Looking for School Lunch Ideas --Healthy--organic--low Prep Time

Updated on February 07, 2009
M.O. asks from Modesto, CA
41 answers

Hi everyone. In Aug. my three sons will be going to Junior High, Elementary and preschool. I will be making their lunches everyday and was looking to switch from pre-packaged convienence food lunches to more healthy (as organic as I can get it) alternatives. I would love some ideas...I have been going the easy way out on their lunches last year and really want to start the year on a more healthy foot!! They are rather finiky eaters hence my nervousness over the change. Thanks for any and all ideas!!!

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So What Happened?

I would like to thank everyone for all the incredible creative and insightful ideas. I am making 3 X 5 cards with all the ideas and putting them into my recipe box. This next week for lunches I am going to try out some of the ideas and get some kid feedback so they won't be too shocked when they see these items in their lunch at school. Thanks everyone I appreciate everyone's comments and ideas!!! Thank you for the time I appreciate it!!!

Featured Answers

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M.K.

answers from Chicago on

http://lunchinabox.net/

This is a blog for bento lunches done with low prep time.
Lots of great ideas if you go back through the archives.

7 moms found this helpful
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H.J.

answers from San Francisco on

I don't know if anyone else wrote this yet, but Trader Joe's has a lot of yummy, healthy pre-packaged snacks to throw in the lunches to go with the sandwhich or whatever. I like their "In the Raw" snack mix that has dried fruit and raw nuts. They come in single serving bags and my son and I both love them. They also have fruit leather, healthy cereal bars and p-nut butter filled pretzels that are also single serving size! Also look in the frezzer section for a ton of low cal, healthy frozen dinner options like shrimp stir fry. My family loves them.

6 moms found this helpful
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E.B.

answers from San Francisco on

I was able to increase my kids' vegetable consumption by packing a dip of some sort. Another favorite is hummous with vegies and pita bread.

E.

5 moms found this helpful

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R.K.

answers from San Francisco on

Hello,
Applaud yourself for going the tougher, but more healthful route! I've been in the food & beverage business (product development, marketing, management) for years and have always tried to create lunches that are as fun as "Lunchables" but without the sugar, fat, calories or preservatives. It's a challenge.

Where you shop will also help you dictate what you have to offer. Try Trader Joe's first. They have great prices, interesting & healthy foods and lots of variety.

My kids are also picky. Lots of "white" food. But you can still get some vitamins and variety into them.

Sometimes I offer "tasting" lunches - I include small amounts of lots of interesting, balanced foods that I just grab from the fridge: a Baby Bell cheese round, an assortment of healthy crackers from the pantry, a dollop of hummous in a small container and some carrots. He can dip & combine as needed.

Sometimes I make the food fun by changing its form. I use tortillas and put cream cheese & jelly or boursin & turkey and roll it up like a cigar. Then I slice it into rounds so it looks like pinwheels when arranged in a container.

Make your own apple dippers (other fruit) by slicing them up and including a dipping sauce (PB if allowed at school, Agave Syrup which is sweet, low-glycemic index and yummy). I have made fruit kebabs (cut off skewer point after threading): grapes, strawberries & cantaloupe work well.

I make the sandwich more fun by using mini-bagels (from Trader Joe's). You can make 2 or 3 different ones in a lunchbox.

Throw in a note saying "I love you" or some stickers or tattoos. That makes even dreadfully dull lunches nicer.
I sprinkle in assorted "treats" like TJ's all-fruit bars

Hope this helps. Mom of 2 little boys.

33 moms found this helpful
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D.D.

answers from San Francisco on

Hello,

It feels like it took me forever to get away from the qucik "grab a Lunchable" or make a pbj. But we finally did.

I use cookie cutters for a make-your-own Lunchables lunch. I buy ham, turkey & cheese, then cut the shapes out for my 5 and almost-8 year old. Then add sesame sticks, crackers, carrots w/ peanutbutter, etc. The scraps from the meat & cheese go into a tortilla, flatbread, or pita for the next day. They also like it when I cut string cheese smaller & wrap it in a slice of meat.

