The lazy, carefree days of summer are quickly coming to an end. No more summer vacations, no more beach days, and definitely no more waking up late. Yup, it’s that time of the year that every kid dreads – it’s back to school! Sure, some parents may be celebrating this time, but there is also a big factor in back to school that I dread as a parent…making lunches!
Most of the schools across Texas started this week, and I’ve already lost count as to how many people have asked for lunch ideas and lunch gear. So I figured I’d do a post and share some lunch ideas as well as the best kids lunch gear I’ve come across.
Let’s start with the lunch gear.
I personally have Pottery Barn’s insulated lunch boxes. They come in a few different sizes. I have these ones in the “retro” style. I love them because they are lightweight, insulated, and big enough to hold my bento boxes flat, a water bottle, a few snacks, and ice packs! I like lunch boxes that I can put the bento boxes in flat instead of vertically, otherwise everything tends to get mixed together. You can find similar ones here and here.
I LOVE bento boxes! I think it makes lunch so much more fun for kids. It gives them variety and just makes lunch interesting. I also love that my daughter will tell me which compartment to fill with what. And she is more likely to eat everything if she chose it herself. The stainless steel bento boxes are the best. They aren’t harmful like plastic, heavy like glass, and can last forever! They usually run from $25 upwards, but since they can last for years and years, it can be a good investment. I have this Lunchbot bento box. It is the perfect size for a younger child, but they also come in larger sizes or different number of compartments to suit your needs. I’ve had it for a couple of years now and it’s still as good as new.
I think Lunchbot also has the best price for stainless steel bento boxes. You can find some others at Pottery Barn or PlanetBox. My favorite things about PlanetBox are the attached lids and the little dipper pieces to put things in like dressing, ketchup, etc. I think once my kids are a little bigger I will invest in these inshaAllah.
For hot items like rice, pastas, soups, and chili, I use a thermos. I have the Reduce brand vacuum thermos that keeps foods hot or cold for 6 hours. I make sure not to heat up the food too much because it will likely stay that hot when lunchtime comes around. You can even throw in chicken nuggets or fish sticks in there to keep them warm. You can find similar ones here, here, and here.
I use these types of thermos’ for water.
And perhaps the most underused, but probably the most practical accessory for school lunches is the “tiffin dabba”. If you’re desi then you know what I’m talking about, but if you’re not, then check this out. It might be a little too complicated for the younger ones to open and close, and they also wouldn’t need to eat as much food as this can hold. For the older kids and adults, this is an amazing thing to have in your life! You can get a stack of 3, 4, 5, as many tiffin’s as your heart desires!
I know what some desi people might be thinking – that it’s too fobby. So what? Embrace your roots and heritage, our people are geniuses for inventing this thing! It’s catching on pretty quickly these days in the west, check out some companies here who sell it, such as this and this. They’re usually leak proof as well, so you can stuff it with all the daal and qorma’s as you want!
Next, let’s talk about what to fill those pretty bento boxes with. I like to give my kids something that I know they will definitely eat, because they have been known to bring home their lunches untouched in the past. They have a snack break in the morning consisting of a fruit and some crackers. For lunch I like to pack a main dish, a snack item, and a vegetable. I only give them water, no juices. I’ve added some links to the recipes to make things easier 🙂
Main Dish Ideas:
- LEFTOVERS! If kids can eat that food at home by themselves, than they can eat that food at school! And this will make your life so much more easier!
- Mac & Cheese
- Tuna Salad Sandwich
- Hummus with Pita Slices
- Chicken Pulao
- Chicken Alfredo
- Daal with Naan or Rice (Yes, that’s my daughters favorite!)
- Chicken Nuggets
- Channa (Chickpea) Pulao
- French Toast with honey
- Cheese sandwich
- Boiled Eggs
- Cucumber salad
- Miso soup
- Vegetable Pho (This is the only way my little one will eat cauliflower and bean sprouts). If you pack this in a thermos, they can eat the veggies and it’s easy to slurp up the broth.
- Guacamole with chips
- Bean salad, it’s very filling and packed with protein. A good option for those who want less carbs.
- Crescent Pizza Twists
- Pizza! For a low carb option try this crust recipe!
- Fish nuggets (pre-made)
- Tomato Soup with crackers
- Oatmeal – It’s a breakfast food usually, but my kids like it and it keeps them full. I chop up bananas and strawberries in mine and top it off with honey and some dries cranberries. Sometimes I mix in hemp and chia seeds.
- Baked Chicken Legs – because which kid doesn’t love chicken legs?
- Meatballs – Turkey or beef
- Deconstructed Tacos – My older recently discovered she loves tacos. So I will send her with the taco meat with sauce mixed in, and a taco broken up into small pieces on the side. She loves to scoop the meat up. Or you can just send some tortilla chips!
- Butter Noodles
- Quinoa Fried Rice with Vegetables
- Lentil Soup
- Zoodles – Zucchini Noodles!
- Veggie Sushi
- Mini Waffles – Breakfast for lunch is a great idea!
- A Kabab Rolled Up in A Naan (Kabab Roll)
- Bagel and Cream Cheese
- Chicken Shawarma Sandwich
- Nitrate Free Chicken or Turkey Meat Roll-Up
- Baked Samosa’s
- Ravioli – I get the pre-made refrigerated ones and just add butter or red sauce on top.
I listed a few desi/arab foods here, but some kids might not feel comfortable bringing ethnic foods – just ask your kids and encourge them to not be scared to bring in non-American dishes. My kids are younger and go to a Muslim school so it’s no big deal for them to bring pulao or daal 🙂
I stick to healthy snacks for the most part, but love to throw in a treat every now and then. I can just imagine the look of happiness on their faces when they open their lunchboxes and see a piece of chocolate or gummy snacks 🙂
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Bell Peppers
- Snap Peas
- Raisins or Dried Cranberries
- Sunflower Seeds
- Fruit Snack Bars
- Date Energy Bars – This is the usual treat, it’s sweet and healthy and my daughter says “she can’t stop eating them!”
- Any Kind of Berries
- Yogurt Cup
- String Cheese, Cheese Cubes, or the Laughing Cow Triangle Cheese
- A small piece of Dark Chocolate
- Apple Sauce
- Honey Nut Dry Cereal
- Veggie Straws and Chips
- Aussie Bites – These snacks are made from healthy and organic ingredients. Gives them energy and fills them up! BTW, Costco has a lot of healthy and organic snacks for kids lunchboxes!
- Seeds – I mix a concoction of hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, black seeds, and sesame seeds. It’s a small portion, and my kids like to eat it up with a spoon.
I would just like to say that most of the time my children eat whatever we have at home, I don’t go out of my way to make their lunches be more special or look Pinterest pretty. They eat what I give them happily and I don’t put in more than a 5 minute effort into packing their lunches in the morning. My main goal is to give them a healthy lunch that will keep them full and give them energy.
Test out which foods they like for lunch and stick to those on a rotating basis. If you can find as little as 10 different foods then you’re good for 2 whole weeks before you rotate!
And lastly, get them involved in the lunch making process. Even my 3 year old likes to tell me what she would like in her lunchbox! It also gives me a chance to introduce her to new foods and their names.
I pray everyone has a wonderful and stress-free school year!