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Embracing the boring lunchbox

Categories: Food, Meal Planning


School is well underway, and that usually means packing lunchboxes.

I confess: the contents of my kids’ lunchboxes aren’t all that exciting.

We have 3 kids, the oldest two are in high school and the youngest is in grade school. During the week, they all do some combination of buying and taking their lunches. The youngest is allowed to buy lunch at school 2 days a week and he decides which days those will be at the beginning of the week.

The older kids either buy or take lunch, it’s up to them. They can buy lunch as long as they have the money (we put a certain amount on their accounts each month), otherwise, they pack their own lunches.

The hardest part for me about packing lunches is making sure there’s a variety of things ready to go, and to be honest, I’m not particularly imaginative at it. Blogs and women’s magazines are full of cute and creative ideas for packing lunches for school, and I think they’re great ideas, but in reality, our school lunch routine usually leans toward more standard fare.

Actually, it’s more than “standard fare”, I freely admit, our lunches are pretty boring. As much as I’d love to be that person, I probably won’t make cute food in little plastic boxes or arrange colorful food in interesting shapes to take to school. Speed is of the essence around here even though we pack lunches the night before.

Sometimes, I wonder how our seemingly mundane routines like school lunches compare to other people’s. I’ve feared we were known as the “boring lunch family” at school, but I put my fears at ease yesterday when it was my turn to be the cafeteria volunteer. As far as I could tell, most lunches looked about like the ones I send, but there was the occasional creative one.

Packed lunches around here usually consists of sandwiches with peanut butter and jelly or meat and cheese, some fruit, occasionally chips and sometimes, dessert. I occasionally try to mix it up a little, but you never know what anyone’s going to eat, and we sometimes end up with things in the pantry that never actually leave.

I routinely stock bread, peanut butter and jelly, turkey, ham, cheese as well as fruit packages of pears, mandarin oranges and applesauce, and we build on that with other things. I try to accommodate if someone has a special request, but they never really do.

Sometimes, my daughter will get her own items at the grocery store and my middle child will make “interesting” concoctions to take (peanut butter and a whole banana on a hot dog bun, anyone?), but I always keep the basics on hand, and they tell me that’s OK.

However, it doesn’t matter if my lunches are boring or interesting if the food I bought isn’t there when I go to pack it.

None of my kids can resist the siren song of the individually wrapped package (especially the teenage boy), and I’ve talked until I’m blue in the face about, “If it’s in a little package and it’s for one person, I don’t want you to eat it at home”, so I’ve had to resort to some fairly drastic measures to make sure the lunchbox stock doesn’t get eaten in front of the TV, ten packages at a time.

I have to keep a small reminder on the lunchbox items for certain teenage boys:


Yes, that does draw a little attention when guests are looking in our pantry and I have to explain myself, but it’s worth the savings.

What about you? Are your kids’ lunchboxes packed with fancy things (I’m always open to suggestions for new, time-efficient lunchbox ideas!) , or do you stick to the tried and true like we do?

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8 comments so far...

  • Great post! I’m finding it “interesting” to pack the kids lunches, especially with a life-threatening allergy to nuts and peanuts in my daughter’s classroom. Good rule about the individually-wrapped packages. Will talk that over with my kids tonight.

    Meghan  |  September 13th, 2011 at 11:21 am

  • I make boring lunches!! I was just in the lunchroom TODAY for the first time, and didn’t think to compare with the other kids’ lunchboxes. Our son gets a ham sandwich, PB sandwich, chips and a fruit, like yours, and sometimes dessert. We have variations (crackers or a tortilla instead of square bread), but my problem is also a rather picky eater who would recoil at things like chicken salad, hard-boiled egg, or chicken skewers w/satay sauce! so… boring his lunch remains!

    el-e-e  |  September 13th, 2011 at 12:05 pm

  • Our creativity level varies, but the staples remain the same. My 10yo daughter eats either a pb&j OR turkey and lettuce with mayo for the main course EVERY SINGLE DAY. We change up the sides, though. Grapes, apple slices, applesauce, berries, occasionally dried mangoes or carrots and dip for the ‘healthy’ item; chips or pretzels or cheddar bunnies, and a fruit leather or cereal bar for ‘dessert’; plus a drink and a yogurt smoothie for snack time.
    My 7yo son refuses to eat pb or any kind of sandwhich, but he will eat rolled up, toothpicked ham/turkey, colby jack (and only colby jack, and it better not be organic colbyjack b/c he can taste the difference and he doesn’t like it) cheese stick and buttered bread. OR he gets a Clif KIds Zbar and a cheesestick (he recently is trying to expand to Babybels), Or he eats a ton of yogurt and a crunchy granola bar, and berries, OR he eats spinach ravioli from Costco. That’s it for his 4 lunches — he gets the same sides as my daughter, minus the yogurt smoothie for snack. Why yes, my kids are particular, how did you guess?

    Ami  |  September 13th, 2011 at 12:57 pm

  • I now have two kids in Grade school (as of last week) - and 10 lunches to make per week. Oy. We aren’t allowed any peanut products, so PBJ is out. Both my two like cream cheese/black pepper, or plain cheddar. One loves wraps, the other not. One loves hummous, the other loves tzatziki. I tend to buy those dips once a fortnight, they get dip and toasted pitta and finger veg for a couple days after. Since we have no refrigeration and warm classrooms, I avoid cold meats or fish. We always have a dairy portion (cheese/yogurt or both), fruit and fresh veg. They get ‘dessert’ on special days like birthdays… My son loves rice pudding or custard. I always have baked pitta chips or pretzels, and if they are really lucky they get a cookie or homemade muffin. Ido try to shake it up a bit but I do have a limited palate and the kids don’t tend to finish every lunch.

    Jen  |  September 13th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

  • One small piece of advice…I buy long-life smoothies in pouches and put them in the freezer. They keep the lunch cold and are refreshingly cool come lunchtime. Win win! I tend to buy a few boxes when they are on special, they have a 6mo shelf life in the fridge….

    Jen  |  September 13th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

  • I’m totally stealing the NO box. Honestly, how hard is it to not eat those little packages? I don’t buy them very often (usually on sale!) and you’d think that they would love to make sure they have them for their lunches!

    Headless Mom  |  September 13th, 2011 at 11:35 pm

  • Sometimes I am the one to eat the single serve package at home! Lately we’ve been buying large bags, dividing a weeks worth out into small baggies for grab & go.
    Sandwich is always bologna, mustard, bread. No variation. I keep thinking someday she’ll get the concept that meats she likes at dinner go well at lunch as well…

    Mich  |  September 15th, 2011 at 10:36 am

  • Boring here as well! PB&J for one and Sunbutter and J for my peanut allergic other. I use small containers for goldfish, grape tomatoes or carrots and pretzels as well as individual cups of fruit or applesauce.
    I just picked up some “cow cheese”, the Laughing Cow garlic and herb wedges and some triscuits as an alternative to the sandwiches.

    vegas710  |  September 15th, 2011 at 10:02 pm