Lunch box shenanigans

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I am having trouble (already, so early in the year) coming up with lunch box goodies for a child who seems to eat very little of whatever we put in. Phil packs her a lunch, she goes to school, she comes home and I open her lunch box and empty most of the original contents into the compost. Why? Because she doesn’t have enough time to eat, apparently, as there are other good things to do such as play. Argh. Also each day she says “oh mum, can you leave out the … (insert delicious and nutritious snack which was all the rage last week) because I don’t like that any more.” and I say “Ok, sure, so now that leaves you with butter sandwiches with the crusts cut off… that’s your entire lunch.” and she says “Well, actually I don’t like brown bread mum.” and I say “You don’t say.”

So I have been stumped.

When I was at the library last week I went through the recipe book section and pulled out a couple of gems including this one about boxable lunches called “Healthy Lunchboxes for Kids” by Amanda Grant. While the children on the front cover look luminous and eerily like something out of an era where you were taught to duck and roll under your desk incase of a nuclear attack, the book is actually pretty modern and quite inspiring. It’s a bit of a luxury really, to have a book full of ideas like “tomato soup” and “sausage rolls” and so on, but having a whole bunch of kid-friendly *and* lunch box friendly recipes all in one place and with such pretty pictures gave my brain the jolt it needed in this department. And you know? It’s nice to read a simple (obvious to anyone else, probably) recipe like “Tuna with mayonnaise & sweetcorn” and have one of those little lightbulb moments and think, of course! Sweetcorn in a tuna sandwich would be pretty nice! and so on.

On the list for making are: Mini pear cakes, fresh fruit jellies, cheese and seed biscuits, scones, puff pin wheels, afore mentioned sausage rolls, coleslaw, one or all of the four cous cous salads, wraps rather than sandwiches, etc etc.

I am also going to keep my eye out for a suitable thermos flask so we can pack some wintery pastas, soups and left-overs.

Not that she’ll eat any of it.

Things that have worked this year :
Inari (picked up the day before from the sushi bar, though I am sure it would be dead easy to make your own)
Watermelon cubes with grapes and blueberries
A tablespoon or so of expensive, nice yoghurt
Koo’s muffins (though my last lot may have contained toxic frozen, thawed then frozen fruit and caused household gastrointestinal issues) 

What works for your kids?

I’m hopping over to Vegan Lunch Box now for a refresher course in inspired lunchboxing.

If you’re interested in Healthy lunchboxes for Kids by Amanda Grant, it is available at libraries with the call number: 641.534 GRA. The ISBN is 184597705X. It’s also available at Amazon and also from Fishpond in Australia.

40 Responses to “Lunch box shenanigans”

  1. Melissa

    A couple of things that have worked for me after 2 years of having a lunch come home and a flakey kid who was so ravenous he could hardly hold it together so who knows how he was doing anything like learning!I find now that I pack everything in his wide mouthed themos – usually it’s leftovers and they are still hot at lunchtime. I think this works for two reasons, firstly I just think he likes his food hot not cold, fair enough and secondly whatever is in the thermos isn’t seen by everyone around him so the whole peer thing doesn’t bother him anymore – he eats shanks, risotto, casseroles, fried rice, pasta whatever without everyone saying ugh what have YOU got for lunch.Secondly we are introducing a ‘Time for Lunch’ policy in our school where the kids do have 15 minutes to sit in class with their friends to eat, they don’t go anywhere, even if they’ve finished until that time is up. That seems to counter the whole gotta go and play thing and introduce the idea that eating is social not just a stuff and cram deal. What an epic – you don’t have to post this, just hope it helps…

  2. tiel

    i really don’t know where to start with this comment because I could have written this post. Except for the part about being good and going to the library.My daughter is still good about eating her lunches. In Prep they seem to have more time and more monitoring. A little like kindy. So most things are accepted and eaten by her. Carrot sticks; slices of cucumber; cheeses (she’d have Brie if I’d let her); banana chips; infact any visit to the local organic food store is always fun. Pikelets. Cold toasted sandwiches. Gherkins.

