. Of all my mundane, repetitious, tedious tasks; this one takes little time or effort. A bit of thought in advance, and some produce prep but then it’s done. Possibly the added stresses of packing dairy and gluten-free make it more of a chore. One of my children is dairy and gluten-free *and* vegetarian. Her lunches take the most time, effort, and consideration. I’ve found that the kids will eat the same lunch for days on end without requesting a change, so I tend to pack the same thing for the whole week. Doing this dramatically reduces the time it takes to pack two lunch boxes.

  10. I may not have had the dietary restrictions that your son does, but I was responsible for packing my own lunch starting in first grade. Usually, it was just a sandwich and a drink, but perhaps he’ll be more capable of helping out sooner than you think?

  11. No, no – not 7 years! Maybe 3 years until he can pack his own lunch. We started having our kids pack their own lunches when they were 7 and 5 years old and they do a great job!

    Admittedly, it took a year or so for us to finally find what works for us, but now that we have, it’s awesome! I got both the kids a “Planet Box” – it’s a stainless steel box with compartments for all the different parts of their lunch. It helps so much to have those compartments visually laid out for them already because they know what goes into each compartment and don’t have to be searching for containers every morning.

    Plus, since it’s stainless steel, the whole thing goes straight into the dishwasher every evening on the BOTTOM RACK (which is so awesome because our top rack always seems to be full of plastic containers from the rest of the day, for some reason).

    I can’t tell you how much this has revolutionized our lives because I’m right there with you – trying to figure out what the kids/family is going to eat every day makes me want to curl up into the fetal position until they graduate from high school and go off to college.

    1. I have to second the Planet Box. All three of my children have one and it makes lunch making SO much easier and even a little enjoyable.

  12. I laughed out loud about him rejecting foods that he normally eats at home. My 4 year old does this all the time. We have to pack morning break, lunch and an afternoon snack for his small school as they have no cafeteria. Last week he decided that he didn’t like applesauce anymore ?!?! He would sometimes eat pineapple and other times it “burned his mouth” (turns out his lips were chapped). He went on an “I don’t like string cheese anymore” kick for a while (glad that’s over). I will say that a local caterer has a plan for lunch delivery to this school and other local private schools offering healthy, organic options but you have to order before 2pm the previous day so not exactly last minute.

  13. I’ve packed every one of my first grader’s lunches this year and I totally hear ya-it is exhausting! I have three kids so in a couple of years I’ll be packing three lunches every morning. Just thinking about it gives me a headache lol.

  14. I always drool over the photos of your lunches.You can pack lunch for me anytime!haha
    But hopefully once your son gets older,he’ll like to pack his own lunch at least half the time. 🙂

  15. Well, you do a lot better than I do. I get stuck in ruts and I keep putting the same things in there or I notice her entire lunch is one color (even with the nutrition requirements met). I’d like to mention I’m a stay at home mom and it gets tough for me too.

  16. Some days I feel the same way. I think ‘if I make one more lunch’…. But, not surprisingly, my daughter doesn’t like to eat school lunch. So I trudge on. Luckily she likes the same thing almost everyday so I don’t have to think about it too much – I’m on auto pilot most of the time. 🙂

    1. Joe, ice packs are fairly cheap (around $2 a piece). One goes in my daughter’s lunch bag everyday plus the bag itself is insulated, and I also freeze her daily gogurts so those are frozen when they go in the lunch bag too. We also eat a mostly vegetarian diet so I don’t make sandwiches with lunch meat. Proper cooling is a valid concern though, so parents should take steps to ensure their child’s lunches stay at the right temps!

    2. It says they reach unsafe temperatures, but it doesn’t actually say kids are getting food poisoning from this. I grew up in the era before plastic ice packs and somehow we all ate our bagged lunches and lived to tell the tale.

    3. Unsafe temperatures are all well and good for the food service industry, but I’d be willing to bet that about 75% of homemade meals would fail this test as well. I’ve accidentally left a casserole out overnight and then, in a fit of starvation, had it the next day and never once gotten food poisoning. I’ve never heard of a child getting food poisoning from their lunch sitting unrefrigerated for a morning. It takes really nasty levels of contamination or already old food to do that.

