Picky Eating Chronicles: School Lunchbox Tips and Ideas

Picky Eating Chronicles Blog

T-minus one week and counting!  Wednesday of next week my oldest will be starting back to school, followed by the little guy on Friday (strange schedule right?  I’m sure they have their reasons, but I think I would prefer a Monday start and a full week of school). And despite not feeling like we’ve quite had our fill of summer, I also feel ready to start back to school – except for the part about packing lunches.  And maybe the more rushed morning routines.  It’s nice not to have to get the kids out the door before I can start in on whatever I’m doing for the day.  But back to the lunch boxes.

Packing lunches for the kids is a necessity for my picky eaters. I highly suspect that the $2 per day for school lunch would result in the majority of the food going straight into the garbage untasted (except maybe dessert!) and I’m not ok with that.  While my kids can look ahead at the lunch calendar and choose days they would like to eat the lunches provided at the school, most of the time we just plan on them taking lunches from home.  In the past I haven’t minded that at all and suspect that in the long run it saves us money, too.  However, making lunches every day can quickly get old or become a struggle to send things that the kids will eat completely and not return half-finished or complaining that they are “sick of eating ____.” So I have developed a strategy of sorts for sending a variety of lunch ideas while still having to do only a minimum of prep and planning.
School Lunchbox Ideas
#1 – Make a list.  Nope, not a shopping list, but a list of the things my kids willingly eat regularly.  I know you can bring most of them to mind on demand, but it helps to have it written down somewhere so that when you are grogily packing lunches first thing in the morning you don’t have to worry about it, or you can look at the list before heading to the store and think “oh yeah they haven’t had grapes in a while, let’s pick some of those up.”

#2 – Categorize.  When I’m throwing together lunches I like to grab 3-4 items plus a drink and call it good.  I want it to be quick and easy, but I also want to get in most of the food groups if I can.  So I shoot for:
-a main item:  typically something with protein, something that will fill their stomachs and hopefully stick with them for a while
-something dairy, usually yogurt as this comes in many different varieties and flavors (greek, kid friendly with characters, Gogurt, drinkables like Danimals, with toppings, with granola, in a parfait, etc. etc.)
-a fruit or vegetable
-a filler/add on such as pretzels or crackers
I am hoping that I can teach this concept to the kids so not only will they be able to pack their own lunches, but apply it to meals in general.  (one can hope, right?)

#3 – Supplies.  Everything is easier if you have the right tools for the job.  When it comes to packing a lunch for school, of course you need a lunchbox but I also like to have on hand some ice packs, sandwich containers (no one wants a smushed PB&J!), napkins, inexpensive plastic forks and spoons (my kids usually remember to bring them home but just in case they get tossed I won’t be too upset), napkins, a thermos for keeping things warm, and other small storage containers in a variety of useful sizes.  I always find it’s useful to have multiples of everything, maybe two of each per child.
This also applies to the food choices themselves.  You don’t have to buy everything your kid likes every single week, but try to keep at least two or three things from each category on hand.  I always stock extra juice boxes or fruit cups when I find them on sale.  Or when I am making something like waffles or muffins that I know go over well in lunch boxes I will make a double batch and freeze the extras so I can just pop one in the toaster or microwave in the morning while I’m packing their lunch.

#4 – Variety.  I try not to send the same main dish more than twice in one week and their tolerance for the same fruit more than two or three times in a week runs thin.  Once I pushed it too far, giving my youngest applesauce for weeks (in my defense it was just about the only fruit he would eat at the time) and he got to the point where he flat out refused to eat applesauce at all.  It took us months before I got him to try it again and he will now eat it happily, however, I am not going to make the same mistake twice.  Even when kids appear to be happy eating the same thing over and over and over, change it up.  Variety leads to better nutrition and to better attitudes toward food.