    My son on the other hand, now in year 1 apparently has no time to eat. the first bell goes and then ‘mum the next bell goes and I haven’t had any time at all’ He can’t have any nuts in his classroom, hates vegemite, hates cheese and yoghurt. He will eat just about anything else AT HOME. Vietnamese, thai, Japanese, chilli most vegetables and fruit….BUT at school, OH NO! honey sandwiches, a piece of fruit is about it. The only exciting thing would be a wrap with chicken, mayo and lettuce or egg, mayo and gherkin sandwich.

    it’s only term 2 and there is a long way to go. I feel your pain. 🙂

  3. Celeritas

    Although I don’t have kids and only do the lunchbox thing for myself I’m totally feeling the completely obvious recipes. I’m a real dunce when it comes to cooking and making food so simply things like take bread insert tuna and sweet corn is perfect for me. I agree the kids are kind of eerie.

  4. Kate

    Hi Claire,You might also try bookdepository.co.uk – I think it’s much cheaper than Amazon and has free shipping to Australia. (I’m not, sadly, a spruik for them – just a book addict!)

    Great find – I hope to get some inspiration, too!

  5. Kirsty

    What a great book!My little one is a long way off school yet (he’s 15 months) but already I’m struggling to put together meals that will satisfy him. He’s not fussy at all but he likes to eat, a lot, and I want to keep expanding his food repertoire.

    I’ve bought the Australian Women’s Weekly book Fresh Food for Babies and Toddlers which has a great family food section and I’ve also got Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. I haven’t cooked anything from that one because I’m not sure about it yet but it looks like a good way of getting ‘good’ stuff into our little ones.

    Ahhh patience and perseverance, something that we learn once we are parents.

  6. Cindy

    I am always in need of some lunch inspiration. It is so hard with fussy kids that seem to run on fumes. Like you say you get excited with last week enthusiastic response to have it some back the next. The funny thing I can remember eating vegemite sandwiches for years – nothing exciting then.

  7. Melanie

    Hey Claire,I recently picked up that book for the same reasons as you – desperate for inspiration for a fussy eater. I love it! Those puff pastry pin wheel things went over a treat and the honey soy sausages disappeared in no time. And I agree with you, nice to have those memory jog moments and to find some really dead simple ideas (i.e grated beetroot and grated cheese – genius!)

  8. Tiffany

    Oh, I TOTALLY hear you. The only thing my smaller person likes to eat is peanut butter sandwiches, which are naturally BANNED at school. I bought that book and encouraged her to look through it and choose things. The only stuff she was interested in was sweet baked things! Sigh. So I fear she will go through her entire school career eating Promite sandwiches, bananas, carrot sticks and cheese cubes.On another note, I agree with Kate’s comment – I buy books from them and it’s sometimes cheaper than buying them here even when they’re published here!

  9. Eleanor

    My kids are now teenagers so I have a different perspective, maybe I can help?Do not allow yourself to become your children’s personal chef, desperately concocting more and more brilliant lunchbox ideas only to find them brought back that same afternoon in a lumpy mess.

    Here’s the only recipe you’ll need, I call it “Lifelesson in a Lunchbox”:

    Send your child to school without any lunchbox. After all, if she’s not eating anything anyway, why pack it? She may not complain, she may just eat a large afternoon tea to compensate (my son survived and is a happy, healthy 14 year old now). If she does say she misses the lunch then so “All right,” but under no circumstances should you negotiate the lunchbox’s contents. You are not a personal chef, you are a busy and loving mum. Next morning, hand her a box containing a very very simply sandwich (yes, even just butter) and one piece of fruit.

    But the most important thing of all? All of that time and energy that you would be putting into the next lunchbox creation? Use it on YOURSELF, have a beautiful gourmet lunch and celebrate! 🙂

  10. Claire

    NICELY said Eleanor! thank you for your brilliant reality check. 🙂 Perhaps I am seeing the lunch box as a bit of a creative challenge for myself and really it makes so little difference to Amelia. They all think everyone else’s lunch looks better regardless.

