I live in Iowa, so I've tried to make this list things that I can get here locally. I use reusable containers, cloth napkin and real silverware in a reusable lunch bag. It's worth a little investing up front. I bought two or three of everything needed just in case it doesn't make it through the dishwasher some nights. I also invested in a good thermos for soups and pastas and other hot dishes. My son has a microwave available to him at school, but it's easier on him to have it all ready to go. I also bought some good ice packs and have plenty so they can be rotated through as they freeze.
I prefer to have as much of my lunches be "no-prep" as possible, so we do a lot of fresh fruits and veggies. If the main part of his lunch is hot, it is often times leftovers. I usually start the week off with single ingredients (a whole apple, just green beans, etc.) and then by the end of the week I combine what's left into mix 'n' match meals. Try not to waste any food!
Now I know that my own kids sometimes eat foods that are not listed as "child-friendly" in most people's minds. (The only thing on this list that my own son doesn't eat is oranges. He just doesn't like oranges. But he eats all the other "crazy" foods here and has even been a huge helper in creating this list.) My kids are adventurous eaters and love to try new and exciting foods. My son loves that it makes all the other kids ask questions. But if you are thinking to yourself, "My kid will never eat that!" or "She'll just waste it!" then I strongly urge you to stop and think.
Kids are STARVING by lunch time at school most days.
It is the perfect time to try something new and exciting. (After school is great, too, since they are wasting away into nothing by that time of day.) I wouldn't spring new foods on them, and I don't "surprise" them with something new. Discuss with them that you are trying new things because it's fun and exciting. Have your kids work with you on the weekly menu plan and make one day each week a "try something new" day. There are a lot of fun ways to introduce new foods. Try making kebabs or a deconstructed dish (all the parts to a taco, salad, wrap, pizza and they put it together on site). Try anything tiny (everyone can eat a few bites if they are tiny), or wrap up something new in a tortilla, lettuce, or even a pancake. Everyone loves to dip, so try new sauces and purees to introduce foods. Try themes--lunch foods all the same color, rainbow colors, food all starting with the letter of the week, or putting in 8 of everything. Take your kids to the grocery store and have them choose the something new for that week.
Even the same old PB&J is made special on tiny bread or a rice cake or a wheat biscuit. Just do a little something new to get a child used to trying new things. Then you can work up to the sushi and tofu! If you are the crafty type of parent that has time to make fun shapes out of the food, that sometimes works to get them to eat. Shape the fruit into flowers or use cookie cutters to shape bread and tortillas. Serve cut up fruit with a toothpick (with strict intructions to NOT poke anyone at school or on the bus), or make melon balls instead of wedges. And remember that experts agree a child needs to be offered a new food 7-10 times IN A ROW before they really decide if they like it or not. (So if you're introducing kohlrabi, add a few sticks every day for a week.) They may try it once and hate it, but keep offering for a week or so. Then wait a couple months and do it again. Children's taste buds change all the time as they grow, so continue to offer foods and encourage them to keep trying.
My overall, best suggestion is to create a bedtime and a morning routine and include packing the lunch on that, and definitely have a weekly meal plan so there's no arguments or running around crazy at the last minute. Never try to force something new at the last minute! Discuss it DAYS in advance and work up to the excitement of new food day.
If there's anything here that sounds good but you are just not sure on how to prep and cook it, just send me a quick note and I'll get a recipe and instructions to you.
KID LUNCH BOX IDEAS
Fruits (preferably fresh, whole or sliced, kebab, fruit salad, serve just one or mix and match)
Apples (whole or sliced)
Kiwi (cut in half and let them scoop out with a spoon)
Watermelon--cubed or wedged
Fruit cobblers or crisps
Veggies--Steam, sauce, dip, mix 'n' match, different seasoning, toss with nuts, sprinkle with bread crumbs
Carrots--cold, cooked, sticks, pennies/rounds, julienned for salad, etc.
Brussels Sprouts (yes, my kid loves these)
Yellow summer squash
Sugar snap peas
Rutabagas (steamed, mashed)
Turnips (raw or steamed, mashed)
Kohlrabi (cut into "fries" and serve raw)
Lettuce (salad, wrap or rolls)
Edamame (shelled or in the shell to pop out--we call these "poppy beans")
Beans--Baked beans, green, black, red, garbanzos, butter, wax, navy, cannelini, black-eyed peas, limas (mix and match, hot or cold salads)
Corn--on or off the cob
Winter squash--cubed or mashed, 1/2 an acorn squash, spaghetti squash, etc.
