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Friday, September 16, 2011

Guest Blogger:
Carla of Mrs. No No Knows
"Tips for Easy Back to School Lunches"

Today I am pleased to feature Carla of Mrs. No-No Knows! I'm always so grateful for her weekly menu plans and fabulous food ideas. Today Carla is going to share her tips on back-to-school lunches. 

When Sue asked me to write a guest post, I was flattered and excited! (Thanks Sue!!) Let me start by introducing myself: My blog is really a mish-mash of what my every day life is like - so I end up writing about something fun we did the day before, or the week before, I write about crafts and sewing, and I write about my little Miss No-No - but mostly I write about the food!!

I love good food and I know that you don't need to "break the bank" to have it. I believe that you can eat well on a budget and you can feed your family without resorting to processed foods or being in the kitchen all day long. We don't have time to make a meal that takes 3 hours (who has 3 HOURS to cook??? I don't and I'm guessing that you don't either). But, I don't think that your family's taste buds or health should suffer because of that. For those reasons, I write about awesome, healthy food that can be made, in about 30 minutes or less! Doing this for your family makes your life richer and your family's life better - and, really, what could be more awesome?

Since it's September and that means the start of school for most of us mommas, let's talk about lunches.

My pre-K toddler has a program at her school where they provide lunch, for an extra fee. I'm in the "business" of running my house, our finances, and taking care of everyone - that $4 lunch doesn't work so well in my business plan. And while corn dogs, small kids' sized pizzas, and chicken nuggets for lunch everyday would be her dream come true, it really doesn't seem like the most healthy of diets...and since I am actually doing some grocery shopping every week, and have food in my house, it seems like a small stretch for me to make her lunch for her.

There are many benefits to my making her lunch, including:
  • it costs less for me to take something from my fridge (that I have already bought) than for me to send her to school with $4 every day for someone else to make her something
  • I know WHAT exactly is going into her lunch
  • I have the assurance that (even if she doesn't eat the vegetables) there are vegetables in her lunch
  • and, I get to send a little surprise for her every day!

Making a to-go lunch for a little one every day can take some planning, but it's really easy when you get down to it. Even when I start from scratch, I can get her lunch together in no more than 10 minutes (I've timed it!). Even though I feel like I have a lot of things to do every day, I can squeeze out another quick 10 minutes, even if it's just barely! ;)

So here are some quick and easy tips to help you with your toddler or school-age kids' lunches. I use these ideas weekly and I know once you start using them, you will keep up with them. Not just because of the good feeling that you will have sending your little ones off with the nutrition that they need to fuel them for the day, not because it will take about as much time to make lunch as it does for you to hunt through your bag for another $4 or $5 to give them each morning, but you will be able to stick with this because it works!

Plan ahead. Sounds easy, right? I've read this everywhere: plan ahead, be prepared, make lunches daily, and on and on.... But, we have all been there.....It's not THAT easy to plan ahead these fabulous lunches each and every day. My little one, honestly, is happy with a PB and jelly sandwich daily. And, really, PB and jelly is healthy, full of protein and good carbs that will keep her full until her afternoon snack. So my first real tip is this:
  1. Find something that your kids LOVE. For mine it's those PB and jelly sandwiches. So, I pre-make them for her! I will make 3 or 4 instead of just making one, pop the extras in Tupperware, and put them in the freezer. On those days that I just can.not.find.the.time to make her lunch, I have a back-up. I can put one of the frozen sandwiches in her lunch in the morning and by lunch time, it's defrosted and ready to go. And I do that with a lot of things - if I cut up carrots or red peppers for dinner, I will grab an extra one or two and cut those up as well, divide them into good portion sizes in Tupperware and save them in the refrigerator for lunches. When I need a veggie for lunch, they are there and ready to go. I also do this with fruit, applesauce, rice or any other grain, beans, whole wheat pasta, and especially leftovers. Once you have a little arsenal of Tupperware containers in your fridge, you grab a couple (one from each food group) and have a complete lunch ready to go.

  2. Make it fun. If I send my little one with a sandwich, I use a cookie cutter to make it into something special. It might be a heart, a flower, or something seasonal. She never knows what she is going to get, and it's different each day. It's nothing elaborate, and it only takes another couple of seconds, but it sets her lunch apart from the other kids' lunches.

  3. Give them something to pick at. Kids love to pick and munch, talk for awhile, and then come back to their lunch. A little one with a burrito might not eat a lot of it, but a little one with carrot sticks or cucumber "chips" can grab some and talk and eat at the same time, they can share with friends, and then can eat what they want or how much they want without being overwhelmed by having to eat a BIG piece of something. I send edamame, beans, raisins, and other small pieces of fruit in her lunch. So, basically, what I am saying is - cut everything up!! :)

  4. Add an element of surprise. I think this makes my little one look forward to what could possibly be in her lunch each day (I put the thought that she may be sneaking a peek into her lunch bag early completely out of my mind!!). Anything, really, is appropriate - it's just a little "I'm thinking of you" surprise. Sometimes, I use silly bands or bracelets, stickers, a handwritten note that says "I love you", or I will just draw her a silly picture. It doesn't have to be elaborate - and that's the beauty of it - you can do something simple, but it will have a big impact on your kids.
I believe these are the basic "building blocks" of a healthy lunch. And I think as long as you get something from each food group into that bag, kids will eat! They might not eat as many veggies as you would like, but in the end they are getting good food, healthy food, and you are saving money (and now time) making lunch for them...it's an easier way for you to help your kids live a richer, fuller life.

So go ahead and pack those lunch bags, mommas - there's nothing to worry about, you've got the tools to get it under control!!

Here are some example pictures of lunches I have made for my little one (just so you can see the creative cookie cutting I do!!)

A word of warning: If you have older kids, like teenagers, all bets may be off here!!!

Have questions or comments? Come on by my blog, my FB page, or even Twitter and ask away!!! If you need help packing lunches, I'm here for you.


  1. It's not just for little ones! My oldest, 11, takes his lunch to school. We bought the black Glad boxes, they remind me of a bento box. We cut his sandwich and things into fun shapes to fit. His lunch got a compliment from other students and a teacher!

  2. I would love to send lunch every day with my kids, but they only take it when they don't like what the school is serving. Great ideas though! I like the freezing extras one. :)

  3. I like the picking at things recommendation. I have to pack lunches for my toddler who is in daycare, and it's difficult to figure out what he wants and what will keep him full until it's pick up time. Stuff they can pick at is a great idea!

  4. Carla, thanks for your guest post. Really helpful ideas here!

  5. Elizabeth, I think that is so cool that you do that for your eleven-year-old! He has one lucky mama!

  6. Jen, I'm just now experiencing what it is like to lose control of your child's food choices. At preschool the moms take turns sending in a snack. Last week I brought in homemade muffins, grapes, cheddar cheese and juice. Yesterday, the kids apparently only had crackers because whatever else was brought in had nuts in it. Sigh.