I cut apples, spray some lemon juice in them & include that in their lunch box, along with yogurt, peanutbutter, or cucumber & dill for dipping. Hummus works too if your kids like it. Of course any cut veggies the like goes well with a dip.

Glad sells small reusable but disposable containers that I use for the yogurs or dips. They last about a dozen times before I have to recycle & use a new one.

Also, cold, cooked chicken has become a recent favorite either in the pita pocket or cut for dipping.

One thing that makes it fun for the younger ones is including the larger, plastic toothpicks for grabbing and dipping. Less mess & more interesting.

17 moms found this helpful
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T.S.

answers from San Luis Obispo on

Have you tried the Bento Lunches? Here are a couple of links:

http://www.coollunchbags.com/servlet/Detail?no=187
http://www.flickr.com/groups/[email protected]____.com/

Or you can google:

Bento Lunch recipes for kids
Laptop Lunch Recipes for kids

It seems fun and a lot of parents who have used this get their kids to eat all kind of healthy thinks because the presentation is good. A great secret for younger kids is to use cookie cutters to make shapes out of sanwiches, cheese and other shapeable edibles. Good luck!

T.
Founder
www.theparentpack.org

16 moms found this helpful
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T.M.

answers from San Francisco on

Hello!
You have had some great responses. This past year I purchased for my kids a lap top lunch box. www.laptoplunches.com. These lunch boxes are great and you will be helping to reduce lunch time waste. It also comes with a book with some really great ideas for wholesome, earth-friendly lunches! It's an investment - about $35 but will use it for a very long time! No smelly lunch boxes here! And with the way the boxes are made, it's like a Bento box and you can pack several small items to give your children a variety. Best of luck!

16 moms found this helpful
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A.S.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi,
I commend you on wanting to stay away from prepackaged convenience foods, they are so bad for our children! There is a great book called "Lunch Lessons" by Ann Cooper. It talks about the basics of child nutrition, with an emphasis on organic and sustainable foods. Included is a great section of recipes for packing lunches. I highly recommend it. Good luck!
A. Schmidt, RD (Registered Dietitian)

14 moms found this helpful
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♫.C.

answers from San Francisco on

one word: edamame (boiled soybeans in pods) - Asian markets and Trader Joes carry them in the freezer section, boil in salted water for about 6-7 minutes, rinse and drain. Many kids (mine included) find that popping the beans out of the pods are irresistably fun and tasty too. Like the PP said, TJ's is great for reasonably-priced variety - try using wholewheat pita bread as a sandwich base and cut into wedges, or slice in half and add a little pasta sauce and shredded cheese and toast it to make a "pizza in a pocket".

12 moms found this helpful
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C.H.

answers from Modesto on

I suggest checking out www.justtomatoes.com
They offer freeze dired and dehydrated fruits and veggies. They have snack sizes you can use for their lunches or on the go. For a better price you can buy in tubs and put in plastic baggies yourself.

They are delicious! My favorite is pineapple. They offer organic and have lots of recipes.You can eat these by themselves or incorporate them in everyday cooking.

Tell them C. Herrera recommended them. Call and they can answer any questions you may have. They are great there.

Good luck.
C.

www.bodybyshake.com

P.S. What I like about these foods is that they won't discolor or rot in the lunchbox (especially on hot days) like fresh foods will.

12 moms found this helpful
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C.J.

answers from San Francisco on

Lunches are always tough, but it's worth it to focus on healthy eating habits. I stopped making lunch for my two when they reached high school (probably should have done it sooner), as I felt they were old enough to make their own and more likely to eat what they prepared themselves. However, this was not successful with my daughter, as she simply decided not to eat lunch and now eats after she gets home from school. At least she eats breakfast!