  11. Kirsty

    Yes! The constant battle. We have found that mini croissants are fabulous. They are eaten cold by my kids mostly with honey, and sometimes with ham. We buy them from the supermarket, cut them in half and freeze them. Just get them out when you need them for lunchboxes.Also, the Thermos FooGo is fabulous. We had a larger wide mouth thermos but it was too hard for Ella to get her fork down to the bottom. She loves to take 2 minute noodles. I make my own version rather than the MSG filled supermarket version, using long life dried noodles cooked in chicken stock, then sprinkled with cheese. Quick and easy to make up in the morning before school. The FooGo keeps food hot for up to 5 hours, be sure to prewarm with boiling water.

    Last tip, never serve anything the same 2 days in a row – it always comes back! Unless of course it is a sugar laden treat.

  12. alivicwil

    I’m fussy when it comes to my lunch. I’m not really a fan of sandwiches. Mum used to give me cheese sandwiches, with unsalted (unspreadable) butter chunks… 🙁 I rarely ate them. I’d eat more when I came home! It was much better once I was able to buy from the canteen regularly.As a grown up, I eat leftovers for lunch – but kids tend not to have access to microwaves…That book looks great – even for me 🙂

    I teach high school, where we (largely) don’t worry about what our kids are eating, but in the primary part of my K-12 school, all kids have to sit with their class to eat, before they’re allowed to play. If the “too busy playing” thing happens regularly, I’d speak to the classroom teacher – s/he should take a little time during recess/lunch to make sure that Amelia is eating before playtime.

  13. Frogdancer

    This has nothing to do with lunches (my kids make their own) but I just wanted to tell you that I’ve FINALLY made some little toilet roll plant boxes for some leek seedlings. It didn’t take very long and I’ve bought some time before I have to put them in the ground. (The vegie garden is weedy and is a complete disgrace.)Thank you!

  14. robiewankenobie

    the bento box featured on vegan lunchbox is a life saver, i swear. my boys really enjoy having the different compartments. and, as vegetarians, i think it is a little less weird for them with a cool lunchbox.also? have her participate in the meal planning for the week. she should be old enough to pick from a pre-determined selection to fill each space. it’s a good opportunity to teach good nutrition. it would be up to her to pick out a protein source, fruit/veggies, and carbs.

    as for inari? super dead easy.

  15. Ellen

    Doesn’t she eat with her class before going out to play? Our kids eat inside with us for 15 mins at morning recess and at lunch… I make my class be fairly quiet at that time so they have time to eat. I can also check that they are actually eating. Have you mentioned to her teacher (quietly) that she doesn’t seem to be eating at school… It is good (from my teacher perspective) to know that!I’d love you to make me ANYTHING for lunch. I’d promise to eat it!!!

  16. Judy

    I was always sent to school with a sandwich, an apple, and a DingDong. I would throw away the sandwich, take a bite of the apple, and eat the DingDong. All my friends had wonderful lunches, but I didn’t, so I went and played kickball at lunch. I’m still trim and fit.

  17. Melissa

    I can really relate to this post Claire. I now have 3 lunches to pack. Mine actually eat what I ate, lot’s of fruit and vegemite sandwiches. Boring, but I am just glad they eat it!

  18. Cristy

    The Vegan Lunchbox recipe book is quite good too – lots of fun ideas. Also, have you tried her “whole meal muffins”?Mountain bread rolls are something that I have had success with lately – with my admittedly not fussy two-year old. They are easy to fill with new, interesting fillings though – avocado, tempeh & tomato; cream cheese & salad; hommous & tabouli; etc…

    Good luck!

    I must admit that, like Judy, I was sent to school with a (half-frozen) brown bread roll, an apple and an occasional muesli bar or Le Snack and it never really bothered me…

  19. kate

    The two year old here tends to be most enthusiastic about raw veggies with dip (which is easy!) so carrots, snow peas and so on with hummus mostly. But I’m with Eleanor, don’t get into culinary gymnastics for someone who isn’t eating, you’ll just get resentful about all the wasted effort.

  20. Kirsty

    Yikes … gastro.We also make ham & cheese pikelets which are a huge hit. We just add them frozen to the lunch box too.

