School Lunches — Yet Another Update

by Katy on February 1, 2009 · 22 comments



One of my goals for the school year was to pack daily lunches for my two sons. The purpose of this was two-fold — to save money and to make sure they’re getting a healthy meal.

I started the year out well, but have gradually been letting my my ten-year-old eat a school lunch a couple times per week. My excuse/rationalization is that his school starts at 8:00 A.M., and although I have many positive qualities, being a morning person is not one of them. (He’s also really bad about remembering to bring his lunchbox home.) My older son’s school thankfully doesn’t start until 9:15 A.M., so I’m a bit more with-it by the time I’m making his lunch.

Why not make the lunches the night before?

Umm . . . good question. I know I should do this, but I somehow can’t face this task after the drudgery of dishes is finally done.

For me, the key is to make food ahead of time and freeze it. Then I can quickly grab it, and it’s defrosted by the time the boys are sitting down to eat.  I do this with pumpkin pie slices, chocolate chip bran muffins and occasionally, cookies. Add  some apple slices or carrot sticks and a half sandwich and you’re done. (The drink is always ice water.)

I can assemble a lunch in less than five minutes when I’m organized.

I could make this task easier by buying prepackaged food such as granola bars, packaged carrot sticks or lazy-of-all-laziest, a frozen pre-made Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread. But this would make a “home” lunch more expensive than a school one, and probably much less healthy.

My other goal is to not create any waste. The silver wear is stainless steel, the napkins are cloth and any baggies come home to get washed out and reused. I have one tiffin lunch set, and one insulated fabric lunch box. I’d like to have two tiffin sets, but such is not the case. (Pun intended.)

My freezer is now full of individually frozen slices of pumpkin pie and bran muffins. (The boys can choose one or the other.) I have enough to get through two weeks. (That is . . . as long as nobody nips into the freezer for a frozen treat.)

What do you send your kids to school with? Please share your ideas in the comments section below. (I mean it, I really need your ideas!)

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

UPDATE:  I got up nice and early and fixed my younger son a great lunch that included a peanut butter sandwich shaped like a teddy bear and a hunk of leftover chocolate cake from a family birthday party. He proceeded to leave it in the car. I then drove it over to the school, but was too late as his class apparently goes to lunch at 10:50 A.M. Grrrr . . . 

Deep breaths Katy, deep breaths . . .

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

ann February 2, 2009 at 1:09 am

i find that the vegan bento community on flickr is a GREAT source of inspiration for some simple (and not so simple) items that work well in packed lunches!

Things that are easy to prep & that I think kids would enjoy: edamame (the kind still in the shell is more fun), small fruits like cuties (they are relatively inexpensive and you can pack just 1 or 2, plus they are seedless and easy to peel), rye crackers (wasa style) with some sort of spread (maybe hummus? – though I’m not sure all kids would enjoy that, I eat mine with pb&j), soup(!) (a friend used to bring some in a insulated thermos when I was younger… and it was still warm at lunch… I was so jealous), etc.!


Wendy February 2, 2009 at 5:20 am

I have to admit, I utilize the school lunch program. My rationalizing pretty matches yours, Katy; although, we have made progress with my son who wrestles and travels for matches/tournaments. While many of my son’s teammates are given $10 or $ 20 for each event, my son packs his own favorites in an insulated lunch bag. Tuna or homemade hummus and crackers, leftovers, an apple or banana, and ice water are some of his favorite choices. I simply cannot imagine the alternative which includes purchasing expensive junk food from vending machines and/or faux food courts set up at the schools his team visits.


Lala February 2, 2009 at 5:44 am

I pack my daughter’s lunch for school every day, except Friday when she buys her lunch at the school tuck shop as a treat. Her favourite bought lunch is chicken teriyaki sushi! ( when i went to school all i got was a salad sandwich- how times have changed!)
I usually make her a sandwich with cheese and Vegemite, ham or chicken with basil pesto ( I cook the chicken breasts on the chargrill and slice them as required for lunches). Then she usually has a banana or grapes or a slice of watermelon or rockmelon (canteloupe?).
She also likes a half of a cucumber sliced. She has water to drink and some popcorn or rice crackers for morning tea.


wendopolis February 2, 2009 at 6:08 am

Well, I must have the pickiest kids in the world. They take their lunch every day (except for a couple of days this week) because with three kids in school, I can’t afford $90 a month for school lunches. They usually take wraps or sandwiches, and whatever else I can whip up, and water to drink. Carrot sticks? I wish. I think my kids are the only ones who don’t eat the usual kids stuff, like peanut butter and jelly, etc.


Lisa February 2, 2009 at 7:24 am

My daughter usually takes leftovers for lunch. If for some reason there aren’t any, like today, I boil up a quick batch of pasta and add cheese or tomato sauce. I add carrots and a piece of fruit (right now it’s clementines) and she is set.