I always packed some raw vegetables (carrots or green beans or cucumbers or jicama or sugar peas, etc. - whatever was in season), fruit (apple or orange or mango or pineapple, etc.) and a main dish item like a sandwich, lavosh (rolled sandwich), leftover cold chicken or quiche, or a cream cheese based tuna salad (mayonnaise based didn't stand the test of time since I made lunches the night before). I also often packed yoghurt or crackers and cheese and occasional brownies or cookies as a treat. I rarely added chips, but more often added a baggie with popcorn. When my daughter became a vegetarian, I often made a main dish type of salad at the beginning of the week (examples: walnut green bean salad with bulgur wheat, tabbouleh, Bulgar Wheat spinach salad, pasta primavera salad, roasted vegetables, etc. that she could pull from during the week and added a roll or some naan and yoghurt to round it out. I must confess that I kept some prepackaged things around so that if I had an evening event or just couldn't get up the energy to pack the lunches that night, I would cheat with the prepackaged stuff - not too often, though!

Hope this helps!

9 moms found this helpful
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S.K.

answers from Sacramento on

I would first suggest visiting your local Trader Joe's. They have all kinds of healtheir versions of the snacks foods kids like. From their version of an oreo to cheeze-it knock offs. They are sometimes cheaper and sometimes more expensive. Some other snack ideas would be apple sauce without any sugar added (no flavors), yogurt (trader joe's has a great Greek variety, it's almost like a dessert). You can also do PB&J, just find a jelly either at Trader's or in the healthfood isle of your grocery store, and buy all natural Peanut Butter (the only ingrediant should be peanuts). If they want variety in their sandwiches, you can BBQ some chicke breast (a whole bunch at once) and then slice them up with some cheese (make sure you find good cheese, like skim milk mozz or 2% jack, no amercian). If they like tomatoes, that makes a good sandwich, although it might get too soggy by the time they eat lunch.

Those are just some ideas, but always make sure you pack them fruit or veggies. Also, when you buy prepackaged stuff, check the lables. The more ingrediants listed the worse it is for you. Stay away from trans/hydroginated items. You can also make your own snacks. If you go to the Food Network and look up Ellie Kreiger, she has a ton of great healthy recipes.

Hope this helps :).

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T.S.

answers from Stationed Overseas on

Have you checked out Larabars? My sister turned me on to them. Add some protein to the lunchbox, like turkey rolls, and you'd have a meal.

https://www.larabar.com/secure/index_.php

You might also try some of the freeze-dried fruit by Gerbers Graduates (in the baby food section). You'd have to put it in another container, of course, but it's way cheaper than Just Tomatoes.

That's my 2 cents worth! :)
T.

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J.H.

answers from Sacramento on

low prep time -- have the children help make their own lunches even the preschooler.

buy lunch boxes with reusable containers.

the children may not always want to eat the same things. preschoolers like finger foods, middleschoolers are definately finiky and may not want to eat much in front of their peers.

pickles, olives, edemame, pb&js, nuts (if not alergic), crackers & cheese, cold pizza, cold quesadillas, cold chicken, some kids will even eat cold pasta, think leftovers and what will the kids eat another day, celery w/ cream cheese or peanut butter, fruits

if you don't already have one, pick up a children's cookbook. ask the children and get them to buy in and help out.

one way to save on stress is to prepare the lunches the evening before.

have fun!

8 moms found this helpful
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A.N.

answers from San Francisco on

cream cheese sandwich (± smoked salmon)
cashew nut butter sandwich (almond nut or hazel nut)
sirloin steak slices (by itself or in sandwich)
tomato/ cucumber/ feta cheese salad
hard boil eggs
noodles with oil and soysauce (± leftover veggies or meat)

8 moms found this helpful
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V.R.

answers from Redding on

My son has recently begun eating hummus with avocado on any kind of bread or crackers.

Also, I have a friend that makes a loaf of zucchini bread on SUnday and spreads cream cheese on it for her kids instead of a sandwich.

Also, it sounds simple but my son will eat oranges if I cut them into slices but he wouldn't do the work of pealing it himself.

7 moms found this helpful
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J.B.

answers from Sacramento on

Not sure if this has been posted - you can freeze PB&J. Just make them and freeze them in a baggy - they will defrost by lunchtime. It's a geat time saver.

