You know when you log onto Pinterest and see all of those amazing bento box lunches and you roll your eyes thinking ‘Who in the world is spending so much time making a lunch that their kids have less than 20 minutes to try to devour?! Don’t these people have things to do?’ Well, I must confess, I am one of ‘those moms’. And yes, like all other moms, I have plenty of other things on my ‘to-do list’. Unfortunately, prioritizing has never been a strength of mine and I’ll do almost anything to procrastinate from cleaning/putting away laundry. However, I must also admit that I don’t even do it for my daughter as much as I do it for me.
My name is Michele Langseth. I’m the mother to three girls, a caretaker to many (as an in-home daycare provider), and I run a small business from home. I NEED to constantly be creating something – whether it’s cooking, baking, sewing, crafting, event planning, or even packing lunches. Selfishly, these lunches just serve as one of my creative outlets and I really do enjoy it. However, I really enjoy sleeping too. So, if there is a day that I just don’t feel like making a lunch, then I read the school’s hot lunch menu with as much enthusiasm as I can manage to convince my daughter that the school’s ‘beef teriyaki nuggets’ will taste just like that marinated steak we had the night before. “You know, the steak that once you finished I had to give you most of mine to keep you from licking your plate?” Well, apparently those ‘beef nuggets’ didn’t actually taste the same, but I slept in a little later that morning and she survived just fine. Okay, I’m getting off topic now….
I often have people comment on how much time I spend on lunches, but the reality is that I typically don’t spend much time on them at all. I wake up later than I should every morning and while I should make them the night before, I rarely do. That leaves me making lunch in the morning, between the arrival of daycare kiddos, getting my 1-year old breakfast, making sure the 3-year old has put on pants for the day, and reminding my oldest repeatedly to brush her hair and put on socks (oh yah, and then searching through all the baskets of laundry for missing socks, because they are NEVER together). So trust me when I say, it’s pretty easy to ‘fake it’ with just a little creativity. You don’t need any fancy tools. However, it would be a lie to say I NEVER spend a ridiculous amount of time on a lunch. (Just ask my husband.) There are times I’m embarrassed to admit how much time I spent on an over-the-top themed lunch – but those are usually for special occasions/holidays. Here are just two of those ‘themed’ lunches I put together. (For those of you who are already rolling your eyes – just stick with me. I have some great SIMPLE ideas coming up too!)
I usually just send water for lunch. Other than the occasional sports drink, we just aren’t big juice drinkers. But, I love this fruit water as an alternative. This water has blackberries, peaches, and strawberries but you could try any fruit you have on hand. Plus it’s a great way to use of those berries before they go bad.
Plastic spider on a spider web egg – Blackberries and ‘BOO’ cantaloupe – Strawberry ghost– Rambutan fruit – Mummy sandwich – Monster cheese ball and crackers – Frankenstein marshmallow
I dressed up a plain water bottle with a free ‘witch’s brew’ printable label I found with a quick Pinterest search and cut out a witches shoe to attach to a striped paper straw.
Did you notice that there really isn’t a lot of ‘dessert’ in either of those? In fact, when my daughter saw the fall lunch she said “you can keep the candy pumpkins”. It’s not that my daughter wouldn’t love a giant cupcake or cookie in her lunch, but I truly think that when a meal looks great, kids don’t miss all the ‘junk’. Don’t get me wrong, I am not ‘health nut’ at all (and no, we absolutely didn’t make an Oreo ice cream pie for supper last night – that would be completely irresponsible…) but in the past 2 years of making my daughter’s lunches she has become so much more open to trying new foods and now almost always asks for fresh produce for a snack instead of candy/treats.
Some of the comments I hear the most are “my kid would never eat that”, “I’m just not that creative”, or “I don’t have time”. Well, I narrowed down some of my favorite tips to share with you that 1) don’t require any special tools or ‘super crafty skills’, 2) are quick and easy, and 3) will get your kids excited about trying something new (hopefully).
The majority of us struggle at some point to get our kids to eat vegetables. There are plenty of ways to ‘hide’ veggies in food, but I think it’s important to offer them in a way that makes them exciting to try, so when they realize that the like it they are also aware of what it is.
(These are like candy to my 6 year old. Seriously, we go through a bag every week.)
I used to cut them into strips until one day it occurred to me how much more fun they look when I cut them in rings. It took no more time, but it’s a little more exciting.
I can’t stress how important COLOR is. I’m not referring to the ‘rainbow’ of nutritional value, but simply because it is so visually appealing. Kids (just like adults) eat with their eyes first. If it’s exciting to look at, then it’s exciting to try. Just use a vegetable peeler to peel a variety of veggies into ‘ribbons’.
Who says you can’t play with your food? Let your kids dip celery ‘fishing poles’ into peanut butter and then pick up gold fish.
(Disclaimer – if your child already struggles with not having enough time to eat lunch, or is easily distracted, then this might be a better ‘after school snack’.)
Pop white chocolate chips ‘upside down’ into raspberries for a sweet treat! (Tip – Use what you have on hand! Don’t go buy white chocolate chips if you have an almost empty bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips from the last time you baked cookies.)
Spread a little peanut butter (or a peanut free alternative, if your child/school has limitations) on each nilla wafter then sandwich them around a slice of banana. Don’t forget to roll in sprinkles, because sprinkles make everything better!
Use whatever leftover candy melts, chocolate chips, or almond bark you have in your pantry to dip the top of a marshmallow (only have mini marshmallows? No problem, just make a few extras!) then dip in sprinkles/nuts/cookie crumbs… possibilities are endless.
Finally, I have a few easy alternatives to the basic sandwich.
1. Mini Sandwiches – ham/cheese sandwich with cheese flower and orange pepper center
I love ‘mini’ sandwiches. If you are concerned with waste, there are a lot of great sandwich cookie cutters available that utilize the whole slice of bread. I don’t usually worry about it because my daughter sits at the counter eating all the ‘scraps’ when I’m making her lunch.
2. Breadless Wrap – ham wrapped round cheese and apple slice, tied with a carrot ribbon
A ‘tie’ is not necessary, but to achieve the look just use a veggie peeler to peel a ribbon of any long veggie – carrot, asparagus, squash are all good options.
3. Fairy Sandwiches – Peanut butter sandwich with a star cutout and sprinkles
Technically I think ‘fairy bread’ is an Australian kids’ treat that is typically white bread with butter and sprinkles.
Tip – If you plan to cut the sandwich into a large shape (like this circle) cut the two pieces of bread first, then cut the small shape out of the top piece only before sandwiching them. If you cut the small shape first, then the bread will pull and distort the shape when you cut the whole sandwich.
4. Sandwich Skewers – PB&J with blackberries
I use skewers all the time because the possibilities are endless. If you are using bread/meat/cheese, cutting chunks of string cheese works great for skewering.
5. Wrap ‘Sushi’ – Ham, cheese, lettuce, and carrot ribbons wrapped in a tortilla then cut into slices
Just roll any meat/cheese/veggies in a tortilla and slice.
Are you curious about how to prepare some of the items featured above? Or do you have questions about the metal lunchbox? If so, you can check out my Facebook business page: Little Lollipop Designs. I’ll be posting more detailed information there as well as some additional inspiration for you to view. You can also follow me on Instagram @Littlelollipopdesigns to see all the projects that keep me busy.