I love seeing all the back to school pictures this time of year! (I'll post a back to school picture once both kids have gone back to school.) I can't even believe it, but our 14 year old started high school on Monday. Naturally, I've been thinking about what to pack for school lunches. I settle into making the same lunches pretty often. I’ve definitely done that this summer. So, I thought I’d start the school year off with some lunch ideas to share over the coming weeks. Hopefully, these will also be helpful to you and your family! In the midst of all this meal planning, don't forget to think about meals and snacks for yourself, too.
Lunch, like all other meals and snacks, doesn't need to be perfect! There’s so much pressure to feed ourselves and our kids in some perfect way. At my house, the containers we use don't match and I sometimes use plastic baggies. And my kids will eagerly tell you I've been known to forget to put things in their lunch bags, like utensils or even food. At some point last year, I got a text from Caroline during the day with a picture of the empty Thermos I put in her bag. I forgot to add the food!
3 Easy Lunches
One of the easiest lunches for me to pull together is lentils, rice, and grated cheese. I love these Trader Joe's Steamed Lentils! You can heat them or serve them cold (recipe for a lentil salad coming soon). All you need is some extra rice, or buy precooked, frozen rice to mix with the lentils and a little salt. I heat the Thermos by filling it with boiling water from our electric water kettle. You can also use hot water from the tap. Screw the lid on the thermos and let it sit while you make lunch. Heat the mixture for 1-2 minutes on high in a microwave-safe dish. The time will vary depending on your microwave. Remove it from the microwave and stir in about a ¼ c grated cheese. Empty the hot water from the thermos and add the heated lentils, rice, and cheese.
1. Lentils, rice, and cheese with cookies and Nutella, mixed nuts, and fruit.
How to keep it simple, save time, and have some variety
Anna and I both try to make extra dinner at least once in the week so we can use the leftovers in lunches. Both my children tend to prefer warm food for lunch as opposed to sandwiches or wraps, so using leftovers when I can works well for us.
It's a good idea to mix up lunches. Our brains get bored if we eat the same foods over and over and over. But no one has the time or energy to make a different lunch for kids every day! In an attempt to simplify things, I’ll often make the same lunch for 3 days and then a different lunch the other 2 days. Here's an example:
Mon, Weds, Fri: Lentils and rice with varied sides (the same sides for three days also works)
Tues, Thur: Meats, cheese, and crackers with varied sides (the same sides for three days also works)
2. Meats, cheese, and crackers with applesauce squeezer and guac and chips
How do you want to involve your children?
Keeping Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility in mind here will help you remember you're in charge of what's offered when it's offered, and where it's offered. Children are in charge of what they eat, whether they eat, and the order in which they eat their food. And if you'd like more information on this feeding philosophy, Anna wrote a really informative post about it here: Family Feeding - The Long Haul.
It can take more time than if you do it yourself, but involving your children in the lunch-making process has some benefits. It can help children feel a sense of pride in a job or a sense of autonomy if they feel they have a choice. For instance, you can give your child a choice between 2 fruits or a choice between a cookie or chips. A younger child might help wrap their sandwich or put their food in containers. And a very young child might place the filled containers in their lunch box. In our house, I make lunches for school and camp. Caroline (14) and Ellie (11) often make their lunches on the weekends with suggestions and guidance from me or Chad. At some point, as they get older, they'll take over packing their lunches more often, but for now, we have a system that works well for us.
Another way to involve children is to have them help make the grocery list for the week and include their lunch suggestions (with your approval, of course).
3. Naan or Pita with peanut butter (or sunflower seed butter), veggies and mustard vinaigrette, (or your child's favorite dip for veggies), fruit, and chips.
Caroline and Ellie often request veggies with the mustard vinaigrette I make - pictured below. They also typically choose which kind of chips, cookies, or similar food they want with lunch.
Check back this week for a post of our favorite lunch packing supplies and more easy lunch ideas in the coming weeks. Hopefully, I'll have an update on what Caroline and Ellie thought about new lunch ideas, too!