Planning can take the stress out of packing school lunches

swthompson@herald-leader.comAugust 15, 2012 

It's only lunch. What's the big deal?

The first few weeks of a new school year are when parents stress about what to feed their youngsters.

Lunch programs at schools provide nourishment, but picky eaters often prefer a lunch packed (or supervised) by mom or dad.

Choosing healthful items for your child's lunch means careful planning, extra trips to the supermarket and time allotted for making sandwiches and cutting up fruit. Ideas for lunch box items are plentiful, but after the first couple of weeks of school, children often become bored with their usual choices, and parents tire of the chore. But it's important for parents to keep the pantry stocked with fresh ideas.

Planning is the key. "Mommy blogs" and Pinterest are loaded with quick ideas for packing no-stress lunches.

Evelyn Cucchiara, author of 30 Days to an Organized Home, blogger at, and mother of three sons, is an expert at organizing family dynamics. In an email, Cucchiara said the routine that works best for her family is "repeating the same systems over and over. If it works, stick with it. Saves you time, energy and thought power. You know what to plan for, they know what to expect."

These tips for making school lunches works well for her boys, Cucchiara said. They make a week's worth of lunches on Sunday.

■ Set up an assembly line, making five at a time.

■ Wrap in foil sheets, like the ones available at the big box stores (Costco, Sam's Club).

■ Check what's in the products you are using. No sense making lunches at home if you're not using healthy ingredients. Especially check the bread — many labeled wheat are not whole wheat, just white bread colored to look like whole wheat.

■ Pack snacks in reusable plastic containers to save the expense of buying plastic bags

■ Make desserts on Sunday also — then pack individually and freeze.

■ Get each child a water bottle labeled with his or her name. The child is in charge of filling it up daily.

Kitchen organizing tips

■ Storing all dry goods in resealable containers takes up less space in the cabinet and kids can help themselves.

■ Store condiments on a lazy Susan in the fridge.

■ Buy often-used items in bulk so you don't have to make last-minute trips to the store.

■ Get rid of any kitchen bowls/pots/pans and other items you don't use on a weekly basis — or at least store them somewhere you won't bump into them daily.

After a few weeks into the school year, parents might be tempted to buy prepackaged lunch kits. Most are high in saturated fat and sodium, and low in fiber and other nutrients. You can make a lunch kit easily that's more nutritious and less expensive.

Bento lunch boxes are popular with youngsters, and you can buy a variety of bento-style containers. Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. You can buy disposables or two-tiered themed boxes such as Hello Kitty, Kotobuki Samurai Warrior, frog face or piggy.

Here are some ideas for lunch.


Shake-up salads are easy. Simply layer salad ingredients in a plastic container that your child can shake up when he or she is ready to eat.

Mandarin chicken

1/4 cup drained mandarin oranges

1⁄3 cup shredded cooked chicken breast

1⁄3 cup steamed broccoli

1/4 cup chow mein noodles

Layer ingredients in plastic container and shake when ready to eat.

Macaroni salad

1/4 cup pizza sauce

1 cup cooked elbow macaroni

1⁄3 cup defrosted frozen peas and carrots

1/4 cup diced mozzarella cheese

Layer ingredients in plastic container and shake when ready to eat.

Taco salad

1/4 cup salsa

1⁄3 cup rinsed black beans

3/4 cup chopped lettuce

1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1⁄3 cup baked tortilla chips, broken

Layer ingredients in plastic container and shake when ready to eat.

From Parents Magazine

Lemon hummus

1 can (16 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon dried cumin

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Serve with pita bread or pita chips.

From Parents Magazine

This recipe, found on Pinterest, may be made in advance, and the muffins can be stored in the freezer.

Corn dog muffins

1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix

1 egg

1⁄3 cup milk

4 turkey hot dogs, cut into 5 pieces

Prepare muffin mix according to package instructions. Grease 20 slots in a mini-muffin tin and spoon a small amount into the bottom of each.

Place a piece of hot dog on top of muffin batter. Cover with a spoonful of muffin batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Makes 20 muffins.

Here's a recipe we found on several blogs. Some posts suggest using melted frosting in place of the melted chocolate. Heat the frosting in the microwave in 15- to 20-second intervals until desired consistency and mix with cereal in place of melted white chocolate.

Cake batter treats

1 cup white chocolate chips or 10 ounces vanilla-flavored almond bark

2 tablespoons cream cheese

2 tablespoons milk

5 cups Chex cereal (rice or corn)

1 cup boxed red velvet cake mix (or any flavor)

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Make a double boiler with a pot filled with an inch or so of water, and a glass bowl that fits inside the pot; the bottom should not touch the water. Turn heat to medium.

Place white chocolate chips or almond bark in bowl; stir until melted.

Turn off heat and add cream cheese and milk. Stir until cream cheese is melted and everything is combined. Stir in cereal until fully coated.

In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together cake mix and powdered sugar. Transfer cereal to a plastic container, top with cake mix and place lid on container. Shake until mixture is combined.

Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog:

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