As we are getting closer to the first day of school (15 days and counting!), I've been giving some serious thought to re-vamping our packed-from-home school lunches. I want them to be more balanced, more nutritious, more diverse, and still offer something delicious that my kids will actually eat! And if dreams really did come true- I would magically convince my pickiest eater to try something other than boiled hotdogs (I swear!), chicken nuggets, ham rollups, and mac and cheese! So I teamed up with four fabulous bloggers (I'll introduce you to them below) to go “beyond bologna” and make our kids lunches healthy, happy, and hip!
But first… we need to get ourselves organized. And this you know, is right up my alley! So let me share my tips for setting yourself up for Back to School Success!
You Need the Right Tools
One of my husband's favorite sayings is that “you always need the right tools for the job!” (and yes, I do realize this is just his way of getting me to agree to more power tools…), but the same idea holds true when it comes to being prepared to send your kids to school with lunches from home. So I spent a few hours this weekend with the kids, deciding who needed new lunch boxes, water bottles, and all of the other accessories…..
The right lunch bag– I try to buy a lunch bag that my kids can use for a few years (and I do wash them every so often in the washing machine to keep them from getting funky)…. but this year it was time to purchase a few new ones. So I invested in Packit lunch bags which can be chilled to help keep your lunches cool (and safe!)
Re-usable water bottles– I try to be a green mama…. which means no sending in juice boxes (who needs all that sugar!) or plastic one-time use water bottles! Last year I sent the kids in with aluminum water bottles… but I found that I had problems with dishwasher residue becoming “hard-glued” onto the insides of them. So this year I purchased plastic (BPA-free) bottles that are dishwasher safe.
A thermos to keep hot foods hot- I also upgraded our thermoses to ones that can keep food hot for up to 7 hours- and I plan to test them this week to make sure that they live up to their product claims!. Because my kiddos like to take in hot soups and noodles for lunch (and don't forget the boiled hot dogs that I mentioned earlier…yuck)….
Other important accessories– To be kind to the environment, I send the kids in with all reusable containers and cloth napkins. And I also like to have some cute freezer packs on hand to help keep the cold food cold!
A Place to Store the Gear
When you have six kids- lunch bags, snack bags, water bottles, backpacks, school supplies, and musical instruments take up a lot of space… and can threaten to eat up your entire kitchen counter if you let it. So I put this old baker's rack into use in our dining room (which is right next to our kitchen), to hold all of this stuff when not in use. I call this my “kids command center“…. and it keeps me sane. Truly.
The Packing and Unpacking Routines
Aside from having your stuff organized, you need to have your young people organized too….. and for that- you need a routine. Can't seem to get a routine in place? Well my friends, perhaps you need to make a sign….. like this one that I hang on my fridge on the first day of school….
Boom! Right there I have set the expectation. My kids need to show Mom a little love, unpack their stuff, and only then can they have an after-school snack. It's amazing how fast this work goes when they know there is a food-reward waiting for them! The same promise of goodies can hold true if you ask the kids to help prep the next day's lunches while setting the table for dinner. It only takes each one of them a few minutes to rinse and re-fill their water bottle, add a snack to their backpack, and pack up their crackers or chips, and fruit for the next day.
And I do two things as part of my routine in this school lunch process. First, during dinner every Sunday night, the kids and I read through the school lunch menu for the week ahead, and the kids tell me if they intend to buy lunch for any of those days (which I then mark up on the menu). For those that choose to bring a lunch from home, we plan what they will take in terms of an entree each day… such as M/Th: soup, T/F: ham & cheese sandwich, W: noodles…. and that also gets written down for each child right on the menu. This helps me during the second part of my routine, which is to prepare the entrees every morning when I am up early with my middle schooler. It's nice that the menu plan is all right there written out for me, so I don't have to think too hard that early in the morning!
A Little “Lunchbox Love”
And finally, I like to add a little lunchbox love” by adding a small note into my kids lunches each day. I started doing this way back when my oldest was in kindergarten…. but as more and more of my kids started going to school, it became harder and harder to keep up with. Which is why I am in love with Little Lunch Notes! This site provides a free lunch note printable every day! I just print and tuck them into my kids lunchbox!
(And be sure to hop on over to Little Lunch Notes today to download the cute note above!)
So Without Further Ado…..A Lunch My Kids Will Eat- Cold Sesame Noodles!
Use your food processor to mix up the sesame noodle sauce (and this can be done over the weekend and then stored in the fridge to pop out in the morning and toss with the noodles before school….)3 teaspoons of minced garlic 1/3 cup of soy sauce 1/4 cup of sesame oil 3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil 2 Tablespoons of rice vinegar 2 Tablespoons of dark brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon of red chili sauce 1/2 cup of peanut butter (I used creamy)
Mix until smooth.
Prepare one box of linguine, drain and rinse, and then chill (separately from the sauce).
On the morning you plan to serve it, mix a few spoonfuls of sesame sauce in with your cold noodles! (If you find your cold noodles ticking together, just rinse them under cold water first before draining and then adding the sauce). Yum!
Introducing my fellow “Beyond Bologna” Blog Buddies!
…who will be providing their own inspiring tips and dishes to help all of us make-over our kids back-to-school lunches!
Her kids: 5 (I know, right?!), Ages 12, 10, 8 & 6yr old twins.
Her biggest lunch challenge: Making them healthy lunches with lots of variety. They hate the same old thing day after day.
Her blog: Seven Clown Circus. A fun and creative site filled with photos of her busy life with 5 kids. She loves words, hopes to write a book one day, and spends a ridiculous amount of time with her vacuum cleaner. Head to Seven Clown Circus for fun craft ideas and fun stories about big family life.
Her kids: 3, Ages 7 & 2.5 year old twins
Her biggest lunch challenge: Finding ways to add variety, especially when the kids can be particular (aka picky).
Her blog: Moments That Define Life. A military mama with twins plus one, Nicole’s blog is a tribute to life. Hers, her families, her kids’ , and her blog’s! She does an awesome job of helping other bloggers learn the insider tips and tricks for growing a successful community with her how-to-blog-better posts and power blogger interviews.
Thursday: Amanda, parenting BY dummies.
Her kids: 3, Ages 10, 7 & 4.
Her biggest lunch challenge: Not screaming, “PUT YOUR BLOODY SHOES ON ALREADY!” while making a new lunch as we rush out the door in the morning because no one wanted to eat the soggy sandwich I calmly prepared and refrigerated for them the night before.
Her blog: parenting BY dummies. Fun loving Dude Mom whose Mom Awesome lifestyle is what her humor blog is made of. Read, her blog is for entertainment purposes only. Any tips or tricks you find here should likely not be trusted until you put them to the test yourself. She does give amazing fashion advice (thanks to her TV makeover), runs her very own online book club, and knows how to work a camera like a boss.
Her kids: 3, Ages 8, 5 & 2
Her biggest lunch challenge: Giving the kids a variety of foods because they seem to like the same things over and over… Plus we cannot have peanut butter at our school, which I understand and we work around, but sometimes is also a challenge…
Her blog: The Miss Elaine-ous Life. A lifestyle blog about living a beautiful life. Elaine is a whiz with the camera, write heartfelt posts about her family life, and even dabbles in making her house pretty from the inside out. You never know exactly what miscellany you’re going to get, but you can be certain that it will be awesome.
So what's your biggest lunch challenge? Please leave us a comment and share!