Time to make the lunches!

School starts tomorrow for my kids, which means it’s time to get to packing again. I began making their lunches several years ago for two reasons – money and nutrition (or lack thereof). I realized I was spending $35 a week for what I considered to be substandard sustenance – processed, fatty, carb and sodium loaded lunches with nary a fruit or vegetable to be seen – and knew we needed to make a change. I started thinking about what an amazing array of foods I could pack for that kind of money – delicious and healthy ones at that. The proverbial final straw was when my two came home and told me lunch was a piece of cheese pizza, a chocolate chip cookie and a bag of Doritos…oh, and a tiny carton of milk.

As a standard, I pack a main course (sandwich on wheat bread, wrap, soup or leftovers in a thermos), one or two fruits and veggies (usually fresh but sometimes things like canned pineapple in natural juice or applesauce), and a snack (pretzels, granola bar, goldfish crackers) as well as a yogurt and a drink (100% juice or chocolate soy milk). Occasionally I will throw in a special treat like gummies (with 100% vitamin C), dill pickles, cookies, a small piece of candy…or a Moonpie (don’t ask).

I ask for inputs and suggestions and am always on the lookout for new ideas to keep things fresh and interesting.  (Trader Joe's has some of the most unique lunchbox items - cinnamon almonds, pita chips, exotic dried fruits, fruit leather, and more!)  Probably the kids' single-most favorite lunch EVER is one I first made during a desperate time when I inadvertently found myself breadless. I called it a “snack pack” (and still do) and filled their lunch boxes with several small items including hard-boiled eggs, cheese cubes, celery or pretzels with peanut butter or hummus, edamame, and more.

Oddly enough, even the lunch lady thinks their lunches are cool – she comments regularly on them and told me she is always excited to see what new things I will pack each day.

Here are a few random lunch-packing tips everyone probably already knows, but I’m going to add them anyway.

• Keep the hot stuff hot and the cool stuff cool. Pour hot water into the thermos, cap it and let it stand for at least five minutes to warm the thermos lining before adding soup or other yummy hot food (spaghetti is a much loved choice around here). Add a reusable icepack to the lunchbox closest to the foods that need it the most.

• Wash the ice packs and lunchboxes at least once a week.

• I put a small bottle of germ killer in the outer pocket of their lunchboxes for those times when they aren’t able to wash their hands before chowing down.

• Buy large bags of food and divide it into smaller servings in reusable containers – those single serving, 100-calorie deals are both budget and environmentally UNfriendly. Ziploc and Lock&Lock both make an assortment of sizes. I personally prefer the Lock&Lock brand because they actually keep juicier items from leaking all over the inside of the lunchbox.

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