Back to School Week: Lunch – it’s in the box, or bag, as the case may be

by , posted on August 25th, 2010 in Cooking

Nothing stresses me out about the new school year more than lunch. Honestly.

I blame an elementary school experience with a Milk Bag. Seriously, who’s idea was that? What did they expect to happen?

I blame one of my classmates calling me green pepper girl. I let that nickname make me cry. If only I would have had the internet, I would have turned it into a kick-ass meme and cashed in on my instant fame.

Today, I find myself no longer the lunchee, but rather, the lunch lady. As the lunch lady, I find the whole lunch prep to be…well, honestly it can be a drag.

So the challenge for me is making it fun. Really the challenge should be to make it nutritional, and it is. But there are whole revolutions addressing that.

I have two years of lunch prep under my belt, so naturally I consider myself an (ahem) expert. So without further ado, here are my tips for making lunch prep enjoyable:


1. Get the kids a fun lunchbox, like this one from Oots! I’d go into how it’s eco-friendly by cutting down waste, easy to use and smart in design, but I’ll let the company do that. What I’m going to tell you is that aMuse is giving one away! (disclaimer: aMuse is one of my all-time favorite toy stores who happen to carry Ellie Bellie Kids, so you know they’re cool!) All you have to do is visit their blog and tell them one of your healthy lunch favorites. How easy is that? I’d say it’s easy peasy lemon squeezy.



2. Get some fun accessories, like this supah cool menu (inspired by my daughter who suggested menus made lunch fancier) designed by Jennifer Vallez.



And these very cool napkins which not only will make your children appear sophisticated but teach them proper table manners (Hello?! Cloth napkins? How debonair are your kids? I’d say very!)



3. Get some fun cook books. There’s nothing worse than a lack of inspiration at an obscene hour (honestly, why must school start so early?). So I keep some references close at hand. How about this one from Funky Lunch



Or this one from Jennifer McCann (you don’t have to be vegan to find this one chock-full of inspiration)



After I flip through the books, I turn to my faithful companion, my computer, and ask it for inspiration. Here’s what it offers: our foodie gift guide (aww yeah!), the alphamom bento box tutorial, Healthy Happy Life, and of course Ann Cooper (I like to pretend we’re related).


3. Avoid milk bags. Or if you do give a seven year old a bag of milk, have a box of rags close by.


4. Skip the name calling. If your child does earn a lunchroom nickname, take a page out of today’s instant celebs playbook and merchandise, merchandise, merchandise. That college savings account doesn’t fund itself.


Okay I’ve shared my expert tips, now I’d like to hear some of yours. What have you got for me? What have I missed?

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9 Responses to “Back to School Week: Lunch – it’s in the box, or bag, as the case may be

  1. Cheryl @ Mommypants Says:

    August 25th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    See, now, when you said milk bags, I thought of something entirely different! I definitely need good tips for lunch as Sawyer will be bringing lunch for the first time this year.

  2. Becky Says:

    August 25th, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Our problem is keeping things hot or cold long enough. Especially when your child has the last lunch of the day, a little before 1pm. That’s about 5 hours of being in a bag in a locker and often sitting outside in the heat (or cold) before heading into lunch. We freeze yogurt tubes that are thawed out and still good by the time lunch rolls around and boil the heck out of soup before sticking it in a thermos. But the thermos often seems to end up upside down and leaking. I often wonder what the kids do with their lunch bags for this to happen, but whatever! What other foods are quick, easy, healthyish, and cheap and my kids will actually eat?

  3. Jennifer Cooper Says:

    August 25th, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Cheryl, milk bags mean different things to different people. They’re diabolical like that.

  4. ashlea Says:

    August 25th, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    As a kid in Canada our milk came in bags (three quarts to a bag), but I had no idea it could be single serve/juice box equivelant. LOL We homeschool, so packing lunch is a novelty & I tend to go over board, we love making bento lunches. :)

  5. Jennifer Cooper Says:

    August 25th, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Ashlea, when I was explaining the bags of milk, my husband thought I was crazy. That’s when I had to break out the hard researching skills (a.k.a. wikipedia it) and saw that it’s common in Canada. It’s actually much more environmentally friendly too.

    But yes, the single serving size was ridiculous. Impenetrably ridiculous.

  6. Jennifer Cooper Says:

    August 25th, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Becky, E has a thermos and the cafeteria staff requested I not close it so tight. Perhaps that’s why they come home all leaky?

  7. Stephanie Says:

    August 26th, 2010 at 12:59 am

    So this will be my first go at lunches so I have no tips. To be honest, if they don’t allow peanut butter I don’t know what I’m going to do. We’ve been perusing magazines lately and I’m informed that tea sandwiches, I believe they were cucumber and cream cheese, and prosciutto would be acceptable. I think I’m going to try out some ham. Maybe even ham rolled around a little pickle and cream cheese? Will I get in trouble for sending a toothpick to preschool? I’d like to send hardboiled eggs but I think they’re pretty stinky when confined to a lunch container. Prime nickname territory methinks.

    When I was a kid (in Canada) you could buy a ‘sip sack’ at the corner store for a quarter. It was filled with something like koolaid. I bet it was a lot like your milk bags. I’d buy one if I saw one now just for the nostalgia but yeah, not a great idea.

  8. Jennifer Cooper Says:

    August 26th, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Stephanie, I don’t know about the kids but I’d eat those sandwiches. They sound delish!

    I have a picky eater. He has a few things that he loves so that’s what I’m starting out with.

    And as far as peanut butter, have you tried sunflower seed butter? We have a nut allergy in the family so that’s what we use.

    Toothpicks are fine. And if anyone gives you a hard time tell them it’s not a prison, the kids aren’t using them as shivs.

    Oh and hard boiled eggs… I’ve done them. I put them in part of a ‘breakfast’ lunch with mini pancakes, veggie bacon and a fruit (blueberries or whatever I have around). I figured the ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the mini pancakes would trump the stinky smell.

  9. Stephanie Says:

    August 26th, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Consider the mini pancakes idea stolen!

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