  17. We’ve been packing lunches for our two girls for the past 3 years or so… longer if I count preschool. We’ve gotten into some routines that work well and make it easier. We also don’t worry too much if one of my girls eats PB&J + a fruit or veggie every day for a week. It’s still healthier than the school lunch, she likes to eat it, and she gets a lot of variety when she is at home. Not worth the stress of coming up with many multiple options each and every day.

    You said you’re still taking pictures of the packed lunches every day, and intending to blog them… could that be part of your lunch making stress? If so, let it go! As much as I (and others) enjoy seeing your lunches and the inspiration and ideas they give… if it’s overwhelming you, let it go. Getting your kiddo healthy food is far more important than stressing out over documenting the food each day.

    1. I second what Andrea said – if part of your stress is taking the pictures, and in a sense wanting to look good for your readers, than you should let it go. Its not worth it. You don’t have to prove how great you are – we already know it! Maybe you could just address it a different way, rather than daily pictures.

  18. If you stress out about it the night before, why not just pack it the night before and put the whole assembled lunch box in the fridge? Then you can just grab it and go in the morning. As an adult, I pack my lunch every day for work (probably thanks to taking home lunch 99% of the time from Kindergarten through 12th grade) and do it all the night before so I don’t have to worry in the morning. Packing for an adult is probably not as stressful as packing for a child but it’s still the least favorite part of my day! Not to mention cleaning out the containers – I don’t have a dishwasher! But I know I am saving money over eating out, and I eat healthy too, so it is worth it to me.

  19. I agree with the lunch packing…but now add to that having to LABEL everything with name and date and what its for ie lunch vs snack 🙂 and then making sure that everything you pack is completely nut free…even though my child does not have the allergy the school is nut free….ugh…and I am in the same boat as you have been packing her lunch since she was about 2.5….

    1. Would picking out a few, say 10 sorta preset lunches that meet all the requirements then rotating them (probably having two to three of the same in a row) work?

      There are these great “whiteboard” stickers that you can get now. You can even erase permanent marker off them. That might help with the name/date/meal thing.

  20. I agree with Katie, I pack lunches the night before and leave them in the fridge. I don’t find it to be a big deal, I just do it at the same time as dinner clean-up so I can either incorporate dinner leftovers and/or doing any other veggie/fruit chopping and then clean up the whole kitchen all at once.

    *Shrug*. I’m not judging, I know there are probably many household chores I hate that don’t bother others at all! But I agree that stressing about it all night and then leaving less time for yourself in the morning is probably not the way to go.

  21. Not only is it not a sustainable practice for a lot of families to “just pack lunch” over the course of their child’s education – for many families it is just not viable. In excess of 20 million children nationally are consuming free or reduced price lunches at school – that is 20 million children whose families may not have the means to pack a lunch. We need to advocate for those who need school lunches in order to meet their nutrient needs – ever if those children are not our own.

    Not to mention that on average (and generally it would not include the readers of this blog, who are likely more health conscious than your average person) the packed lunches that children bring to school are less nutrient dense than those provided by schools. As alarming as this may be – many people simply do not know how are are not able to pack healthful meals for lunch. Children who eat school lunches get more servings of fruits, vegetables, and dairy (on average) as compared to those who bring lunch from home.

    Finally, school lunches teach children something that cannot be taught by packing their lunch. The opportunity for autonomy when choosing what to put on their tray allows children to practice making healthy choices. The more children are given the opportunity to practice, in any activity, the better at and more innate a behavior becomes. This is a life skill that is really important to learn, and while it requires trusting our children to make the right choices, which can be challenging as parents, it is something they will be doing at some stay in their life. Why not support the learning of healthy choices while your influence is still paramount to them… suddenly expecting a teenager to choose a piece of fruit instead of a Big Mac is not very realistic if they haven’t practiced choosing good foods in a food toxic environment through their lifetime!

