What I Make for Lunch | Preschool Lunchbox Favorites
I never thought I’d be the parent cutting the crust of my kids’ sandwiches, let alone cutting them into heart shapes. But here we are. It’s 2019. We still don’t have a female president and I wake up three days a week, thrilled to assemble two very cute preschool lunchboxes.
It’s true (both the president part and the being thrilled part). I hate putting away laundry, no matter how adorable + tiny it is. I’m not great at playing games like “imaginary cat family.” And few things summon an anxious dread for me quite like play-dough. But lunches I can do.
I started snapping + sharing photos of Grace and Nick’s lunchboxes on Instagram (they’re saved to my profile as a highlight) earlier this year and was inundated (in a good way) with questions. I’m trying to set up some sort of modern bartering system whereby I make your kids’ lunches and you spend an hour being “the baby cat who is crying”… but until that pans out, here are all my secrets. And by secrets, I mean supplies + food ideas.
It took a lot of trial and error, but now that I have a system (mostly) down, making lunches for both kids (ages 3 + 5) is a breeze. I usually make lunches while they are eating breakfast, but I know prepping them ahead of time works well for many families. For me, the key is having everything we need at the ready.
THE SUPPLIES | LUNCHBOX FAVORITES
I keep all of our kids’ cups, plates, bowls, water bottles, placemats, lunch boxes, snack containers and lunchboxes in the same cabinet. When we moved, we donated quite a bit of plastic ware– I find having less (all with matching lids, which is kind of a miracle) has worked really well for us. While I try to store our food in glass at home, I stick to BPA-free plastic for the kids’ lunches. (As you likely know, we can never be too careful… especially with the little guy.)
All of our lunchbox favorites are linked in my Amazon shop, too — here’s what we use every day:
- These Sistema containers — They are from their baking line + I always have great luck finding them discounted at TJ Maxx/Homegoods. They are super inexpensive. I’ve tried, like, 4 other bento box and lunch box options– this is the only one that has worked perfectly for us. We have two sets for each child (labeled with dishwasher safe labels from Name Bubbles).
- These silicon baking cups in fun shapes — These are great for holding hummus and other dips, or for dividing smaller food items like crackers or berries. They clean up easily in the dishwasher and we’ve never had issues with spilling.
- These lunchboxes — I love these soft-sided Skiphop lunchboxes and matching backpacks. The designs are adorable, they wipe clean pretty well, and are inexpensive enough that you can replace them every few years if needed. We tuck a small ice pack in the inner pocket to keep lunches cold.
- Inexpensive cookie cutters — I often split one full sandwich into halves for our kids, and… yes, remove the crusts. A cookie cutter makes this sort of a one step process, and who doesn’t love a good heart or star sandwich?
- Straws for smoothies — We use both paper (biodegradable) and silicon straws in an effort to avoid single-use plastic — the silicon are more fun (and reusable, obviously), but I find if I cut the paper straws on an angle, both kids are able to stick them in their smoothies themselves.
- Re-play utensils — These match the kids’ everyday plates and bowls, and come in every color imaginable. They’re made from recycled plastic and are machine washable.
OK. Now the fun part — the food.
THE FOOD | LUNCHBOX FAVORITES
There’s a tiny bit of method to my madness when it comes to packing our preschool lunches. I’m not a professional (by any stretch of the imagination), but my own experience as a mother has lead me to believe that…
- My kids are more likely to eat new/different things when I am not there (to be persuaded to just give them peanut butter crackers). For this reason, I do tend to include as many nutrient-dense options as I can.
- With that said, I want to make sure they eat + enjoy their lunches. They both tend to prefer snack-like meals, with plenty of options. I’m always sure to include things I know they’ll like/eat (smoothies, fruit, certain veggies, lots of hummus…)
I prep some food at the beginning of each week (mainly washing + chopping veggies or making a pasta or grain salad) so that assembling lunches is often as easy as opening the fridge, making a quick judgement call and tucking things neatly into each lunchbox.
Like most schools, the kids’ school is nut-free, so none of our lunch items contain nuts. Grace is a vegetarian, Nicky is not… but most of our lunches are meatless.
These are the foods we have on heavy rotation in our lunchboxes:
- Half-sandwiches (often cut into fun shapes): Hummus (on its own– I rotate through a few different varieties including garlic, dill, and traditional), cream cheese + strawberry jam, hummus + cucumbers with dill, sun butter + jam
- Pasta or grain salad: This is always a hit with Nicky (not so much for Grace). His favorites are this pasta salad from The Kitchn and my farro salad with tomatoes and feta.
- Stonyfield Organic smoothies or yogurt pouches
- Unsweetened organic apple sauce pouches or cups
- Organic cheese sticks or Belgioso single serve cheeses (mozzarella or parmesan)
- Fruit: Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries… or a mix of all three, packaged apple slices, peeled clementines, bananas
- Vegetables: Sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, sugar snap peas
- Falafel: Another one of Nicky’s favorites — I use the Trader Joe’s dry mix and bake a batch at the beginning of the week
- Salty snacks: Both kids love Crunchmaster multi-seed crackers (gluten free) with hummus or an easy dip (greek yogurt + dill, usually), pretzels, and goldfish crackers
Whew. I think that’s everything. Please feel free share you own lunchbox favorites (or questions!) in the comments below!
P.S. You don’t need to cut your kids’ food into shapes. Heck, you don’t need to cut the crusts off their sandwiches. You don’t need to buy lunchbox-specific gadgets. None of these things are important, and none of them affect your standing as an incredible parent. Okay? Okay.
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Also On Tap for Today:
- How to Grant Your Child an Inner Life from The New Yorker
- These would be so fun in a lunchbox (or, like… in my purse) from A Beautiful Mess
- Pretending the laundry doesn’t exist (so far, so good)
What’s one thing (or several!) that you do really well + enjoy doing? Let’s hear it.
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