  21. Jennifer

    I just wrote about bento box lunches today! I admit that the contents of Emily’s lunchbox are pretty much non-negotiable. She has her preferences, and there are some things I don’t put in (onions and mushrooms come to mind), but by twelve o’clock I know that she is so hungry that she will eat all of her lunch. And if she doesn’t, then she can’t be that hungry. Also a believer in the “11th charm” (at other meals, as well as at lunch): if she or her sister refuses to eat something, I will try again. Then again another time. If they refuse even ten times, if the message is, “This is what we are eating”, then they seem very willing to try it, eventually. And then 9 times out of 10, they really do like it!A big thumbs up to lunchinabox.com for great ideas and inspirations to put the most variety into lunch boxes without so much added stress.

  22. mumseekslife

    As long as I get a piece of fruit in there somewhere I am happy and I did try not to fall over when my eldest suddenly decided she wanted a ‘salad’ or something after five years of marmite sandwiches. Oh the joy!

  23. lisa c

    Every mom struggles with this. Mine are 12, 10 and 7 and there is nothing they want me to pack. Gone are the days of peanut butter and jelly – they don’t like it anymore. I try to give them crackers and peanut butter but they are tired of that as well. Mine take rice cakes and cream cheese A LOT! My son likes a bagel with butter, but I feel like that’s not a real lunch. They don’t want to buy lunch because it is gross. They are happy with fruit salad and stuff like that. I think the bento lunches look great, but alot of effort.

  24. Happydacks

    Sounds great! Fingers crossed the muffin recipe is appreciated here. I am very tired of my 6 yr old melting down at the school gate because her energy is far too low! It sounds like a perfect recipe base to work with and add good things to.And something I can squirrel away in the freezer also makes me feel under control. I thought Eleanors comment was really good advice and I have been trying something like that eg. Just packing a plain vegemite sandwich with an apple. I will be trying these muffins really soon. Thanks Claire

  25. littlem

    I like this book for lunch ideas: The Top 100 Recipes for a Healthy Lunchbox. It also points out allergy options.

  26. elissa

    There are some great suggestions in this list, but no matter what I send, it comes back with one or two bites out. Today, for example, I sent home made bread the kids were in raptures over at breakfast. Clearly worn off by lunch.We have found pikelets are the most consistently eaten, good with Vegemite too!

  27. victoria

    You know what, you’ve been doing school a lot longer than me (a year at least) and I feel bad saying that I am already not that imaginative. I’ve tried “different” foods but honestly, I know she eats what she likes and that is a staple of vegie and cheese sandwiches or “special ham” aka strass. I tried wraps, which I tried out with her in advance, but they were left, left over chicken and couscous, nope. She always eats her fruits though and her “treat” which is usually a homemade muffin or cake. Honestly, it’s like dinner time, I could try all the things in the world, but ultimately with all the best intentions, you want them to eat, whatever works.

  28. lexi

    So many great ideas, and that book looks fab!We also have the Foogo thermos (and the drink bottle) and they are super good. Perfect size for little hands to manage.

    For Noah I have one of those long Tupperware lunchboxes with all the different sections. His teachers call it his ‘buffet’, but for him (and me) it makes lunch a little more exciting (he’s going through a tricky food stage too – wants PB sandwiches all the time).

    Oh and I renamed all his food – a la Charlie and Lola. Peas are no longer peas, they’re supersonic space balls. You get the drill.

  29. Carol

    In my experience kids won’t eat from thermos flasks – so don’t waste your money there. Piece of easy to eat fruit and a small sandwich (white bread if prefered, there really is nothing wrong with it) – or crackers and cheese type of thing and a drink (water if possible) and you are set.Don’t stress on it or try to make her eat what she doesn’t want to – or is embarrased to in front of friends. At least she is bringing it home, uneaten and is not justing throwing it in the bins and lying to you about eating it. Involve your daughter, ask her what she wants, what her friends eat etc. You might not like the answers – but go with it/moderate it – otherwise the years of lunch making ahead of you will be filled with stress and unhappiness on both sides.

  30. Viv

    You read my mind! I was browsing through one of Annabel Karmel’s books in the bookshop just today! Maybe I’ll do a search for yours in the library. My 8-year old complains about getting the same thing day in day out, “but you don’t like anything else!” I point out helpfully… I could do with some simple easy but most importantly different recipes so thanks for the suggestion.