    1. While I agree that many families can not afford to pack lunch, I’m not sure I agree with your argument about autonomy. I also don’t fully agree with the studies that compare packed lunches to school lunch. 1) kids don’t eat everything they are served. 2) the studies don’t take into account the children’s other meals. My kids may not get every food group at every meal, but do throughout the day.

      Now as for the autonomy issue: I sometimes bought school lunch as a child. In elementary I was not given any choices, just handed a tray of food. I rarely ate the vegetables because they were nasty. I loved most vegetables, but not the overcooked, canned versions the school served. In Jr high I did at times buy from the salad bar, it was the only palatable food available and I’m glad they offered it, though it was pretty expensive. In HS, if I bought lunch, it was often the pizza, because it was again at least palatable.

      All that to say, kids can’t learn to make choices when the food is gross. As well, how they are taught about food at home will have a very large influence on what choices they make when away from home.

      1. I completely agree that children cannot make good choices when there aren’t any good choices… but that was kind of my point – if we don’t push for school lunch reform, instead opting to pack our own child’s school lunch and ignoring the problem at large, then there isn’t the opportunity to make a good choice.

        A lot of schools these day, even in elementary, use the Offer verses Serve system, in which children must be offered 5 items form at least 4 food components and can reject up to two of them, and ask for additional servings of those the choose. Some schools also use a color coded track system, in which green foods are your most healthful choice, and red the least healthful. Older children have assess to salad bars in a lot of schools these day – but at the same schools pizza is also available most days. Children have a lot of autonomy when they get school lunch – and that is a great thing because it trains them for the real world. Provided of course, that we teach them how to distinguish sometimes from always foods and that we trust them to be able to make these choices for themselves.

        In regards to your issues with studies comparing school lunches to packed lunches, I find invalidity in both your points.
        1. In all the studies I have read on the matter (my masters research is school lunches) plate waste was always a consideration in the study, so children not eating everything they are served is always accounted for.
        2. The comparison is school lunch to packed lunch, not school lunch to an entire days intake of a child who consumes packed lunch. The latter would be completely invalid. An overall comparison in daily intake may differ, largely because many children who eat school lunch have food insecurity at home and may not have access to nutrient dense meals all day long. But I was comparing lunch time meal to lunch time meal as it would be unfair and inaccurate to make one meal verses an entire days intake comparison. When the meal is to meal comparison is made, on average*, NSLP meals are better.

        *On average – given that you are even reading this blog, I would bet that your children’s packed lunches are coming from someone interested in nutrition, but many children bring snack cakes and lunchables as a packed lunch, no fruit, no vege, no dairy, no fiber, plenty of saturated fat and sodium – and it is those lunches that yield these statistics, not the kind of lunches that people like Ms. Q and probably yourself pack

    2. I was with you until you said that most on free/reduced don’t have the money to pack a healthy lunch. I am a teacher in a Title I school, by definition, a school with a high percentage of the population qualifying for free/reduced lunch. We also have a concession stand run by the school during the last half of lunch that has 100% student participation every lunch. A pop costs a dollar. All candy/chip items cost a dollar. Each student spends at least $2 on their “second lunch,” including all of those students on free/reduced lunch who throw away the bulk of their “healthy” lunch.

  22. Awww come on Ms. Q 🙂 I am such a fan of yours…

    When people choose to have kids, they should know there’s lots of things that responsible parents have to do that are not fun, interesting, or motivating. That’s why I made the choice to remain childless.

    I am sure packing lunches does get REALLLY old and can identify with that; we all have those kinds of duties…mine is cleaning bathrooms.

    But….just because it’s not fun doesn’t mean that feeding your child should be a school’s responsibility.

    I do think a lot of your fans put a LOT of pressure on themselves to have something cute, different each day, etc. That pressure can be alleviated by transferring the lunch making to the children (self-sufficient is GREAT!) or by choosing to send a sandwich, piece of fruit, and a bag of chips or a piece of string cheese.

    Lunches don’t have to be works of art – it’s fuel and nothing more.

    I admire what you do for Charlie and that you’ve provided many people with inspiration but have to fly the b.s. flag a bit on this post. 🙂 Sorry.