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H.F.

answers from San Francisco on

I haven't seen anyone mention yogurt yet. Stoneyfield farms has organic tubes or little cups Yo'kids. We just use reusable containers and the large tubs, we prefer Straus. Whole fruit has less prep than cut fruit. Baby carrots are already cut up for you. Boiled eggs are a favorite of my kids and you can boil a dozen or more one night and have them for a week. If you want prepackaged and snakc type stuff than you can find it at Trader Joe's and Whole foods but just because it is organic does not mean it is healthy. Sugar and white flour still have little nutrition in an organic pastry but they sure taste good.

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N.P.

answers from Modesto on

Hi M.!

First of all, I don't want to give you the wrong impression of me....70% of the school year I buy Lunchables, or something like it. But I DO try these few other snack items, and my kids seem to love them :o)

Go-gurt....It's yogurt in a tube. They can eat it refridgerated, or frozen :o)

Peanut Butter & Celery

Peanut butter & Crackers

Strawberries, grapes

Graham Cracker with Marshmellow spread (yummy)

They have Wheat Germ to sprinkle on sandwiches, so kids can get more nutrients (although I can't stand it)

Truthfully, I would just make sure they are active and involved in 1 or 2 sports a year, and that will help keep them fit.

I have added a chewable vitamin recently, although we all keep forgetting to take them (summer you know). I also added Ensure to my kids life each day. It's a drink with lots of nutrients. My kids like it, but they really like it as a milkshake :o)

Well, that's about all I can help you with, not much help I'm sure, but you never know :o)

Happy Lunching!

:o) N.

6 moms found this helpful

T.G.

answers from Lexington on

Even on a low/fixed income, I try real hard to prepare & feed us as healthy food as possible. I especially make a point to minimize processed foods. I love what I heard Gillian, from Biggest Loser say recently, "if it doesn't have a mother or come out of the ground, then you shouldn't eat it!" I think that is a great philosophy.

Here are a few things both my daughter and I eat and enjoy. Great for eating at home or on the go.

~ My girl has never cared much for jelly. However, she loves peanut butter w/ raisins. We serve it on a whole grain bread or tortilla. Some days we add shredded cheese and warm it in our NuWave Oven.
~ Fresh veggies w/ Hummus.
~ A really healthy trail mix of Pine Nuts, Raw Sunflower Nuts (both great sources of Protein & Fiber), raisins, mixed nuts, whole grain cheerios.
~ Nature Valley bars are really good. Some store brands offer almost identical products.
~ Dannon Natural Vanilla Bean flavored yogurt. They offer a large container (more economical). It's one of the few options in mainstream stores w/ out High Fructose Corn Syrup (which we avoid like the plague).

~*~ Just to add. Meijer's, for some time, has offer an Organic line. It seems every visit to the store I see more products they are adding. I really like that the prices are around the same or lower than popular brands. Just last week I bought Whole Grain waffles (which we eat topped with Dannon yogurt/bananas/real whipped cream)from this line. They were more than $0.25 cheaper than national brand that were on sale for $2.50.

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D.P.

answers from Sacramento on

Last year my 7 year old decided he DID NOT and WOULD NOT eat sandwiches anymore, so he started taking salads to lunch everyday! He is also very picky, at first it was just lettuce and cucmbers, then as time went on I added, shredded carrots and spinach, at the end of the year I even had him eating borccoli and raw zuchinni! Then I threw in a yogurt or fruit for his snack and he always took a cold bottle of water!! Good luck and I look forward to seeing your other responses so I can get some good tips for this years' lunches, I will be making for 2 this year! My 5 year old starts school now too!!!

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Z.L.

answers from Denver on

Hi there,

This might be late - but I've read all the great responses and have a few more suggestions.
-Bean and cheese burrito - sour cream and veggies
-Pita with curried rice and black beans, grilled chicken if you have it
-Peanut butter, honey and sliced banana sandwich
-Crackers and sliced apples with a wedge or two of laughing cow cheese
-Cream cheese and jam sandwich (all fruit jam, no sugar or high fructose corn syrup added)
-Falafel balls, rice and cucumbers
-Yogurt, granola and fresh (or dried) fruit

Hope this helps!

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J.P.

answers from San Francisco on

Check-in w/ your boys...sometimes it isn't up to you. Develop a "menu" for them. Ask the question, "what will you eat" or "what do you want for lunch". The answer might surprise you! My daughters would sometimes eat a breakfast item, & followup w/ a good snack after school. Sometimes a protein bar (they're swimmers).
I'm happy you want to try to avoid the prepackaged choices. Good Luck!