Sweet potato--sticks, baked, mashed
Potato--red, white, yellow, fingerlings, mashed, baked, baked fries, shake 'n' bake tators
Cabbage--salad, roll, wrap, coleslaw, purple or green or a mix
Tomato--slices, grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, heirlooms
Avocado--slice in half and let spoon out, or mash as a spread or dip
Olives--black, green, Greek, stuffed, etc.
Tofu--cubes, sticks, breaded and baked/fried as "nuggets", scrambled like eggs
Rice--white, brown, wild, cold, hot, fried, mix with veggies, etc.
Granola--bars (chewy or crunchy) or cereal
Pasta--cold or hot, all different shapes and sizes, sauce/no sauce, stuffed, orzo
Buns (slice or cut a hole in the top and fill it up)
Pita bread (mini or large)
Waffles--traditional, or flavored, apple-oat is my fav
Pancakes--flat or rolled
Tortillas--corn, flour, white, wheat, flavored
Bagels--mini or large, flavored or plain
Cocktail breads--tiny sandwiches
Quick breads--banana bread, zucchini bread, orange bread, peanut butter bread, etc.
Pretzels--crunchy or soft
Bread sticks (for dippings, or slice them and make skinny "torpedo" sandwiches instead of subs)
Crackers--huge variety, sticks, flat, multi-grain, we love Dr. Kracker and Wasa Bread
Veganaise (vegan Mayo)
"Cream" sauce--vegan Alfredo
Dressings--ranch, French, Italian, etc.
Lemon sauce/Lemon juice
Vinegars and Oils
Fruit Sauces (blueberry, orange, etc. for pancakes, etc.)
Vegan Cream Cheese
Vegan Sour Cream
Cinnamon/Sugar drizzle or dry to sprinkle on
Nuts to sprinkle on
Seasoning to sprinkle--basil, pepper, pizza seasoning, lemon pepper, etc.
"Special Butters"--blend 1:1 vegan butter with jelly or honey, stir brown sugar into butter, or fold herbs into softened butter
Main Dish Ideas
Pitas with vegan lunch meat, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, vegan mayo
Pitas stuffed with pizza ingredients
Mini-Pitas with hummus or other dip
Chips and Guacamole
Chips and Salsa
Burritos--bean (refried, black, etc.), rice (white, brown, Mexi-rice), TVP, or combo
Veggies and dips--switch it up!! Not just the same carrots and ranch.
Rice Cake sandwiches, or Rice Cake with spreads
Kebabs--tofu, veggies, or all fruit, Asian (tofu, green pepper, pineapple)
Vegan hot dog bites, vegan corn dog bites
Salad Roll--Asian (fill with cabbage, Hoisan sauce, julienned carrots, green peppers), or wrap up vegan lunch meats and cheeses
Spring Roll/Egg Roll
Raisin and Cinnamon Biscuits
Biscuits filled with small bits of broccoli and vegan cheese
Biscuits seasoned with pizza seasoning and dipped in pizza sauce
Pasta Salad--so many possibilities combining different veggies and dressings
Bagels with peanut butter, other nut butters, honey, special butters, hummus, Baba ghanoush
Mini cocktail sandwiches
Mini cocktail cucumber, dill, vegan mayo appetizers
Calzones (start with premade pizza dough or crescent rolls and fill before cooking)
Corn Bread--mix in vegan dogs, rinsed black beans, or a little citrus before cooking for extra flavor
Black Beans and Rice
Red Beans and Rice
Mushroom panini/sub sandwich
Various vegan "meat" balls
Waffles, Apple-Oat Waffle, Waffle with vegan bacon cooked into it, all dipped in syrup
Pancakes--shapes, fingers, rolled around fruit or vegan sausage
Crepes--filled with fruit pie filling, dusted with powdered sugar
Stuffed tomato or peppers--start with rice and season as you like (wild rice pilaf or Mexi-rice are good)
Spinach Rolls--roll spinach and vegan cream cheese into crescent rolls before baking
Stuffed pasta shells (recipe on previous blog)
Various Nuts--almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts, etc.
Fancy noodles--shapes, letters, tubes, big, little, with sauce or cooked into broth and veggies as soup
Mini-pie--individual fruit or shepherd's pie or pot pie cooked in muffin tins, use tube biscuits or crescents as your dough
Mini pizza (on biscuit, pita, etc.)--either make ahead or just send the parts for them to do, try a fruit pizza!
Stir-fry (rice or noodle, try soba noodles or different types of rice noodles, try various veggies)
Veggie burger or Bean burger (ton of recipes on the web, or buy Bocas)
Garlic Bread and dip
Cream of Tomato
Cream of Spinach
Cabbage Soup (with onion, navy beans, Italian seasoning and diced tomatoes in veggie broth--a fav here)
Coconut Corn Soup
Potato Leek Soup
Cream of Mushroom