My son is in high school and he works for the school lunch program. He makes $10 an hour and lunch is included. So, he gets to eat whatever is being served that day for free. Oh Joy, Oh Joy! This has made my life a lot easier.


Beth Dargis February 2, 2009 at 7:41 am

My kids are teens now and neither one ever liked sandwiches. They like homemade yogurt, granola, pb apples, cottage cheese, fruit, nuts, cherry tomatoes and cream cheese or pb celery.


Kate February 2, 2009 at 9:07 am

our school does lunches 2x a week, but I only buy a lunch once every two weeks, simply because of the cost.
Lunch favourites in our house: mini pita pockets or mini bagels with cream cheese or chicken salad; cold pasta salad; soup; muffins; fruit and veggies; crackers, cheese and pickles; sandwiches from whatever meat is left over from dinner; plain yogurt with jam.
Like you, I make it in the morning, in a rush. They would probably be more interesting if I made them the night before, but energy for me is not high at night.


Kat February 2, 2009 at 10:47 am

I’m still in college and have to pack a lunch (and sometimes dinner) because the cost of food at the cafe is outrageous. Lately one of my favorites is applesauce (or frozen fruit I let thaw in my lunchbox) with nuts or peanut butter, dried fruit and a little candied ginger. When I’m ready to eat I add a half cup of raw rolled oats and stir. I also try to eat a carrot or two as well. I’ve also frozen foods that can be eaten cold of at room temp (such as peanut noodle salads or bean salads) the night before and let them thaw out in my lunchbox; they’re still cold when I get to lunch or I can warm them up in a microwave.


luneray February 2, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I used to forget to bring my lunchbox home fairly frequently until my mom told me no lunch without lunchbox AND no money to buy lunch.

I begged lunch from classmates only a few times before I got the picture. My mom may have talked with my teacher, too, because he started reminding the class as a whole at the end of the day to check if they had their homework, hats, and lunchboxes.

This was fourth grade.


AnnMarie February 2, 2009 at 2:06 pm

My kid’s not old enough for this yet,but I bring my own lunch every day to work. I love simply bread and cheese, a pickle, and a piece of chocolate. Sometimes a piece of fruit (but I usually eat that as a morning snack). Think of things you can prep even more in advance–you could make lunch on the weekend and just take things out of the fridge each day. Or do it before dinner, or while making dinner. Find a time that really works for you by trying out other times.

Another idea: Make the kids make their own lunch. I figure Winter can do this by the time she can reach stuff in the fridge (which, since it’s a freezer on the bottom might be a long time). You probably will want to supervise, so it could be done over dinner, or make them do it before they get breakfast!


Kristen@The Frugal Girl February 2, 2009 at 2:30 pm

This is one rockin’ thing about homeschooling…no lunches to pack! lol Of course, I spend a lot more hours doing schoolwork with them than I’d spend packing lunches, so I’m not exactly ahead time-wise here.


Jeanine February 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm

I wish I could pack my kids lunch….their school has a VERY strict policy of nothing homemade, (because…really…some parents send their kids to school with mac and cheese, fried chicken, and greens…and wonder why it can’t be reheated…)

But, when I did….wraps were queen, the girls loved tortillas, sliced lunch meat,spinach, cheese and whatever kind of spread. A piece of fruit and a water bottle.

Also, they loved soup or chilli in a thermos…still warm by lunch….10:50 or so….

Sometime I would heat up a hot dog and wrap it in foil…and use those little packets from fast food joints.

At the end of the week…the girls would split a wrap, get a hot dog each, and half a thermos of soup. You could always tell when it was time to hit the grocery store.

No PBJ….that’s a district rule….too many peanut allergies….


Viki February 2, 2009 at 5:08 pm

I have to pack my 2 daughters lunches everyday, their school is tiny and doesn’t do lunches. Plus, we’re vegetarian, so I’d probably be doing it anyway! I have a hard time dragging myself out of bed to do it, but rarely feel like doing it the night before either! I don’t buy the pre-packaged stuff much, so I do spend some time on weekends making up little individual servings of yogurt, applesauce, etc., so I can just grab those out of the fridge.
The best purchase I ever made was little Thermos bottles – it expanded my lunch-making a lot! They get leftovers a lot, pasta, soup, chili, veggie dogs sliced up in baked beans. Sometimes we do a breakfast food lunch, with waffles or pancakes and a little container of syrup. They also love pita sandwiches, wraps, and small containers of hummus with crackers, carrots and other stuff to dip into it. I have recently been inspired to get more creative by looking at the – even if you are a carnivore, that woman is an artist!


