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Liven up the lunch box

By on September 5, 2007

photo by cooper kids

It’s back-to-school time for the kids and for many parents it means back to looking for lunch box ideas. Some parents pack simple lunches such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, yogurt, and a drink and their children are happy throughout the school year. I’ve never been that fortunate. My kids get the lunch box blues, if I feed them the same old sandwich too often.

I’m what’s known as an over packer. Read: Not obsessive, but thorough. When my husband saw the lunch box A.K.A. cooler I purchased my son last year, he thought I was kidding. After all, it’s a day at school not a camping trip. Let’s just say it doesn’t fit in his backpack and he slings the strap over his shoulder. OK. I’ll admit there are some mornings he looks a bit encumbered, yet all he’s ever complained was to please not pack a banana in his lunch. Whatever was I thinking? Somewhere through the years I had forgotten bananas can be embarrassing.

I’m one of those worrywart mothers that is concerned that my kids might starve to death, if they don’t have enough food packed. I cover all the major food groups, and just in case my kids are feeling weak from hunger on their 10 minute bus ride home, I also include extra finger snacks and sometimes two drinks. I know. I know. Believe me. I already know.

My son doles out his lunch leftovers to his friends on the bus. He’s told me they love his lunches because they contain all their favorite foods. I feel good in a way. I know the neighborhood kids aren’t feeling weak from hunger too. Ever wonder why your kids aren’t eating their dinner? Maybe they’re bus buddies with mine!

Part of the method to my madness in over packing is that it opens up communication. We have an opportunity to connect and I can find out not only what foods my kids didn’t eat and why, but more details about their day.

Tips from an over packer:

Invest in a food jar. These containers are wonderful for keeping hot foods hot and can lend variety to lunches because you can pack leftovers such as macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, meatballs, taco meat, hot dogs, sloppy joe meat, etc.

Think variety. The same old soft white enriched bread gets dull quickly. Consider alternatives such as pita bread, bagels, croissants, biscuits, English muffins, tortillas, crackers, bread sticks, rolls, cereal, pasta, rice, pancakes, waffles, french toast, muffins, or rice cakes. Don’t forget breads such as rye, pumpernickel, wheat, multi grain, raisin, and sour dough.

For some wonderful lunch ideas visit and

If you’re looking for the lunch box in the pictures, it’s similar to a Bento box and can be purchased at

Be frugal. Save yogurt containers that have lids and fill them with pudding, gelatin, or purchase large sized containers of yogurt, applesauce, or canned fruit for less money than convenience sizes. You can repackage full sized bags of snacks, such as pretzels too. Freezer packs keep things cold, but you can also freeze drinks and lunch will stay cool and the drink will thaw by lunch time.

Be fun. Include a silly note, special treat, or funny comic. For younger children, use cookie cutters and cut sandwiches and cheese into shapes. Involve your kids in lunch planning.

Tips from readers:

Try a ham and cheese roll up. Wrap ham around string cheese. –Ellen, via e-mail

Make your own Lunchables. Pack crackers, cheese, and cold cuts. –mommy4ever, Canada

Make English muffin pizzas or chef salads. –Jenny, England

Try cream cheese on raisin bread or bagels. –Constance, New Jersey

Send anything that can be dipped such as fruits with yogurt or caramel dips, veggies with ranch dressing, bread sticks with spaghetti sauce, tortilla chips with salsa or cheese sauce, and celery or apple slices with peanut butter. Can buy wooden skewers and make fruit or cold cut and cheese kabobs. –Denise, Illinois

My kids love spreads like hummus and apple and cashew butter. I make homemade muffins and often pack dried fruits, mixed nuts, and trail mix for a change of pace too. I also tend to encourage them to try new fruits and vegetables by packing the less typical types such as cherry tomatoes, raspberries, kiwi, cauliflower, and cucumbers. –Jill, via e-mail

As seen in Midland Daily News.


  1. Mel Rimmer

    9/12/2007 at 7:18 am

    I’m one of those “peanut butter sandwich, a yogurt, an apple and a drink” mums because that’s what my kids want. I’ve always felt inferior, and wished my kids would eat ham and salad sandwiches, avocado and cream cheese or chicken and tomato, and wished I could pack jars of home made soup or macaroni and cheese, tubs of rice salad or pasta salad, or dips with vegetable crudites. But my kids just wouldn’t eat any of that stuff.

    But you make it sound like you envy me. Thanks for making me feel better about my kids’ lunchboxes.

  2. frugalnana

    10/4/2007 at 4:55 pm

    My kids are grown. But I thought the article interesting because I have low blood sugar and I have to carry something with me in case it drops. Usually it is a 1/2 peanut butter sandwich on white or cin. bread.
    So you gave me a few ideas for myself.

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