How to win the lunch box wars! Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares her tips and recipes to make sure that lunch boxes come home empty.
If you have school-aged kids, you are probably with me when I bemoan the advent of the school year and, what I only (half) jokingly call, the brutal lunch box wars. Here are a few tips from this veteran lunch-packer that can help you reign victorious over untouched food and a deluge of tears – on their part and yours!
Let me begin by saying that my family has been taking packed lunches for years. My oldest just started high school this year; my youngest is in his second year of middle school. Additionally, I pack lunches for my husband and for myself. I employ these simple strategies every day to save us all lunchtime stresses.
The Bag Matters
I learned last week when my husband complained about the fabric bag I sent his lunch in: It does matter what you’re putting the food into.
“Do you have another bag I can use?” he queried as I placed containers into a fabric bag adorned with little kid-faces and the words YUM YUM YUM.
What? You don’t like my bag?!
“I work with guys…” he trailed off.
Were you not listening when I explained to the boys that it doesn’t matter what other people think as long as you like it?!?
“Okay, well, I don’t like it.”
And that was the end of that. So, let them pick their lunch boxes. There are so many options these days. Some have gel to keep the lunches cold. Some have multiple compartments to keep food separated. This is an easy concession to make. If they feel they have had a part in choosing the bag, they are more apt to eat what’s packed inside.
Think Beyond the Sandwich
A few years ago some kid’s comment about D’s curried egg salad sandwich brought tears to his eyes; R wailed about someone making fun of his tuna sandwich even though he “told them it was dolphin-safe!” After those encounters sandwiches weren’t high on the list. And I am not a sandwich kinda gal anyway. No matter how exciting the filling is, I would just rather eat anything but. Besides squishy, soggy sandwiches are a tough sell.
So think about other foods that are just as convenient. Wraps are portable and their ingredients flexible. In one week, I made a variety of tortilla wraps, including:
• Ham + “Dull” Cheddar (because clearly the opposite of “Sharp” Cheddar is…?!?) + Lettuce + Radish
• Chicken Salad (made with leftover chicken) + Red Grapes + Lettuce
• Ham + Brie + Lettuce
Once the weather turns cold, whip up some soups for dinner and ladle warm leftovers into insulated canisters. Some of our favorite soups are Lion’s Head Meatball Soup, Spinach Chowder, and Matzo Ball Soup.
Speaking of leftovers, the easiest lunch ever: leftovers from dinner the night before! If your kids will eat pastas cold, that’s always easy. But leftover frittata, that is, frittata made with leftovers, is one of my go-to lunches.
Prep the evening before
It’s challenging to come up with creative lunch ideas on a hectic weekday morning. Do your prep early. You can easily peel carrots, clean celery, wash fruit, scoop spiced nuts into containers, and wrap up homemade granola bars.
Include an occasional treat
Everyone likes surprises. You can make lunchtime more fun by including an occasional treat for your child to discover when he or she sits down to eat. And treats don’t have to be sweets though those are always appreciated in my boys’ boxes. They are tickled to find Thai-Kissed Peanut Butter Cookies, Sugar Cookies in the shape of Star Wars characters, and more.
But treats don’t always have to be edible. Non-food items can be just as exciting and make your child smile without all that sugar. Think about stickers, a photo, or – my kids’ favorites – a little love note that can be as simple as: Enjoy your lunch. I love you!
Maybe it’s maturity on everyone’s parts, maybe it’s years of practice, but we have settled into a groove with the lunch boxes. What’s in your lunch box? Any tips for stress-free lunches? How do you win the lunch box wars at your house?