  23. I can understand that packing a lunch probably gets a bit tiring, but why do you always have to do it? Perhaps you could split the week with your husband?

  24. Here’s something that might help (I’m also a Laptop Lunches user): On the weekend, grab a piece of paper that’s blank on one side; draw five wide crosses on it. That’s a diagram of his lunch box five times over. Label the crosses M-T-W-R-F or with the dates.
    Find one thing you can put in his lunch box that will be the same every day and that you can prepare well ahead of time (maybe celery sticks, which you can keep in a glass of water in the fridge, or hard-boiled eggs). Mark it in the same quadrant of your diagrams for each day.
    Mark a second quadrant with a prepackaged food you can send each day–snack bar, pureed fruit pouch, gluten-free pretzels, etc.
    Now you have just two sections left for each day. Mark them with the food group(s) they will have to include. Make sure you have options in the fridge and/or use leftovers from dinner as they’re available. The night before, actually pack the lunch as you clean up from dinner.
    I also get tired of it once in a while, but then I get new ideas in a couple of weeks (either on my own or via other people’s bento blogs) and feel better.
    Two months til summer!

  25. I too suffer from lunch packing fatigue. I don’t have a choice whether to pack my lunch for my kid or not since I live in Canada (Ontario) where there is no lunch program. Every one packs lunch.
    I prepare most of it the night before, I cut fruit, put a small container of yogurt in the freezer, and so on. So in the morning I just have to heat up food to put in the thermos (on the days I give him leftover cooked food) or prepare a cheese sandwich and add some chopped veggies.

    But I think that your situation is made worse by the fact that you pack such varied lunches. You hardly ever seem to repeat any items 2 consecutive days. And I suppose you’re still trying to match the school menu and I can see how that would add extra effort and stress. I just cycle through the same 4 items day after day: leftover rice, chicken and veggies in a thermos, left over pasta, sauce and veggies in a thermos, leftover homemade pizza, or if I have no suitable leftovers, then a cheese sandwich with a boiled egg and raw veggies. I add to this 2-4 different fruits; my commonest fruit combination is an apple, a small container with grapes, strawberries and/or slices of pineapple, but I try to vary the choice of fruits as much as I can. Then I add a home-baked item, and sometimes a small container of yogurt slightly sweetened, with some fruit added.

    My son has never complained about the lack of variety in his lunches. He eats most of what of what I pack over the course of his day (for lunch and 2 snacks) and when he gets home he will often look in his bag and eats whatever fruit is left. Do you think your son would complain if you didn’t strive so hard to vary his lunches every single day? You could reduce some of your stress by relaxing and repeating his lunches more often. Also maybe you should just ignore the daycare menu and pack what you want. Maybe he wouldn’t mind eating something different from the other kids, as long as you pack foods that he enjoys. Instead of trying to help him to be like everyone else, use this as an opportunity to teach him that his food is yummy and better for him and he shouldn’t care too much about what others are eating – he has the best food!

  26. Sorry, but packing a lunch IS the answer to crappy school food. By the time it’s ever fixed, most kids will have graduated. Despite what LAUSD will tell you, our school lunches are no better today than when our family entered the Los Angeles public school system 15 years ago. My kids and I will be packing their lunches for another 5 years. No, it’s not always fun, but neither is brushing your teeth or wearing a seatbelt. Somethings are just important to do and in the long run, the outcome is a positive one.

    1. I do lean towards this opinion as well. You pack healthy lunches for yourself and your kids. With their help. And yes, you brush your teeth and wear a seatbelt. There are some things that we just do. (and yes, we do have a celiac in the home, so it is occasionally challenging). You do a great job Mrs. Q. I hear you about the frustrations of the sometimes tedious and mundane task of packing lunches. Good for you to vent. I have also thrown a temper about the work involved. But like you I am commited to the cause. Thank you. I feel all children should have a healthy lunch. Home packed lunches are an appropriate alternative, with food stamp or other supportive alternatives for families who are financially strapped.