  31. Hayley

    I frequently daydream about packing lovely bento boxes for C when he gets a bit older, but I am then reminded of one of the Great Truths of the Universe: there is an INVERSE corollary between the amount of time/effort/glee spent making a toddler’s meals & the number of bites said toddler will take before declaring, “All done! Can I have a snack now?”There’s a similar corollary governing what elissa’s discovered – that which is snarfed with reckless abandon at breakfast will be roundly rejected come lunch time… 🙂

  32. Sooz

    What you describe is pretty much universal i think. Amy loves cold left over pasta, go figure. I suspect this is because this is what her buddy has but regardless of why I can be sure she will eat ANY kind of pasta and doesn’t care at all that it isn’t warm. I also find she eats all her lunch if I get the amount right – I think maybe she gets overwhelmed by too much and doesn’t eat much at all? I have also noticed that skills in trading have emerged. All the food has been eaten but not necessarily by her and the nutricious wholegrain crackers where traded for a dippy bic pack and so on. I think my only lesson has been not to assume that I should pack a lunch *I* might want to eat.

  33. Laura

    I don’t have kids, but I packed my own lunch from the time I was about 8. We had pretty basic possibilities- celery & carrot sticks, sandwich makings, granola bars, juice boxes, and only one cookie per day was allowed. Or we could take left overs (if there were any). Those were the options unless we asked for something special the Saturday before from the grocery. I think it worked because if I was hungry, I ate!

  34. Lisa

    Current favorites for my 5-year-old daughter are:- pastrami on rye – chicken nuggets (I was happy to have found some made from actual chicken breasts and not the scary scraps of a chicken)- hummus and veggie sticks- greek yogurt with chopped apples and plums- raw broccoli, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms with a little feta tossed in, and sometimes I put a little ranch dressing too, though she’ll eat it plain- smoothies

    We go through periods when she won’t eat anything I pack, or the thing that worked for ages suddenly doesn’t. But right now these are the things she likes best, and I’ve finally soften a little and allowed her to do the school’s lunches once a week. I think the novelty and variety of buying lunch once in a while makes her boxed lunches more appealling too. At least that’s my theory.

  35. christie

    it’s all about snacks for our son.his lunchbox has 4 small compartments so we usually do some bite-sized sandwich pieces, some strawberries/orange, some yoghurt & maybe some biscuits or carrot sticks or a muffin.

    so far it works so we haven’t messed with the formula & he is a pretty picky eater

  36. Stacey

    My two boys love what they call “finger food lunch”.It’s usually either a hard boiled egg or chicken leg, with some dry biscuits, a piece of cheese and either carrot or celery sticks.

    They have that two or three times a week and it always gets eaten.

  37. Vtg

    The prize for world’s best lunchboxes (in blog form at least) has to go to wokkingmum.blogspot.com Not that most mums could achieve these masterpieces every morning but it’s nice to know where the sky lies!

  38. nicole

    Hey, I just found your blog via frogdancer and I have to say I like it here ;-)My son is 8 and he’s “the kid who does not eat”. He just doesn’t like eating. Even his favourite foods aren’t downed in 2 seconds, he eats slowly and never a lot. He’s always been that way. (Ok, except when he hit his head really hard when he was about 3. He ate really well for a week after that. My dad even called me every day to ask whether my son was still eating. When the week was over and I told my dad “He’s back to his old self now.” my dad said, very dryly, “Maybe you should hit him against a wall.”)Right now it’s getting better at school, he still sometimes brings back everything, but a lot of the time he’ll at least eat half his sandwich and share the rest with a friend, so at least it’s not coming back!

    What worked for us for a while: cookie cutter cut sandwiches. I collect cookie cutters and have quite a few really large ones, about as large as a large slice of toast, so I’d make a sandwich and then cut out a shape. You could probably use a knife to cut a shape but I’m no good at that kind of creative stuff so I use my cookie cutters. The only thing you have to make sure is that you have something in the sandwich that sticks it all together. Cream cheese works well, a tiny little bit of margarine or butter or even mayo or ketchup, just enough to moisten the bread a little and let it stick to whatever you’re putting in it, like cheese or salami or whatever.If you have small cookie cutters you can cut veggies with those, too. Or “hard” fruit, like apples, pears, melon or not quite mushy kiwis. But my son doesn’t eat veggies and fruit is kind of hit and miss, so I don’t pack those things any more.

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