How to Pack Lunch (Without Losing Your Mind)

by Sally on January 22, 2015

Sanity-Saving Lunchbox Resolutions--Real Mom Nutrition

My friend, fellow blogger, and mom of two Brianne DeRosa of Red, Round, or Green packs a good lunch.  So good that her lunches inspired me to write the tongue-in-cheekly-titled Your Child’s Lunch Makes Me Feel Inferior and beg her to pack my lunch every day too (we haven’t figured out those logistics yet). Bri insists that these lunch boxes aren’t hard or stressful to put together. And I believe her. Bri is a pro at working out systems that make food prep faster, easier, and more enjoyable. In this guest post, Bri shares tips for packing a great lunch for your kids without losing your mind (or feeling inferior!)–which starts by making a few resolutions.

Lunchbox Resolutions

by Brianne DeRosa

Now that the frenzy of the holiday season has passed and the kids have been back to school for a couple of weeks, most of us are probably feeling that the bloom is off the lunch-packing rose. If you’re anything like me, you get a little jolt of energy – a revitalization, if you will – after any lengthy school break, and come back to lunchbox duty with fresh determination. And then a week passes. Or two. And then you realize it’s only JANUARY, for the love of all that’s good and holy, and you still have HALF OF A SCHOOL YEAR TO GO.

At this point, you may do one of two things: Either curl up in a corner and rock slowly for a while, or make a foolish – but inspiring – set of New Year’s Lunch Resolutions. You may go slightly mad and construct a list that looks something like this:

      • Buy and use any and all available wildly fabulous bento kits, multi-themed picks, pre-filled love notes, cloth napkins, squeezy tubes, biodegradable baggies, non-biodegradable reusable baggies, and eco-friendly monkey wood utensils made by actual non-enslaved monkeys. Hug a tree each morning on the way to the bus stop, for good measure.
      • Make all lunchbox items from scratch, using only organic and locally sourced items. Because love.
      • Take a glossy photo each day, put it through a retro-inspired filter, and crop artistically. Add seasonal border and cute overlay text. Use photos to become Supreme High Ruler of Pinterest.
      • Go gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, meat-free, and sugar-free. All at the same time. I’m pretty sure Gwyneth Paltrow does it for her kids, so it can’t be that hard to do it for mine, right?

When things get to this point, I can only say, with love: Go home, parents. You’re drunk with Pinterest power, and you need to sleep it off.

Seriously, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, when the only real requirement for packing a child’s lunch is that you do the best you can with the information and resources you have at the moment. If you want to set some goals for better lunch-packing, I’m all for it – after all, goal-setting can be a positive habit. I would just encourage you, ever so gently and lovingly, to slowly back away from the internet and make a list of New Year’s Lunchbox Resolutions that are realistic, specific, and achievable.

My suggested list:

1. Define “good enough” and stick to it. In our house, I’ve always stuck to what I call the “Rule of Three”: If there are three items in the lunch that I consider to be viably nutritious choices, my job is done. Anything else is gravy. Not actual gravy. Imagine gravy in a lunchbox? Oy, the mess…

2. Identify one “packing point of madness” and work on that. The “packing point of madness” is the thing that either a) drives you insane on at least a weekly basis; or b) routinely stresses you out. For me, the “packing point of madness” is the school snack, which somehow manages to catch me off-guard every single darned morning (“I just PACKED two bento containers that actually contained most of the food groups and remembered the stupid water bottles! This again?”). I’ve (mostly) solved the problem by creating an informal snack rotation for myself, which lists 10-12 items I consider acceptable and reminds me to stock up on those each week; and making sure to ask the kids to each choose one preferred item and remind me to put it on the grocery list. Your “packing point of madness” might be different from mine – for example, you might have trouble with timing or variety or OMGEVERYTHIIIIING. But pick one, and work on only that one thing, over time. Your sanity will thank you.

3. Forgive yourself (and your kids) for monotony. Bloggers like myself can be as much hindrance as help to other parents, because we can give the impression that only a widely varied selection of lunches will do. Not so. If you examine my lunches carefully, you’ll notice (as some astute readers have) a daily parade of sliced bell peppers. Why? Because my kids like peppers. A lot. They ask for them. Daily. And I’m just frankly too tired in the morning to care. If your lunch-packing routine works for you and the kids, then call it done. Nobody has ever died from too many days of egg salad and apple slices.

4. Work smarter, not harder. Try to do one little thing each day that will improve your lunch-packing life later on. Grill two extra chicken breasts at dinnertime and slice them up for wraps. Make a bigger salad than you need and immediately box up the extras (without dressing) for lunches. During a commercial break, throw together the bread, meat, and cheese for a few favorite sandwiches and toss them in the freezer. Thinking about packing lunch only when you actually have to pack the lunch is your worst enemy.

I hope these resolutions will help keep you sane through the next several months of packing school lunches. My own personal sanity-saving resolution, at the moment, is to discover the secret to making my children use the napkins I pack for them. Either that, or to invent school uniform polos made of Bounty Paper Towel. It could go either way at this point.

Need more lunch-packing inspiration? Check out my 14 Best Lunches of 2014, or get my downloadable e-guide, “Back to School the Organized Way,” offering 12 weeks of lunch menus, recipes, and a game plan for making and freezing 60 school lunches and 14 family dinners – all fully customizable for both vegetarian and gluten-free diets.