4 moms found this helpful
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N.B.

answers from Sacramento on

Use lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and make sandwiches on whole wheat bread. You can buy boxes of raisins and fruit leather for sweet treats. Keep it simple.

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D.M.

answers from Norfolk on

I know this is late, but.. I read through many great ideas that I'm looking forward to trying! One thing that my daughter loves for lunch is pasta salad. You can make it with whole wheat pasta and add in lots of veggies. This year my goal was to pack lunch foods in reusable containers. We have cut out juice boxes/pouches completely. I feel better about not creating all that extra garbage!

4 moms found this helpful
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K.M.

answers from Sacramento on

You might want to check out Whole Foods Market, I read that there is chef who is giving classes on making healthier lunches. I think the next class is August 16, and the cost is about $5. Good luck!

-K.

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C.S.

answers from Medford on

You have some great responses, but adding a couple more. My kids are young still, 1 1/2 and just turned 3, but they both go to daycar/preschool now. The older one likes little toothpick kebobs with chunks of cheese and meat and tomatoes, or even steamed veggies mixed in. Also graham crackers with pb spread on, or yogurt to dip them in. Costco has freeze dried apples, strawberries & bananas (I called them apple cookies and the kids LOVE them). String cheese goes in almost every day. Another good finger food is tofu - you can get flavored kids or chop up extra firm tofu into 1/2" cubes and sautee up with ample soy sauce and nutrtional yeast until slightly crispy on the outside (won't be like deep fried) - they like this hot or cold.

4 moms found this helpful

G.M.

answers from Detroit on

I didn't see this suggestion and it's something my kids loved. I would make homemade pizza dough using whole wheat flour for the crust made in our bread machine. You can also use whole wheat pitas. Then let the kids choose their toppings and create their own mini pizzas. You can do a bunch of these and freeze them. We made pizza's using low fat meats such as chicken or chicken sausages. Stay away from pepperoni. They can get creative with the spices and veggies. Then I would bake them and store them in the fridge for the next day and freeze a batch too. They enjoyed eating these pizzas warm or cold.

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C.S.

answers from Houston on

I was just wondering where in the world is there a Trader Joe's around here? I thought they were pretty much only in California.

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J.R.

answers from St. Louis on

My daughter is 7 years old and in 2nd grade. She is already well educated when it comes to food and making choices. She loves pb and banana on a whole wheat flour tortilla or on organic graham crackers. I like to cut up her favorite raw vegies (she prefers them raw) ahead of time so they are ready for packing for the week. She also enjoys organic mac-n-cheese (Annie's) which stays hot in her thermos. I send her organic milk in her leak proof beverage thermos. Always read labels- you would be surprised at how many "healthy snacks" have high fructose corn syrup in them!

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J.K.

answers from Fresno on

i THINK I havew the pickiest child anywhere. You can pack little bags of sliced apples orraisins if they will eat them and peanut butter sandwiches with or without jelly. If you can keep it cold pack milk and or yogurt too.

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N.D.

answers from Panama City on

There sure are some great ideas here, I will use some of these ideas also as I have a very picky 8 year old in second grade,I run out of ideas for his lunch so I usually just let him buy lunch from school,which he doesnt eat all the time.So thank you for posting this questions as it will help me with some ideas also.

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K.F.

answers from Washington DC on

This is late, but here's what I do:
I use OatNut bread for sandwiches - yum! They both love it - healthy, but soft...and tasty...I will make a sandwich the night before if mornings are too busy - but usually it takes a couple minutes, so no big deal. I will buy low fat deli meats and cheese or use sugar free jelly and soynut butter (my daughter's class is peanut free, so I substitute soynut butter for PB and it tastes great). I try to mix it up so they don't get bored with lunches...then I pack a drink (capris sun has flavored waters in a easy to drink pouch, etc) and then I buy tons of sides to choose from and throw them in the lunch...I have one from each group usually, such as:

