Kitchen Think: What Are You Packing?


Last week I shared with you the fashiony way to carry lunch to school. Today, I’m offering up some of your suggestions on what to put in those lunches and how to make them more appealing.

But, first, Mama’s unsolicited advice: Don’t sweat it. If they don’t eat it, they won’t starve.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative has called a lot of attention to school lunches… those prepared in the cafeteria as well as those packed from home. This is a good thing, but it’s also put a lot of pressure on us to pack something that won’t be dissed by the other mom’s on cafeteria duty.

Before you pack anything, make sure you know what the “NO” policies are at your kids’ school. NO nuts? NO chocolate milk? NO candy? NO homemade snacks? NO grapes, hotdogs or other things that can cause choking? NO fun?

Here are some suggestions from Mama’s friends:
• Leslea says she asks her son what HE wants to eat and then has him pick from the choices she lays out. Good idea. This empowers him… but within limits.
• Sula believes that the bento box lunchbox is the way to go because it’s a great way to offer variety. In each of the different little containers you can put chunks of bread, cheese, ham, chicken nuggets (homemade, she insists), cut-up fruit, meatballs, etc. The little containers are also a great way to include dips: mustard, mayo, ranch dressing, etc.
• Marta claims her twin boys are pretty boring and have wanted the SAME lunch for the past 4 years: one slice of ham, one slice of Swiss cheese on whole wheat bread. No mustard. No mayo. Bag of potato chips. Applesauce. She satisfies her need to be creative by using cookie cutters to make the sandwich in different shapes.
• Mike tells me that for his four kids, it is all about the bread. Every week brings a different conduit for the sandwich: pita, flour tortillas, sandwich thins, English muffins, hot dog buns, bagel thins, even naan.
• Katie says her kids won’t go for “weird” bread in their sandwiches, so she flattens out two slices of bread (using a drinking glass), tops each flattened piece with mayo and ham and then rolls up each flattened piece of bread. She then cuts each roll up into four pieces to make little pinwheels. Wow.
• Cece says her girls now only want salads. This means insulated lunch boxes and containers with tight fitting lids. She freezes juice boxes or mini-water bottles and uses these to keep everything cold and “food-safe.”
• Jenny is big on sending peeled boiled eggs with salt and pepper in a snack bag, with a side of celery and carrots sticks (don’t forget the ranch dip). She’s such a good mom that she even sends a thermos of soup when it gets cold.

Here are a few more ideas:
• Pack antibacterial wipes (and remind your kids that they’re in there) so they can clean their hands before eating.
• Cut sandwiches into different shapes: strips, squares, circles.
• Pour hummus, tahini, salad dressing or other dips into a re-sealable plastic bag or a small container with a tight fitting lid so kids can dip their sandwich, fruit or veggies.
• If you are packing a salad, pour dressing in a re-sealable plastic bag, so your kids can open one corner and squeeze out the dressing.
• Pack lunches the night before.

One thing I try to do every now and then is send a little “love note.” It can be a good luck message about an afternoon test or even just a hand-drawn heart (if they can’t read yet). Nothing big… nothing sappy. Just a little reminder of who packed the lunch. (Mama’s always got an ulterior motive, doesn’t she?)

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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: