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Lunchbox ideas

January 21, 2012
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Hard-boiled eggs, edamame, star-shaped honeydew, sushi, and cherry tomatoes. Nope, this is not typical of one of my boys' lunches. But that's one of the Easy Lunchboxes they like. The eggs are in a cute silicone baking cup from World Market.

I have to pack lunches for the boys, both of whom go to school outside the basement. As the beginning of a school year approaches, I get very revved up about making them great lunches … then as the end of the year approaches, they may or may not get Uncrustables every day. 🙂 We do what we can with the energy we have when we have it.

When I was still pretty revved up, someone appealed to my ego and asked for a list of lunch ideas. Hence this post, which I actually wrote in October right before we hit a major flurry of activity that caused a cessation in blogging. 🙂 I am celebrating a head cold by doing some bloggy catch-up.

Lunchboxes, Equipment, and Accessories

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The heart-shaped cutter. I'm certain heart-shaped food is tastier and more nutritious than other food. I apply this to sandwiches, biscuit dough, cookie dough, slices of honeydew, and anything else I can think of.

(Please do not hate me for being hardcore enough to have “equipment and accessories” for lunch. This was my overachievement for 2011.)

I have a stash of different lunchboxes, but my kids like Easy Lunchboxes the best. They have three compartments (a big sandwich size one and two smaller ones), and the lids are easy for the kids to deal with. I have a small collection of cute silicone baking cups that I picked up at World Market. I use these as compartments-on-demand. In other words, I can stash several different items in the big compartments of the Easy Lunchboxes, or I can use them as compartments in true bento lunchboxes. I use these almost daily. I also have some 2-ounce baby food freezer containers that I use for sauces or anything that needs to be in a small hard-sided compartment, and I use these often as well. My favorite drink containers are 9-ounce Lifefactory glass bottles with silicone sleeves … but we’re really getting into geekery now. 🙂

I also snag the sandwich cutters that tend to be for sale on the bread aisle at the grocery store. The one with four hearts is my favorite and it also makes the best. cookie cutter. ever. It is axiomatic that heart-shaped food tastes better than food of any other shape (except possibly dinosaur shapes, but I don’t have any dinosaur-shaped cutters, so I can’t test this).

Muffins, Biscuits and Pies: Homemade Frozen

Every now and then I go on a baking spree. Here are some recipes I like to make and store in the freezer for tossing in lunches:

Sweet potato angel biscuits. I’m not saying these are “healthy,” but they are definitely “heavenly.” Sweet potato does have a lot of great nutrition in it, so these are a cut above cookies.

Zucchini muffins. My boys “don’t like vegetables,” and it’s not like I’m going to be able to argue with them about this at lunch. This recipe has sugar, but not very much. If you use dried cranberries, you can probably cut the sugar to one cup. I’ve also made this with half whole wheat flour and half white flour with good results. Since zucchini is going out of season, I’ll probably switch to pumpkin muffins soon.

Pies made with this yeasted whole wheat pie crust. I make this crust, roll it out, cut it into strips about 2 or 3 inches wide and maybe 6-7 inches long, put a dollop of canned refried black beans and some grated cheddar cheese in the middle, fold the strips around the filling, seal the sides, parbake, and freeze. Then, I can brown them in the oven while we’re having breakfast, let them cool, and pack them in a lunch with some canned salsa.

Easy Make-Ahead Lunch Items

Boiled eggs are a great source of protein and fat. I discovered that I actually do love to make them heart-shaped, although I thought the first time I did it that it may be too much trouble. 🙂 They look really great sliced in half, stuck in a silicone baking cup, and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper. When I realized that Buddy wasn’t eating the yolks, I started popping out the yolks, mixing in a little mayonnaise and pickle juice, restuffing them, and sprinkling smoked paprika on them for “deviled” eggs.” I am happy to report that this process takes no more than one extra minute. Even when I don’t overachieve and make them heart-shaped, I try to keep boiled eggs in stock. I’m in the “bring the water to a boil, turn it off, and do something else for awhile” camp when it comes to cooking them.

Little Man is a big fan of dipping bites of meat in barbeque sauce at lunch, which is an extremely handy trait in a kid. This means that I can just stick some leftover meat into his lunchbox, add a container of sauce, then add a muffin or biscuit and a fruit. He often has leftover pulled pork, bites of chicken, pieces of steak, or meatballs. This is maybe the only thing about Little Man that is easy for me!

Buddy loves roasted chickpeas, and so does The Bean. If you go to the trouble of roasting chickpeas, use at least two cans of chickpeas. They go FAST.

If you have a dehydrator and are the sort of person who stocks up on local produce in season to store and eat year-round, try dried strawberries, dried watermelon slices, dried peaches, dried pears, fruit leathers … there are lots of easy make-ahead possibilities here.

Sandwiches Other than PB&J

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The hearts that look like toast? Those are grilled cheese sandwiches. The runny mess up in the top right? Tomato jam for dipping. Heart-shaped boiled eggs are always popular here. Also heart-shaped cantaloupe. I don't even remember what that stuff on the bottom of the plate is. Sausage maybe?

I have nothing against peanut butter and jelly except that my boys tend not to eat it when I send it in their lunchboxes. Buddy loves cheese and jelly sandwiches, though. A slice of cheddar and some jam make a dandy sandwich. For a while, his favorite was cream cheese and homemade pear butter on wheat toast. He also tends to like salami on a bagel or, for that matter, smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel. (I really can’t account for my kids’ tastes. They’re all different and all strike me as odd. My daughter likes sushi and she likes peanut butter and jelly, but she won’t eat macaroni and cheese.) Sometimes I’ll send them with sandwiches made of Maranatha Dark Chocolate Almond Spread, which is yummy and has less sugar than Nutella. Other times I eat the whole jar myself.

Stuff From a Can

My kids love olives, and they are a lunchbox staple here. I dump a can into a mason jar for refrigerator storage rather than pay extra for a recloseable container, then spoon them into the little lunchbox compartments.

My kids also like some kinds of pickled vegetables and regular nonpickled baby corn; these too are easy to add to a lunchbox.

Normal kids like mandarin oranges, but my boys haven’t yet found the love. Maybe next week. Their favorite canned/packed fruit product is applesauce. There’s a French brand that comes in squeeze packages (that I found on sale Buy One Get One Free at Publix) that they love, and it contains nothing but apples and spices. We made a lot of pearsauce this summer, and sometimes I send a baby food container of that.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

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Fresh honeydew. Cut the melon in half, skin each half with a knife, slice the halves into half-inch thick slices starting at the dome (so you maximize the area of the slices), then cut with cookie cutters. Or let the kids do this.

Honestly, my kids usually don’t eat the fresh veggies I pack for them. I’ll keep trotting some out every now and then, though, to keep from having my parenting license revoked. They do well with fresh fruit, and I usually do send fruit with them. Buddy likes his fruit in small bites, whereas Little Man will eat a whole apple, peach, or pear with no preparation having been done except (hopefully) washing. I pack their fruit accordingly.

Octodogs and other Sausages

I don’t often buy summer sausage, but we sometimes receive it in gift boxes, and slices then find their way into lunch boxes, to the great joy of my kids. Another meat I’ll sometimes add is the Octodog. This rare creature is found in your hot dog package; just cut in half, cut the cut ends into legs, and fry.

Octodogs. For when I want to be a hero.

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