Before Orson started Pre-K, I worried about packing lunches for him everyday. I bought a lot of cute bento supplies & practiced adding a few cute touches... and made a few complex bentos, just for fun. Unfortunately Orson was not really excited about the intricate lunches, and often would not eat them. When we learned his Pre-K provided lunch, I was a little bummed, but relieved too.
The next year he started Kindergarten, and I had to prepare again. After much debate I bought a set of Easy Lunch Boxes, because I liked that they have a few divided sections but only one lid for the whole box. (My son really loves that too.) I did have a hard time finding a lunchbag to fit them however, and really had to cram it into a standard size bag. The big box also left no room to add a water bottle, and I had to search forever for something narrow to fit in there.... And then it leaked several times and soaked everything in his bookbag, so I had to hunt again! (I finally found some small bottles from apple juice that fit OK, but by the end of the year I tried putting it in his bookbag pocket instead. Of course he forgot to grab it for lunch it every time.)
Unfortunately the standard lunchbags tip the Easy Lunch Box on its side, so putting cute bento-style details are pretty much out of the question because they would be instantly up-ended. Maybe one year I can find a lunch box with a handle on the top, but for now I'm getting two young kids ready in the morning and don't know that I'd have time to try anything creative anyway!
Once I had my lunchbox/bag situation figured out, it was time to plan the food! I started by making a list of everything I could think of that Orson will eat. Then I scoured some lists of lunchbox ideas, and added new ones to my list. I was planning on having him buy lunch twice a week, so I looked at the school lunch calendar and picked out two school lunches each week that he'd like, then filled in the calendar the rest of the way with lunches I would make.
The school cafeteria is on a three week rotation of lunches, and considering there are not *that* many things a 5 year old will eat, that ended up being perfect for my lunches as well. Bringing lunch three times a week, that means I needed 9 ideas for lunches to pack. I planned the main meal and veggie, but then would add whatever fruits we had on hand for the 3rd section. I was also pretty flexible with the schedule, rearranging meals if needed, or swapping something out if I was missing an ingredient.
So, here are the 9 lunches I made throughout the year!
Grilled cheese with corn ~
Pigs in a blanket with roasted kale (seaweed snacks pictured) ~ I started out buying cocktail sausages, but they are pricey and I never needed the full pack. After a few months I tried cutting up hot dogs instead, and 1/3 of a hot dog cut in half lengthwise work perfectly! I also stopped buying crescent roll dough and started thawing out 1 frozen Grand biscuit cut in 1/8ths. I hardly ever have extra kale on hand and usually ended up adding the seaweed snacks he loves instead. Kids love those things!
Fish sticks with green peas ~ I found the little container for the ketchup next to the salad dressings at our grocery store! Perfect fit.
Sandwich on a Stick ~ Bread, lunchmeat, cucumbers, and mini tomatoes loaded onto skewers. A fun twist on a sandwich! If you want to add cheese slices, I found that it works best to cut a hole in the cheese slice with a straw first, or else the skewer hole cracks the cheese and it falls apart. I love that you can use pretty much any leftover bread (like hamburger or hot dog rolls) for these! He won't touch the cherry tomatoes, but I can't resist adding them.
Mini biscuit pizzas with carrots & dip (roasted kale pictured) ~
Rice balls with spinach goma-ae (seaweed snacks pictured) ~ At the start of the year, I made sushi rolls (with cooked imitation crab), but Orson got sick one day after eating them & then was afraid to eat them after that. I switched to stuffed rice balls, which is probably the most complex lunch on the rotation, but if you have the sushi rice & filling made ahead of time and frozen, each ball only takes a few minutes. I quickly learned not to try to do it all in the morning! That goma-ae recipe is a little different than mine, but I don't have mine written up yet. It also freezes well, I just ran out!
PBJ & seaweed snacks ~
Mini sandwiches with cukes ~ Hawaiian rolls with lunchmeat, cheese, and mayo. Later in the year he had me start adding ketchup & mustard too.
Tofuniku with edamame ~ Another Japanese recipe my son loves! The meat is simmered in a sweet sauce then served over rice. This is another one where I make a big batch and then freeze small servings for his lunches. I always try to keep frozen rice in the freezer too, and it tastes just like fresh rice when you reheat it.
These pictures were all taken at the end of the year, and I packed in a few more sweets & chips than I normally would. Orson stopped eating pears, peaches, and oranges this year, so I'm having a hard time coming up with fruits for him!
The Easy Lunch Boxes are not leak-proof, so any time I had something liquidy, I tried to drain it off as good as I could and then tucked a paper towel along the bottom edge of the box ~
This worked pretty well, but the pineapple often leaked a bit and made his lunch box smell horrible! I started throwing his lunchbag in with our towel laundry (which soak in ammonia before washing). It does a great job of killing the smell.
This year his 3-year-old sister starts 2 day preschool and will need to bring her lunch too. Unfortunately she hardly eats anything, and her school is nut free (no PBJs), so I have no idea what I'll pack for her! It's time to pull out the calendar and start planning again!