What Do You Pack In Your Child’s Lunch?

DTR writes in…

I’ve been thinking a lot about the discussion a couple weeks ago regarding school lunches. My children bring their lunch on most days (except pizza day, of course), and I need some inspiration. Would it be possible to post a question about what school kids bring for lunch? Of course, I’m looking for a good combination of healthy, variety and kid-friendly.

39 thoughts on “What Do You Pack In Your Child’s Lunch?”


    1. It’s this kind of behavior that made me ban large sugary drinks.

      If you had just responded as nicely as tiptoe (see his/her great response), maybe I wouldn’t have done it.

      1. tiptoe is a that very rare angel mother who people can aspire to be. You’re just a bully nanny who won’t be happy until everyone eats, drinks, walks, talks, and craps just the way you think they should.

  1. I’ve been packing lunches for nigh on 13 years so I have a pretty good repertoire. We do a ham & cheese sandwich or pnut butter & nutella or jam; pita chips and hummus or carrots/hummus, and one or two fruits or veggies: carrots, apple, applesauce, banana, grapes, sugar snaps, mushrooms, strawberries, cantaloupe, pineapple, etc. We also do either a yogurt, string cheese, or cottage cheese. My kids love boiled eggs. Surprises might be craisins, yogurt-covered pretzels, crackers w/ pnut butter. I also send sunflower seeds, pistachios or pecans sometimes. I guess we do mostly whole foods in a bunch of little containers, but occasionally I do send leftovers, especially pizza or tortellini. My high schooler packs her own salad every day.

    I’ve been known to try making it more interesting by sending a container of pnut butter or hummus with carrots or apples stuck into it and using cookie cutters on the sandwiches to make fun shapes (which also takes care of the dreaded bread crust if you’ve got one of those kids). When I have the time I will make pizza or breakfast muffins or do little kebabs of cheese, pepperoni, grapes, etc. on toothpicks.

    I will say my kids’ lunches are probably not like their neighbors’, but I am pretty adamant about them eating well and making good choices and they never complain about not getting chips or candy. I do send Horizon chocolate milks though! šŸ™‚

  2. If those little twerps want to bring a lunch they have to pack it themselves. Most often turkey and cheese sandwich with chips or carrots and leftover Halloween candy.

  3. there is a decatur blog linked to the right called Cooking For Monkeys that has a lot of inspirational recipe’s and photos, she really has a knack for beautifully packed Bento lunches. Unfortunately my kids would never touch most of the stuff, PB and J every day of the week suits them.
    Wish somebody would pack me some of the Bentos from that site though….

  4. Just the question itself has me giggling. Not sure if it’s the humorous answers above or embarassment. The question epitomizes the difference between theory and practice. I am in awe of tiptoe for her lunches. I am in awe of the cafeteria folks for doing as well as they do given resources and regulations.

    1. Yes, the question may have needed a bit of rephrasing. Something like “What are your favorite things to pack in a child’s lunch?” or something along those lines, so people didn’t necessarily feel like they had to do a total reveal.

  5. They get a nutritious lunch every day: two fruits or veggies (usually fruits – one doesn’t eat a lot of veggies), one protein (boiled eggs, cheese, yogurt, or hummus, and occasionally meat), and one extra (pita chips, pretzel sticks, granola). They beg for prepackaged stuff, but I’m an old meanie. No fancy Bento boxes; I refuse to get up early for cute.

    My sister-in-law works with preschoolers, and she swears that half the kids come with Doritos and candy.

  6. Check out this blog: http://www.lunchboxblues.com. It’s run by JM Hirsch, an AP food writer and he blogs and posts what he packs for his kid’s lunch every morning. Some of it is a bit too in depth seeming for school mornings, but it’s definitely given me some ideas on how to spice up lunches.

  7. I found these great containers this year – easylunchboxes.com
    They come in a 4 pack and are sturdy,dshwasher safe and easy for kids to open. I pack 2 days per kid in advance and they keep fine in the fridge – a friend packs all 5 days on sunday nights!
    We do roll up sandwiches, or salami and cheese with fruit/veggies and a fun something (today was pretzels and chocolate chips). Hummus and dippers are a hit…..I have also sent yogurt, granola, muffin, fruit. Another favorite main dish is a bagel with either cream cheese, pnut butter or nutella. I like the separate containers because it makes me think about a more well rounded meal šŸ™‚

  8. Mine is another pb&j fan and I lived in fear of the Oakhurst ban on peanut butter spreading to other schools! We have since finally convinced the monkey to branch out a bit. Typical lunch is a sandwich (pb&j, or one of the following ONLY eaten if it was toasted in the morning – and yes, I know, I know but at least it was an alternative!! – turkey & Colby jack, steak cooked the night before and Colby jack, sliced chicken with marinara and mozzarella. I add a fruit or 2 (strawberries, grapes, pineapple, apple sauce) and something else sometimes a small bag of chips I packed (not the prepackaged bags, my kid won’t eat that much and I want to pick just how much goes in – partly in fear of being THAT parent that sends in chips!)Sometimes it’s 2 chocolate joejoes, goldfish or a kids zbar. Lately we’ve also been adding one of the mini gummi bear bags from haribo (it’s a special lunch size, has about 6 bears in it)

    On days I don’t feel like doing any of the above? A bowl of cereal, grapes and money for milk šŸ™‚

  9. Just asked my ten year old what she packs. Today: chips, chocolate sticks (Belgium) and cluster bar and water. Good thing she got her sugar and carbs today.