Fruits: raisins, apples, oranges, bananas
Snacks: 100 calorie snack packs, granola bars, etc
Dairy, etc...: Yogurt, sugar free Jello or Pudding, string cheese

These plus the sandwiches are all fairly natural and consist of the four food groups....it will help with energy and diet! :)

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A.F.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi M.,
While reading all the nice answers you got, I wanted to mention that I found it easier to get the hot leftovers, soup ect. into the Thermos by using a big canning funnel. You know the kind you would find at Osh for filling in hot jam. No more messy rims. I just fill it and close it! If you go for the hot lunches buy one of these. It makes the job of filling hot stuff into the Thermos so much easier. Also, I "preheat" the Thermos by filling boiling water into it. Good luck, A.

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A.F.

answers from San Francisco on

You have to be careful about putting nuts in the childrens lunches because some kids are highly allergic to nuts and some schools will not allow them in the children lunches.

For 6 year old, Safeway sometime has on sale Eating Right Carrots for 16 oz pkg for 10/$10. You can buy 1 package for a $1 you don't have to buy 10 packages. I buy this for my 2 year old granddaughter and she loves it.

Eating Right has a whole line of snacks for young one. The 12 year old is going to be a little harder because he is at the age were he is picky. You should sit down with him and discuss what he would like to eat that is healthy for lunch and you as a parent can say that is not healthy because that has too much (sugar, sodium, fat, etc) how about this instead. And hopefully he will say okay.

Now with your 15 month, I think Gerber has the snacks that melts in your mouth and they are banana cereal or something like that.

I hope that helps.

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T.T.

answers from New York on

My son sometimes gets tired of sandwiches, etc. and wants something warm at lunch, so I bought him a little thermos. I like to make a big batch of soup (chicken vegetable, lentil, etc.); whole wheat pasta with ground turkey, spinach, mushrooms, tomato sauce; chicken and rice; etc. which can easily be reheated in the morning and thrown in the thermos. He also likes it when I heat up an organic chicken or turkey hotdog and put it in the thermos with a little ketchup. Then I just pack a bun or slice of wheat bread and some baby carrots and sliced fruit. It has opened up more lunch options, as the food usual stays warm for 4-5 hours.

3 moms found this helpful

L.B.

answers from Dallas on

I am a professional organizer... as far as a low prep thing...
Try pre packageing or bagging things your child will eat on Sunday nights for a week of school.

Pickles
Olives
Cheese
Crackers
any snack cookie... I know their not so healthy
Chips

The in the mornings grab and go.... it's easy for you to pack and will be easy for them to learn how to pack their own lunch.

L. B.
www.GetOrganized.ws

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L.H.

answers from New York on

Hi M.,
My daughter is in preschool and is a VERY picky eater. In the Sept. 2008 issue of Parent magazine they did a few pages of pictures of lunch ideas. That's where I found out about Laptop Lunches. It's a bento box style lunch box. It's a really cool system and they also have a gallery of thousands of pictures of lunch ideas on their website (plus a free newsletter you can sign up for). I really wanted to get it but waited. After going thru two lunch boxes and much wasted food, I finally got my daughter one for Christmas. She loves it and truly does eat more of her lunch w/ the way her food is presented in this lunch box. Check out there website: laptoplunches.com.
Good luck!
Alexis

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K.N.

answers from Springfield on

I just read lots of the responses and did not see hard-boiled eggs as a choice. My daughter doesn't like a sandwich so I have had to be creative. I hard boil eggs over the weekend and keep them in the fridge. She probably gets three a week. That way I know she's getting protein. It's inexpensive and organic. I always include some kind of fruit.
Also cheese sticks are a big staple in our lunches.
I am so glad you asked this question. I found the responses helpful!

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C.L.

answers from Allentown on

Watch out, the Larabars that one poster recommended now have a recall for peanut butter/salmonella.

2 moms found this helpful
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C.C.

answers from Detroit on

I know you have all of your responses, but just to make some of those sandwiches fun, cut them with cookie cutters. Hearts, stars, leaves, etc. Somehow sandwiches always taste better when they are "fun shaped". haha

I hope the school year has gone well for you.

1 mom found this helpful
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