Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to School - Lunch Box Practice

School starts next week, and I'm gearing up to pack two lunches a day, five days per week.  I'm not new to the routine, but I've done a little practicing and preparation over the last couple of weeks.  For starters, I've packed lunches for some of our trips to the pool.  Although the meals are basically the same, we do have slightly different tastes.  Miss M has a smaller appetite, and Mister J's is growing.  This was a good way for me to visualize how much the kids would need in their boxes since it's been a while since I've packed them.
My lunch - with an extra sandwich wedge made with a sage-y bean spread, no carrot sticks (can't eat them with braces), add bell peppers
Miss M's lunch with tomatoes
Mister J's lunch with no tomatoes
They usually eat pretty well at the pool, but get hungry again quite quickly.  I supplement a normal-sized lunch with extra snacks and drinks.  It's pretty easy to do that since there's a break the last 10 minutes of every hour. 

I've gone to several sites with free printables to print out lunch box messages.  Sure, my kids love a few stickers and a note from mom, but the printables are quick and easy for days that I don't have time to track down the sharpies and stickers!  I keep them right in the cabinet with our lunch supplies so I don't have to go very far.

Another way I've started to prepare for the year is by trying out a few new things.  My kids don't mind my school-lunch experiments, but I also like to try new things when I can see their reactions.
New pasta dish based on an idea I'd seen somewhere else.  Verdict:  Mister J loved it, Miss M was not a fan.

You can see these in use in the lunches above.  I wanted to be sure they would a) not poke each other with them and b) put these back into their boxes rather than throw them in the trash (they can be washed and reused).  Thankfully, my kids are used to keeping everything that they find in the boxes.
I also experimented in one other way, though I'm not sure the folks at Laptop Lunches would endorse what I tried.  I've hand-washed the insulated carriers that my kids use, but after an unfortunate yogurt spill I was never able to get the zippers completely clean.  After several loads in our new front-load washer, I noticed that our clothes don't take nearly the beating that they did in our old top-loader, so I thought about tossing in the kids' insulated lunch carriers.  I figured that if it all went wrong, the kids could use our insulated lunch sleeves until I could order new carriers.  I decided to play it as safe as possible, and I put each carrier - closed but unzipped - into a zippered lingerie bag.  I put a couple of towels into the washer to cushion the bags a bit, washed them on cold, and set the spin cycle to a slower speed.  I'm pleased to say that they came out looking new.

Along with the two lunches I pack each day, I also pack a snack for Mister J.  Last year, I either packed a non-perishable snack (like a granola bar), or he would finish up any lunch leftovers.  Finishing up the leftovers was fine, except that he had to get his whole lunch out again.  I'm not sure if the teacher was a fan of that idea or not, but at least she never complained.  However I struggled with that idea a bit.  Lunch time is short, and snack time is even shorter so I didn't want Mister J to feel rushed.  I also wanted the flexibility to pack something like fruit or veggies, but the bento was already full.  As I was shopping earlier in the summer, I came across these insulated containers:
From packaging: aladdin Chill Snack Pack - 14 oz., includes ice pod
The ice pod is attached to the lid, but removable, so the capacity would be a little greater for a non-perishable snack.  Oh, and they come in at least two colors from T@rget.  They also had other sizes, but I didn't give those much attention since I have a pretty specific need.
I'm pretty sure these would get condensation either on the food or the outside of the container, and I'm guessing they would need to be inside of another insulated bag to remain cold.  I'm not sure how leak-proof they would be.  And, you'd need to wash the ice pod and the container after each use, and do it with enough time to spare that you could re-chill the ice pod.  So, as you can guess, I pretty much talked myself out of one.  But, I wonder if any of you have other ideas to share? 

Do you pack lunches for your kids?  Are you getting ready to send you oldest off to school and still trying to decide?  Questions, comments, and suggestions welcomed - and have a happy school year!


Shannon said...

Cool lunches! I think I found you from MTM, then again from Fed Up with Lunch!

We love bento style lunches at our house, and the kids even like to help pick out things for them. Did you see the little veggie/dip containers in the Target $1 spot? They are perfect for mini bentos/snack bentos! :o)

Also wanted to invite you to link up on What's for Lunch Wednesday bento post. It's just a fun, add your link, share a bento kind of post, if you'd like to join. It's on my blog ( probably the second post down today. It doesn't have to be a Wednesday lunch either, just a fun lunch you've made in a bento! :o)

RLR said...

Shannon - thanks for stopping by (twice)! I've been on the lookout for smaller containers suitable for bentos - sometimes I just don't need a whole lunchbox!
I've seen What's for Lunch Wednesday, and I am excited to join sometime. I haven't packed as many lunches lately, but I'm sure I'll post first-day-of-school lunches next week, so I'll link up then. Thanks again!