Friday, August 19, 2016

Lunchbox Mix and Match

If you troll pinterest for school lunchbox ideas, you will find lots of uber-cute suggestions, most of which require a ton of advance planning and/or preparation.  If you want a lunchbox full of "fruit sushi" or homemade fried chicken, you need to start cooking the night before.  Some people love to do that, and more power to them.  I hope they enjoy their successful blogs and book deals!  Some people (me) wish Jamie Oliver would parachute in and take over our school lunch program so we don't have to think about lunchboxes anymore.  Until that happens, however, our family does lunchbox mix-and-match.

Here's the basic idea: pick one protein, one starch, and two fruits or veggies.  When I've been strategic about pre-made foods (aka leftovers), it works instead for kids to have an entree that covers multiple categories, like soup or pasta with sauce, and to round that out with a side dish picked from the list.

In a pinterest-perfect world, the kids would spend 30 minutes helping you prep, bake, cut up veggies, and portion bulk items on Sunday afternoon, so that they can easily grab a tub of carrot sticks and a muffin all week long.  An alternative excellent plan would be to make lunchbox selections the night before so kids can help with any prep or portioning that can be done in advance at that time.  Even with the best planning, certain things will still need to be done in the morning, though.  For example, if they prefer their apples sliced, and you're a sucker for getting them to eat cheap and abundant produce.

A note on my organization: Things that require no prep beyond putting in a container are at the top of the list.  Things that require more extensive prep are at the bottom.  Many of the items that require more prep can be made ahead and frozen in individual portions.  I've got a few fresh fruits and veggies that I almost always have on hand listed individually, but I also have spaces on the list to write in whatever fresh or prepared fruits and veg are handy this week.  Also, it is clearly just fine to combine items from the list to make an "entree," should one desire.  For example, peanut butter can be combined with bread to make a sandwich.  Or, you know, this thing, if you prefer.

Lunchbox Mix and Match

Yogurt cup
Cheese slices or sticks
Cream cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cottage cheese
Lunch meat
Peanut butter, nut butter, or sunflower butter
Nuts: Cashews, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts
Sunflower seeds
Ricotta- or yogurt-based dip
Beans (baked, refried, plain, or seasoned)
Bean dip
Hard boiled egg
Energy balls
Tuna salad
Egg salad
Chicken salad
Mini quiches
Pre-prepared meat (pulled pork, steak strips, diced chicken, etc)

Corn tortilla
Wheat tortilla
English muffin
Chips or tortilla chips
Frozen corn
Muffin or quick bread
Corn bread
Sushi rice
Cooked grain: couscous, quinoa, wild rice, etc.
Grain-based salad
Pasta salad

Fruits and Veggies
Frozen peas
Pickled vegetables
Tomato sauce
Frozen blueberries
Apple sauce
Canned fruit
Dried apriots
Bell peppers
Cooked vegetable


Fresh fruit


Fresh vegetable


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