What reaction do you have when you read the word Lunchables?
To be honest, I shudder a little bit.
Then a touch of nausea.
After that comes the eye roll.
Lunchables are the poster child for cheap, processed, uber-convenient lunches, and the epitome of marketing that speaks to parents.
I’m a parent of four kids, and believe me – I feel ya.
At the end of every day, my husband and I are bone tired.
We joke about that phrase that we read a while back in a humorous parenting blog post, but you know it’s so true.
Lunchables, in all their stacked circles of meat glory, call loudly from the 10 for $10 section of the grocery store ads in a language bone-tired parents can understand.
Makes kids happy.
In fact, for years now, I’ve noticed that the circulars in August look like a kid dropped the contents of their lunch box in a pile of sale stickers.
What do you see on sale?
- Granola bars
- Single serve juices and Gatorade
- Iceberg lettuce
- Fruit snacks etc. (Don’t do it! Make these amazing 2-ingredient gellies with Vital Proteins grassfed gelatin)
- Jello cups (ahem…see above)
- Pudding cups
- Cheese spread and cracker packs
- Peanut butter
- Pretzels, Goldfish, and other crunchy snacks
- Lunchables (of course0)
And those are the foods that our culture expects parents to pack (and kids to eat) for lunch, day in and day out.
It’s pretty convincing that busy parents must buy cheap convenience foods (on sale especially) or buy hot lunch for their kids in order to get through the day. To do anything else can feel superhuman.
I’ve packed well over 1,000 school lunches without a single item from the back-to-school grocery sales (except occasional peanut butter, but not on bread).
We eat real food, homemade, from scratch, without spending an arm and a leg, every day.
Success is all about thinking out of the box (or in this case, getting good thinking inside the box).
My secrets and strategies are all in The Healthy Lunch Box, my popular eBook which sold over 1,000 the first month it was published, but I’m going to share the first 3 baby steps to success with you today.
1. Brainstorm a List with Your Kids
Think about simple things that don’t take a ton of prep work that can “fill the squares.”
By filling the squares, I mean that you can buy a bento box (here are all the ones we’ve tried) and use it for a “homemade Lunchable” sort of idea, like this:
If you have a robust list of items that you can use to “fill the squares,” it takes so much less mental power to put lunch together, because all you need to do is grab your bento box and start putting things in. After 4-5 items, depending on the age of your child, you’re done.
So grab your kiddos and ask them to help you think of simple things they would eat at lunch:
- baby carrots
- ranch dip
- frozen peas
- nuts and raisins
- apple slices
- a banana
- cherry tomatoes
- leftover chicken strips (with mustard to dip if you’re my kids!)
- homemade muffins
- what else?
It’s actually harder to stop brainstorming than to get started! You can quickly see how your list can grow, and remember that all you need are four or five items per lunch. Mix and match and even with only 20 items on your list, you can create a month’s worth of lunches that are all different!
I’ll give you a jump start on your list with MY list of over 75 items for healthy packed lunch ideas – soon to be updated with even more!
2. Connect Dinner to Lunch
In my eBook, it’s been a bit controversial that I give my kids cold leftovers for lunch.
(That’s BBQ chicken and potato wedges above, a meal my kids would deem a home run.)
Some folks think that’s gross, and they don’t like my advice. I find it efficient – and I don’t give them anything I wouldn’t eat myself!
Whether you’re on the train of eating cold leftovers or not, there’s always a way to eat dinner at lunch (hot food jars are easy to find and use).
It just takes planning.
While you’re brainstorming with your kids, ask them what kinds of things you eat at dinner that they would enjoy in their lunch boxes.
- For example, cold meat strips with dipping sauce is a pretty easy one, and even people who hate my advice about cold leftovers often wouldn’t mind cold roasted chicken or beef.
- In my opinion, a lot of pasta dishes can fly cold, and they’re just like a pasta salad.
- Taco meat = delicious taco salad with organic corn chips on the side, salsa, guacamole….mmmm…my 10-year-old boy doesn’t really touch salads at dinner but cites taco salad as one of his favorite packed lunches.
- Soup? Not so much. But soup is great for thermoses and stays really hot until lunch (especially if you heat it on the stove instead of a microwave).
When you’ve brainstormed about ten ideas, plan for two of them per week at dinnertime, and you’ve got yourself half the week planned for lunch box fare all the way through to October (assuming some dinners could work for two lunches in a week).
Pack that meal into your lunch containers immediately after dinner as you’re cleaning up the kitchen. No morning rush!
3. Stock the Freezer with Back-ups
Even though I prioritize good planning, there are days when I wake up in a partial panic because I didn’t pack lunches the night before and don’t have any applicable leftovers.
That’s when my lunch insurance kicks in.
I always make sure at the beginning of the school year to stock certain things in the freezer, and I only touch them in dire straits:
- frozen peas
- homemade chicken nuggets
- smoothies in Squooshi pouches
- grain-free coconut flour muffins (they thaw so moist) and sometimes pumpkin muffins too
- small servings of homemade soup
With those at the ready, I know I never need to panic.
Put it on your list for the first week of school, and you’ll thank yourself later.
Or…Let Someone Else do the Thinking for You
Grab The Healthy Lunch Box as your personal lunchtime assistant. You’ll be set with resources for the school year and strategies for a lifetime.
Disclosure: Squooshi and Vital Proteins are August sponsors of KS receiving a complimentary mention in a post. I am an affiliate to 100 Days of Real Food.