  27. Ha! I guess most moms are in the same dilemma as yours. Especially if we have picky eaters on board. I started packing lunches for my son since Fall 2011 because he grew sick of the daily lunches at school cafeteria since Kindergarten. He’s a 3rd grader now. It feels good when your foods were being appreciated, and sad when they go back home untouched. Like you, I’m quite stressed planning bento meals for him. But I view it positively. It makes him eat healthier and I get to monitor how well he eats too. Like you, I created a blog to journalize his daily lunches just to give me an inspiration. When I see them posted, it gives me ideas what to pack next. I know which foods that just don’t work. I don’t give up. I just re-introduce in a smaller portion until he accepts it. And I do it at home.

  28. Hmm, well I happen to enjoy making my daughters lunches. I have done so since she was 2 and began specialize schooling for ASD at the time.
    She’s in first grade now and also has food allergies to contend with so for my family packin lunches is the only way to ensure that her food is safe for her allergies AND healthy.
    If she doesn’t eat something in her lunch, she eats it for snack after school.
    It has also helped my daughter expand her food pallete by providing her with fun shapes and details – she use to eat hardly anything. Now she loves trying new foods, fruits, veggies, especially spinach!
    Like I said I actually enjoy making her lunches – its a fun creative outlet for me.
    Yes school lunches should be reformed regardless but I don’t think we should be deterring parents from packing lunches for their kids either. I’d rather have control over what she eats – with or without her food allergies being a factor in our situation.
    Not only that, we use reusable containers and go waste free so it’s better for the environment. That’s a no brainer in my book.

  29. I used to get sick of lunch duty too, but these days I *wish* my daughter would still take a packed lunch. She did it from kindergarten through sixth grade, but when she started junior high this year, she started refusing – she says she has too much to carry around already and her lunch will get gross if she leaves it in her locker, which is probably true. However, her school also has the problem of too-long lines/not enough time, so her solution is just not to eat lunch at all, or occasionally to buy a bag of baked chips from a vending machine after her last class. She’s there from 7:30-4 most days and I hate to think of her going that long without food (she comes home starving and eats like a football player at dinner to make up for it, which probably isn’t that healthy either) but I haven’t found a solution that both of us can live with.

    1. I went through that problem with my daughter, too. Because she’s lactose intolerant and gluten sensitive, her choices are also limited. She has time, but lacks the space and I suspect became suddenly uncomfortable about eating in front of others once puberty was in full swing. I send her with a bag full of crackers she can eat, or soy nuts, etc and supplement with salsa in a cold bowl (the kind with water on the outside that you can freeze), cheese chunks, fruit of any kind that I can shove into her backpack. Beanitos are one thing she loves and nutritiously dense enough to get her through the day without being absolutely starved by the time she gets back home.

  30. I think you should give yourself permission to back off on the complicated lunches. My kids are usually pretty happy with sandwich fixings in one container and bread in another, then they make their own sandwiches at school and nothing gets soggy. Add to that some fresh fruit/veggies and maybe a granola bar, nuts, or crackers and we’re done. Sometimes they have leftovers in a thermos instead of a sandwich, or a quesadilla, or a bagel with cream cheese. That’s about as fancy as it gets. As long as the fruits and veggies get eaten, we’re all happy.

    Another thing that works well for me: Instead of the laptop lunch type thing where you are working with all those defined little spaces, (tried that for a while and found it frustrating) I just have a lot (and I mean, a lot) of tupperware in all different shapes and sizes. That way, whatever I am working with on that particular day is bound to fit into something. Then it all goes into their purse-style lunch sacks which are pretty flexible.

    My kids have made it clear to me that they do not wish to eat school lunches ever again, so I can see that there is no light at the end of the tunnel here. We have to have a system that works for me as well as them.

  31. I love this post!!! I pack for a gluten free and dairy free 13 year old, and an 11 year old with no food sensitivities other than an abhorrence for most of the food prepared by the school (except the french toast, which I can point out is served with high fructose corn syrup. ugh.)