Brianne DeRosa is a freelance writer and communications consultant who blogs at Red, Round, or Green. She’s also a regular contributor to HandPicked Nation and a team member for The Family Dinner Project, and was a featured contributor to the “Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Easy Lunchboxes” cookbook. Bri has packed approximately one skillion lunches, by her modest estimation.


10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters

by Sally on January 12, 2015

10 Tips for Pleasing Your Picky EaterMy younger son is usually the toughest customer at the dinner table every night. But when he was about five years old, he asked me, “Mommy, what’s a picky eater?” I was glad he didn’t know what it was, because that meant he was never labeled as one.

So while I don’t advocate for calling kids “picky”, I do use the term here on my blog because it’s one we all know. It sums up the garden variety food refusals that a lot of parents encounter with their young kids–refusals that can make mealtime hard. (Learn more about what might be going through your child’s head during this stage: What Your Child Wants to Tell You About Picky Eating.)

So if you’re in that boat with your kids right now, here are 10 tricks that just might help:

1. Make “Zebra Pasta” 

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom NutritionIf your family isn’t sold on whole wheat pasta, mix half and half with white pasta and give it a silly name.

2. Serve veggies in unexpected way

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

 At snack time or as a pre-dinner appetizer, put some veggies in an unexpected container, like a glass, mug, or measuring cup. That curveball may be enough to make them more enticing.

3. Or keep veggies big

10 Tips for Pleasing Picky Eaters

This is another way that serving veggies in unexpected ways can lead to happy results! Keeping veggies big–even leaving the green tops on carrots and celery–can be fun for kids. I used to ask my son if he wanted his carrot big “like a bunny” or stalk of celery big “like the Wonder Pets”.

4. Pack a checkerboard sandwich

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

This fun lunchbox surprise is a good compromise if your kids like white bread but you want them to eat whole grain. Use one slice of white bread, one slice of whole grain, then cut into six pieces and flip three of them to create a checkerboard.

5. Put food on a stick

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom NutritionI don’t know about your kids, but mine love eating stuff off a stick: fruit, meat, or veggies. Pick up a bag of wooden skewers at the store–or use lollipop sticks, which aren’t as sharp.

6. Puree onions into a paste

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom NutritionI like using onion in recipes, but my kids don’t like finding pieces of slippery onion in their food. So I quarter an onion and puree it in my mini chopper until it becomes a paste. You get all the onion flavor but without the onion bits. I sometimes make multiple batches and freeze them flat in zip-top bags.

7. Use white pepper instead of black

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

I heard this idea from a friend and thought it was genius, especially since my younger son’s pepper radar is always on high alert. If you’ve got a child (like mine) who will balk at a food if there are visible pepper flecks–but you still want the pepper flavor–swap out black pepper for white, which disappears more easily into food.

8. Roast veggies

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

Roasting makes veggies crisp and brings out their natural sweetness. Roast broccoli, carrots, asparagus, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, you name it. Just toss veggies in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until brown and crisp.

9. Create a buffet

10 Tips For Pleasing Picky Eaters by Real Mom Nutrition

Kids like having control, so try putting meal components in dishes and letting everyone choose what they want. They may not take everything–and that’s okay. But giving choices reduces the pressure on them, which may lessen some of their resistance.

10. Have fun!

10 Ways to Please your Picky Eater by Real Mom Nutrition Ask your kids to be recipe reviewers, rating foods on different scales (taste, aroma, appearance) or how well they like it. You can download and print this free Recipe Reviewers Chart (shown above) from the Meal Makeover Moms. For more ways to add fun to dinner, including playing “restaurant” and other games, read 6 Ways to Add Fun to Family Dinner.

Do you have any tried-and-true tips that work for your kids? Please share!


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Your Child’s Lunch Makes Me Feel Inferior

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Ever been gripped with insecurity after seeing photos of stunning packed lunches on Pinterest or Facebook? I have. I mean, c’mon. Look at these lunches. They are things of beauty! They were all packed by my friend and fellow blogger Bri from Red, Round, or Green. She often posts photos on Facebook of the lunches she assembles for […]

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Like most kids, mine love a little sweet treat tucked into their lunchboxes. I  don’t include a dessert every day. But when I do, I love when it can be homemade. Ever since I saw this video for Katie Morford’s new book Best Lunch Box Ever, I’ve been wanting to make these Oatmeal Bars. So […]

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{Giveaway} Best Lunch Box Ever

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Simple No Bake Cookie Balls

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When you’re hankering for something sweet–but don’t feel like turning on the oven or spending a bunch of time in the kitchen–I’ve got four words for you: No Bake Cookie Balls. I already love these Peanut Butter Balls. But I recently discovered three delicious-looking cookie ball recipes from Snack Girl. So I made them all, one […]

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New Year, New Gear: My Lunchbox Gameplan

August 13, 2012

Anyone else geek out over lunch packing gear? I caught the bento bug two years ago (read Bento-a-Go-Go). I hope that someday I’ll have the energy to cut cucumbers into flowers and draw faces on tuna sandwiches. But in the meantime, I just like the fun and ease of divided containers. And I finally found […]

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