Cheryl February 2, 2009 at 6:44 pm

My son has been packing his own school lunch since he was 10 from one approved item per group. It is actually part of his after school routine. He comes home, gets a snack, does his homework, packs his lunch and then has free time. It works really well. He is a creature of habit so it is usually 3 slices of ham, croissant or sourdough bread slices, no sugar apple sauce and no sugar gelatin (he feels like it is dessert which the other kids are having) w/water from the water fountain (his choice he certainly can take a water bottle back and forth)….I am now allowing him to purchase lunch one day a week of his choosing b/c he wants to be able to relate to the kids who buy everyday. That one purchased lunch costs me $3/week…On tough days (big tests, returning after vacation, etc) I sneak a small surprise into his lunch and since it is already packed and in the refrigerator it is really easy to do behind his back even when he is in the room.


marianne February 3, 2009 at 4:36 am

your note about how it would be easier to pack an uncrustables made me think. i do believe uncrustables was one of the many many items recalled in this peanut butter disaster. it could have easily been jars of peanut butter sold to consumers and not in bulk, but it makes you think about what is in prepackaged food. i dont like the idea of not being able to control what goes into the food or what happens when it is prepared. i LOVE katys idea of cutting her son’s sandwich into a shape. my mom used to leave me a note on my napkin. it meant a lot to me because she worked long hours.


Sarah February 3, 2009 at 7:35 am

My 7 year old son often packs his OWN lunch–usually at night, while I do the dishes. I am there to supervise, and make sure it is not all raisins and cheese.
He brings sandwiches (was pb&j, now sometimes just jelly, although not my fav nutritionally), leftover meat, or the occasional deli sliced meat. He will bring cheese slices (he slices his own, occasionally we have cheese sticks), pickles, carrots, nuts, apples, oranges, bananas, all varieties of crackers, goldfish, pretzels, raisins, craisins, black olives. Sometimes, his dad or I will fix him a quick tortilla with melted cheese (and beans, rice, or meat, if we have any around). Once the tortilla is cooled, it goes in the lunch and still tastes good cold the next day.
He almost never brings juice boxes, but instead brings water in a reuseable water bottle (in our case, a Klean Kanteen)


Tara Morrison February 3, 2009 at 8:12 am

One of my very lazy friends make a batch of pbj’s on Sunday and freezes them grabs one out of the freezer and it chills the food and thaws. I let my kids have some sort of cracker snack whether its bunnies or pretzels or homemade crackers you can portion these or dried fruit out in containers earlier in the week.
I also cook ahead tortellini that they enjoy at room temperature.


Viki S February 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm

My son has eaten the SAME LUNCH every day since 1st grade! He’s a creature of habit, a vegetarian, and incredibly picky. We used to do Cheerios in a container and then he’d add the milk. But, one day of not screwing the lid on well killed that idea. He won’t take anything liquid now! Nope. Everyday, it’s PB&J on wheat bread (crusts removed or he gets all peanut buttery). He also has a little snack time every day, so he brings pretzel sticks in a little snack baggie that we reuse. We freeze his apple juice boxes and then the night before, I pop one in the fridge to start thawing. I wrap it in a napkin (which gets damp and he can use to wipe his hands) and it’s thawed by the time he gets it. We also have some kind of “treat” in there. He’d prefer my mini-muffins, but he often gets store bought or rice crispy treats. Maybe cookies or something else that’s around. But this has been the same routine for 1st-3rd grade! (He also brings his reusable and insulated water bottle to drink from all day)


Magdalena Julie Bragdon Perks February 3, 2009 at 12:14 pm

My husband takes lunch every day and it is always the same thing! Plain natural peanut butter on homemade bread, a munchy snack of some sort like homemade cookies, and that’s it. Of course, he eats three sandwiches. He used to take leftovers to heat in the microwave and this made his fellow workers just insanely jealous, because it would be something like homemade pierogies. But he changed jobs and finds the new cafeteria a bit yucky – too many workers in a too-small space, so he wants something that doesn’t need refrigeration.


Pat February 3, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Well first off anyone over age 5 should be packing their own lunch! Both my daughters did their own lunches starting at 6. I’m there to make sure they pack healthy stuff but that is all. They are the ones eating it. My older daughter had a harder time getting up once she hit high school so she started eating school lunches. I figured it was a good trade off so it became a fixed item in our budget. My younger daughter still packs her lunch and would never, ever eat a school lunch. She is very, very, very health conscience and doesn’t think school lunches are nutritious (mostly fats). She also does alot of the cooking in our house. Older daughter eats much healther now that she is at college. My husband also packs his own lunch each day. Same thing – oatmeal, apple, plum or orange (2 fruits). I usually end up with whatever is leftover from night before.


Brooke February 10, 2009 at 4:03 pm

My son (11 y/o) packs his own lunch each day. I cut a block of cheese into small (approximately 1 oz) pieces when I purchase it at the grocery store. He makes his own deli meat/cheese sandwiches and takes one fruit (oranges, bananas, apples, etc) and a granola bar. I should probably be pre-making the granola bars myself to save money and be nutritionally responsible, but this is our easy way of doing things for now.


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