    I’ve learned how to use leftovers very creatively and rapidly in the morning before rushing off to school. Brown rice with vegetables, paprika, pepper, reheated on the stove in vegetable broth (from a box) and dropped into a thermos has become a staple. I add sliced apples or oranges, celery with nut butter and raisins or craisins (‘ants on a log’) and sometimes for a treat, freshly roasted raw almonds drizzled with honey (just a quick few minutes on the stove top — this one has become requested by my daughter’s friends.)

    Other favorite additions to packed lunches are avocado, kiwi, black olives, raw nuts with craisins, carrots, jicama, and clementines. Most of these require little or no preparation.

    Food for the soul: Sometimes, when one of my kids is in need of a particular message or is learning a challenging personal lesson, I’ll add a pertinent quote or joke, or write a kind little note, roll it up, tie it with a twist-tie or string and add that to the lunch, too. They call them lunch scrolls and request them if I’ve not done it in a while. They have taken to saving their scrolls in a box in their bedrooms.

    To see what Japanese moms are packing for their kindergartener’s, check out this BBC report:


    Astonishing. I wonder how much time they spend on each lunch. These must be stay-at-home moms with tremendous financial resources on hand to give them time to do this; I’m thinking they have house-cleaning services and chauffeurs, yard maintenance service or apartment living, and probably just one child, too. 😉

  32. lunch for school is what we had for dinner the night before… almost always. I pack it when dinner is cooked but before we eat. It saves time.

  33. one more thing, more and more schools are increasingly becoming nut free zones (such is our case) so packing protein in the form of nuts is not always a quick easy option. i have found hummus to be a satisfactory substitute for quick and easy dip for veggies and a last minute sandwich. Just thought I’d share.

  34. This is in no way to make you feel guilty and encourage you to work on the lunch website faster, but I MISS YOUR LUNCH POSTS SOOOOO MUCH!!!!!! I have four kids and a husband I pack lunches for. The youngest is 11 so yeah, they could pack their own, but I am a stay at home mom so I feel it is part of my job. I really, really don’t like it. I always felt I packed somewhat healthy lunches until you challenged me with yours! I loved, loved checking your page for new, fresh ideas. So anyway, just twiddling my thumbs waiting patiently :o)

  35. My oldest is four, and, I am really not looking forward to dealing with this issue. To me, home lunch versus school lunch is one of the reasons I am considering homeschool.

    Thanks for all the work that you do.

  36. I agree that packing school lunch is not the “answer” to school lunch reform. Parents should be able to send their kids off to school, knowing that they will receive a wholesome, nutritious meal if they choose not to pack one. However, I don’t understand why packing a school lunch is such a big deal. Seriously, it doesn’t take that long to chop up a carrot, slap together a pb&j, throw some nuts or seeds into a container, and drop an apple or orange into a reusable bag. Yes, healthy lunches should be available at school. But why complain about the time and effort it takes to pack a nutritious lunch for your child? Take pride in knowing you are doing what’s best for him or her, and redirect that energy toward reforming the lunch program or starting a school garden!

  37. I don’t think that packing lunches for kids each morning should be oversimplified as Melanie has done. There are a lot more factors involved than just “slapping” together a pb&j. Regardless, if you don’t like what is provided at school, packing a lunch is really the only alternative. It comes down to how much you care about the issue and your children.

  38. You are right. Packing lunch is agood thing, but in the end not the answer, particularly as kids get older. In the 70’s when I started teaching there was a great deal of experimenting going on in teaching, learning and curriculum. Some turned out to be great ideas, some not so much.
    One of the proposals was to let the kids determine the curriculum. A little idealistic even for those days. I wrote a piece for the teachers’ paper I called “The Ice Cream Curriculum”. I was working in a middle school at the time and simple observation told me that middle schoolers were not good judges of what to eat. The rule of the pack in middle school is “do what the cool kids do”. Bringing your lunch was frowned upon and the lunch often wound up in the garbage.
    Real change occurs when the schools offer healthy foods with some options. That, with bagging it, will make the difference. We need to remember that the kids are part of the problem and need to be part of the solution. At least in middle school, certain groups of kids did and will lead the way-positively or negatively.

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