As my oldest child starts high school this year and I close out 7 years of packing lunches for him, I figure I have earnt the right to call myself an authority on the topic of school lunches 😆 😆 and share my insights from this experience.
Over the 7 years, I have noticed a significant increase in pressure for parents to provide an “instagrammable” lunch for their kids, and guess what….sometimes you will pack your kids lunch and say “seriously how good does this look!” and at other times you will be rushing to Bakers Delight to purchase a ham and cheese roll (guilty as charged).
Let’s Talk The Lunch Box Itself
- Don’t re-mortgage your house!
Along with the on-going pressure over the last 7 years on the contents of my son’s school lunch, I have also seen a dramatic increase in the price of the container itself. Granted they have changed quite a lot over this time with a move to remove additional product packaging, but they are still just a vehicle that holds your lunch (for some of those prices out there you would think they make it too!).
Perhaps I say this because I have a child who after losing 3 lunch boxes in the very first term ended up with a re-usable shopping bag and take away container to hold his lunch by term 4. It worked fine and it was easy to spot on the playground 😆 😆 when he left it behind the next time.
I love the “bento style” lunch box that removes the need for packaging (good for the earth and no on-going costs with glad wrap etc required) however shop around because it doesn’t need to cost the Earth in order to save it. My tip here is to think about what food your kids normally eat for lunch and to buy a box that has the right combination to accommodate, don’t pay for more than what you need (it is no good paying for a fancy triple container with two layers if your child eats vegemite sandwiches and an apple every day).
Likewise, think about your time management, are you likely to hand wash the containers or throw them in the dishwasher?
I also believe a “thermos style” container is a good investment for warm items during the cooler months, as it makes for an easy lunch (think left overs).
(Tip: I say style with regards to the brands noted above as there are many brands you can choose from to suit your budget).
- Make sure your kids can open and close their drink bottle, thermos and lunch box.
This may sound so obvious but I say this because for a few weeks I had no idea that one of my children couldn’t open their thermos as I was putting the lid on tight so it wouldn’t leak (or be eaten it would seem). Likewise, some of the more complicated drink bottles can be hard for tiny hands (and me) to open.
- Have a spare set of everything.
There will come a day when, the lunch box is left at school, the drink bottle is on the bus or perhaps they had a playdate after school and left their entire bag at a friend’s house (many times!!). Or if you are like me, you want a spare set so you can throw everything in the dishwasher and re-pack with a different set. So pick a lunch box that suits your lifestyle too. This is also another reason not to spend too big.
(Tip: Choose two different styles of lunch box as you will likely find that different lunches fit better in different shaped containers and this will save you time).
Let’s Talk Contents
- Don’t pack things they don’t eat at home.
Trust me, those items will simply travel to school and back again! 😆 There is a lot of pressure for the lunch box to be uber healthy or “instagramable” but if your kids don’t normally eat those items save yourself the stress and time and pack what you know your kids would normally eat for lunch.
At one point my son was going through a fussy stint and took Weet-Bix and milk to school in a thermos for lunch (yes really!) because I knew he would eat it.
- It doesn’t need to be sandwich
This is especially important if your kids don’t normally eat a sandwich for lunch. Favourite items that aren’t sandwiches that my kids enjoy are: mini-pizza, fried rice, meatballs, quiches, toasties, raison toast, ham and cheese crossoint or a simple deconstructed chicken salad. In winter they enjoy soup with dunking bread or leftovers like butter chicken or spaghetti bolognaise in the thermos.
Essentially my theory is anything your kids normally eat for lunch or dinner is fair game.
(Tip: Sliced fruit seems twice as likely to be eaten versus whole fruit – just because)
- No need for a huge variety.
If you find something your children love to eat for lunch, do not switch it up. My theory is keep feeding them that lunch while the lunch box keeps coming back empty! 😆 😆
Seriously though, I think as parents we put too much pressure on ourselves to have a creative lunch packed every day for our kids, when in fact, there is likely 3 or 4 items (maybe even less) that your child really enjoys. In fact, most families have less than 10 dishes that they rotate through for dinner (because you know your whole family will eat it), so why not do the same with school lunches, rotate from a small group of favourites.
- Pack when it suits your lifestyle.
Consider the best time for you to pack lunches. If you are flat out in the morning and don’t have the bandwidth to pack lunches then, pack them the night before. In fact, when my kids were really young, I made batches of sandwiches on the weekend and packed them frozen each night because my life was just too hectic.
- Want a break from making lunches?
Involve your children.
Many parents (including myself) take on this entire task only to find the lunch box come home full each afternoon. When you involve your children in the choice of food items and its preparation you will find the wastage reduces (YAY!).
Depending on the age of your children and their kitchen capabilities you might like to nominate them for preparing Monday lunches or perhaps hand the entire job across to them. Food for thought.
- Use the lunchbox as your email
If you need to convey a message to your child, a reminder to hand in library books, to look for their missing hat or a missing lunch box (!!) or drink bottle (even more likely), then including a note with their lunch works a treat!
It is also a great place to wish them luck with try outs or an exam, send a message that you love them or a reminder that Grandma is picking them up today.
(Tip: If your child is still learning to read, draw a picture instead)
- Treat (Yourself) Day
Every kid loves a canteen order and with many changes to their health ratings canteen food is now a fantastically healthy option too. I use the canteen for 2 different reasons:
- Order lunches when I know I am going to be rushed off my feet (hubby is away, I have a late meeting, after school commitments have me stretched). From the kids point of view I am “fun mum” but really I am managing my time as best as I can, at this stage $15 (for 3 lunches) is an inexpensive set of extra hands.
- Give the kids money to buy something from the canteen rather than an entire lunch. A treat (an ice-block or drink) goes a long way and I am spending $6 not $15 on 3 full orders but the kids still experience the fun of the canteen.
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