#5 – Make it fun.  You don’t have to do something unexpected every day – and it’s probably more effective if you don’t – but adding in something a little bit unique a handful of times per month can go a long way to keep them enthusiastically eating their lunches.  I know, I know.  Some of you are about to running away screaming, thinking there is no way you are going to be able to pull off a themed bento box like the one you saw on Pinterest the other day, right?  Those are adorable, and I am totally that mom, like, once a year 😉  The rest of the time, I go for something a little faster and easier to pull off, but will still give the kids a little boost when they open up those lunchboxes.  It could be as easy as slipping in a cute note or lunchbox joke (I have a bunch of fun printable ones pinned on my Back To School Pinterest board if you need any ideas) or adding a cup of jello, a carton of chocolate milk, a slice of last night’s pie, or a piece of leftover Halloween candy. Maybe you have some leftover holiday napkins – stick those in the lunchbox.  Or fun toothpicks – spear a few cheese cubes or some grapes and ta-da!  Instant kebab that will have the kids grinning.  Or shaped sandwiches – those are big hits and it only takes one of those sandwich cutters or even a cookie cutter.  Maybe you want to get a little more elaborate, as I sometimes do.  Then you can roll out the bento boxes, the themed lunches, trick them for April Fool’s or gift wrap everything from your Elf on the Shelf.  Fun doesn’t mean hard or labor intensive, it just means different than the routine.

Ok down to the nitty gritty.  Here is my (hopefully always growing) list of ideas for the lunchbox.
Main dish/protein:
-sandwich (usually peanut butter though we do finally have the oldest enthusiastic about ham sandwiches with mustard and onions.  And sometimes I switch it out for Nutella or one of the other flavored nut spreads)
-wraps
-muffins (this one is my #2 Go To for sure)
-waffles or pancakes (again – I make bigger batches than I know we will eat and freeze them ahead of time)
-french toast sticks
-make your own “lunchable” with cheese, crackers, and cold cuts
-bagel and cream cheese
-trail mix (or just nuts)
-leftovers (this is rare mine will want them though Kaitlyn does love to reheat mashed potatoes and gravy)
-soup (again, not usually something my kids go for but once in a while I get lucky)
-breadsticks and pizza sauce
-protein bars or protein cookies (my brother is the king of make-your-own protein treat recipes)
-cup of noodles or easy-mac (good options if they have access to a microwave in the caffeteria, which my oldest does)
-dry cereal

Dairy:
-yogurt, Gogurt, and all the variations
-yogurt parfait or yogurt with granola (dry cereal in yogurt would also be good)
-smoothies (I usually do a combo of yogurt, fruit, milk/juice/almond milk, and maybe add in some Carnation Instant Breakfast or protein powder.  You can make these ahead and freeze individual servings.  Just be careful which containers you use – these leak easily especially if the kids are careless about putting lids back on after lunch)
-milk/chocolate milk (duh!)

Fruits and Vegetables:
-carrots (usually with ranch for dipping)
-celery (usually with peanut butter, especially when the main dish is light on protein)
-apples
-applesauce
-bananas
-grapes
*that’s pretty much the entire list of fruits and veg my little guy will eat.  For my daughter the sky is the limit.  She loves all fruit including mango, kiwi, berries, melon and has been known to gobble down handfuls of snow peas too.

Fillers:
-pretzels
-crackers
-chips (not usually my first choice but of course a favorite for the kids)
-Goldfish
-dry cereal

Other:
-Pop Tarts/toaster streudel
-Jello
-fruit roll-up/fruit leather
-cereal bars
-granola bars

So there you have it – my plan for dealing with lunches for this school year.  Hopefully I can get the kiddos to try a few more things and be able to add to it by the end of the year.  Anyone have more suggestions to add into the mix?  Are we ready for this?!!

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Back to School – Are We Ready for This?

AUGUST!  And we all know what that means – time to get ready to go back to school!

This summer feels like it has gone by oh so very quickly – even more quickly than usual.  With both kids on swim teams we spent a huge chunk of our time this summer at the pool, while working in housework, work-work, errands, and other fun stuff around the practices and the swim meets and holidays.  That made for a more fully scheduled summer than I had hoped for or planned on, but it worked out really well and everyone had a lot of fun.  We are now down to our last few days of swimming (Kate finished last week and Tyler will be done on Thursday) and I have found myself looking forward to a few weeks with only karate and piano lessons on the agenda.  No running around.  No stack of wet towels and swimming suits on the floor.  No having to wait until after lunch to start working on things or planning outings.  Awesome.