  10. One favorite lunch that is easy and healthy: sweet potato with cinnamon and sliced turkey. I figure a sweet potato is a vegetable, carb, and dessert in one. I just discovered the divided containers by ziplock (2 for $3.50 at the big Kroger) and like them a lot. My oldest is arguing with me about which days she wants to eat at school: pizza day of course, but am I really caving in to tater tot day? Yep, she won.

  11. We do sushi from Kroger. It’s good for about 2 lunches. I include kid-friendly chopsticks and a small container of soy sauce. Some days I’ll include a muffin from the Dekalb Farmers Market — usually apple spice, banana, or oat bran. I like the wholesome ingredients and they go well with a yogurt tube or some fresh strawberries. I buy small Odwalla smoothies which are quite filling. Also from the Farmers Market, I’ll buy their house-made ravioli, cook it, and put it in a thermos with some butter. My son likes hard-boiled eggs as well. His new thing is individual packages of dried sheets of seaweed. Oh, and one of my favorites is a small container of almonds (or any other nuts) with dried fruit — apples, cherries, banana chips, and pineapple.

  12. We are leftovers here. My kids (and dh) eat most things cold. So, I’ll do some sort of entree (leftovers, hummus plus dippers, peanut butter plus dippers, cream cheese stuffed celery, ravioli), a veggie or fruit, something crunchy (trail mix, nuts, rice cakes, whatever), and sometimes a treat.

  13. I like the ziplock divided containers as well. They look almost exactly like the easylunchboxes but they are leakproof, cheap and easily available.

    Today I sent 1/2 a tofu-turkey sandwich on whole wheat, strawberries, blueberries and a cored-apple. I also sent some tortilla chips. I often pack carrot chips and hummus instead of a sandwich. Mac and cheese in a thermos is a big hit, too. (I also let him take some Oreo cookies that his big brother brought him on a visit last night. It’s not perfect but everything in moderation, right?)

    Clairemont doesn’t allow nuts (at least in my son’s class) and this is tough on vegetarian families!

  14. This has been a VERY helpful discussion. Many thanks, as I now have some great ideas to help with school lunches. I appreciate everyone’s input, and I’m happy to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this daily decision.

    As for Keith F…there’s a table in the curmudgeon section for you. It’s next to J_T’s table. šŸ™‚

    1. And that table is at Trackside. Where kids are not allowed anyway!

      Now if you want to discuss what we feed our dogs…

  15. There are some awesome parents making great lunches for their children here in Decatur! No wonder we have such a great Ultimate Nutrition Committee or whatever it’s called. Thank you for exposing my children to better nutrition in the cafeteria!………even if it does make our family look a bit lame.

  16. Kid lunch looks like this in our household: half an avocado, grape tomatoes from garden, few strawberries, cheddar rice crackers, YDFM sesame sticks, slices of Busseto salami, a 2% Organic milk – with sometimes a Vanilla milk for a treat – and one Hershey’s chocolate kiss. I’m thrilled about nixing chocolate milk because it often seems in the lunchroom (at least in lower grades – College Heights, etc. – that the kids request it and it’s provided). If there were more controls over it – that would work but truly, kids don’t need the added sugar. Be it a treat every so often, in moderation, is okay by me.

  17. I work full time and many days longer hours, so my kid often eats the school lunch. When I have time to cook or pack something in the morning, he either takes sandwiches or leftovers the next day to school with an assortment of other fruit or veggie snacks. For leftovers, I reheat the food in the morning and put it on a thermos. He LOVES rice, so his home-lunches most likely includes some rice and either chicken or turkey, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, apple/carrot sauce and some other cut fruit to balance. I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s and here are some things from the store that make my life really easy when I want to pack a lunch:
    – apple/carrot apple crushers (fruit and veggie on a pouch)
    – roasted seaweed (my kid goes bonkers for this stuff!!!!)
    – hummus/pita little pack (they just started selling this little packs of pita and hummus in the refrigerated section for the exhausted and overworked moms like me!)
    – concentrated fruit strips (all fruit- for the first 3 years of his life my son thought this was “candy”)
    – high fiber granola bars (some have chocolate and insane amounts of fiber and they taste good- another sweet alternative to candy)

    and no……TJs does not pay me a salary!

    1. PB&J is only evidence of white privilege when you put mayo on it.

      Now don’t even get me started on the heteronormative implications of bologna šŸ˜‰

  18. PBJ sanguiches (It’s what they want and what they eat. Every. Single. Day.), fresh fruit, a snack (some kind of hippie thing like red hot blue chips or what have y’ze), and a juice box or chocolate milk. I like that Decatur schools have the kids pack what they don’t eat–it is a big help in figuring out what they like and don’t like.

    As for organic vs. non-organic, I go by this chart:
    http://www.fitlife.tv/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/organic-cheat-sheet-560×373.jpg
    and I go by the labels where appropriate:
    http://www.snopes.com/food/prepare/produce.asp

    They get a good amount of sugar, but it is almost never HFCS, and I get the PB and J that has less sugar, but never sugar substitutes, because those are all the debbil.

    I don’t consider us to be a crunchy hippie family. We are not hardcore against all artificial ingredients and such; we just do our best to minimize it while giving them food that is good for them, that they will actually eat, and that they won’t get teased about.

    1. I make my own peanut butter! It is amazingly easy to make if you have a good food processor. i don’t add anything to it–just buy a bag of unsalted peanuts and a bag of salted peanuts at the farmer’s market, and grind them up! The kids love it. Peanut butter absolutely should not have sugar in it. (Actually neither should jelly–it is already pure sugar!)

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