Back To School Are You Ready A look at how I get my kids all ready for school with school supplies shopping lunchbox ideas gifts for the teacher and more
On top of the temporarily slower pace, I have found myself switching gears and looking forward to the school season.  Plus – I kind of like back to school shopping 😉 There’s just something about stiff new jeans, shiny new notebooks, and an untouched box of crayons.  As soon as the stores started advertising school supplies for sale I pulled out the kids’ supply lists (so happy that this school is on the ball and sent home the supply lists for this year at the end of last year), made a list, and spent a day out and about with the kids.  We had a blast, actually.

Back to School Fun Instagram Alayna's Creations
(photo collage from my Instagram for the day)
So after all the fun of shopping, we divided up the supplies and set it aside for a while.  Today I found some extra time and decided to try to finish off our back to school prep.  The notebooks and crayons are all labelled.  The pencils and erasers are all stashed in the new cases.  Kaitlyn has happily organized the Trapper Keeper type binder (remember those?!) that she talked me into (anyone else sick of those cheap plastic 3 ring binders falling apart only 6 weeks into the school year?).

Back To School Supplies shopping and prep
The kids didn’t need new backpacks this year (thank goodness!  Once they were past the age of wanting a new character backpack every year I happily paid a bit more for sturdy backpacks that should last them for a few years) but I did spring for new lunch boxes.  I like the ones that are divided into sections or have more than one pocket so that some things can be cold while others can be hot or stay at room temperature and to keep the ice packs from smashing the more delicate food items.
Back to School Lunchbox Prep and Lunchbox notes
Finding a little something fun in their lunch boxes adds a lot to my kids’ day, so I always try to start off the year with a few notes and jokes pre-printed and ready to go.  This year I have printed these lunchbox jokes and these cute sandwich wraps

IMG_0936A
(photo taken last fall after we moved to the new school.  Ty didn’t actually go to 2nd grade twice 😉  )
No first day is complete without a photo, right?!  This year I will be using these printable signs for our first day of school photos.

As a final touch, I always like to send a little something for the teachers on the first day.  Usually I send some lotion or hand sanitzer with an “if you need a hand…” tag but this year I wanted to change it up.  The package of dry erase markers had a few more than were requested on the school supplies list, so I combined those with some pretty black and white pencils I have been hoarding and added a tag that reads “Let’s start this year off write.”  (printable found here)
Back to School Teacher Gift Let's start this year write markers and pencils

So there we have it!  T-minus 22 days and counting until school starts here.  We aren’t completely ready – Kate insists on getting the rest of her school clothes from Justice and I’m waiting for a sale on that.  Plus we are having a hard time this year finding pants that fit Tyler well – but we have plenty of time.  In fact, we are off to the Outlets today as soon as the little guy is home from swimming practice!

Are your ready for Back to School?  How do you get prepared for the big day?

These are just a few of the great ideas out there for Back to School.  You can find a lot more of my favorites on my Pinterest Board.

Also check out my other Back to School posts:
Back to School Mom’s Brunch (on of my favorite traditions!)
Back to School Countdown Blocks

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Back to School Mom’s Brunch

I am not one of those moms that spends the whole summer wishing the kids were back in school but I have to admit that there are a lot perks for Stay at Home Moms when the kids are in school.  Like the fact that the only dishes in the sink or crumbs on the counter are the ones I put there.  😉  And the quiet – oh the quiet house!  The kids are ready for a change too, even if they wouldn’t admit it.

It feels like summer has barely begun, yet already Back to School preparations are on the radar.  I’m seeing signs go up in stores and ideas being pinned on Pinterest.  I even got out the calendar yesterday and counted up how much time we have before the kids are back in school – 5 weeks!  It’s going to be here before we know it.

True to form, I usually do my best to add a few special touches to the first day of school.  I make special muffins or pancakes for the kiddos for breakfast, make sure they have something fun in their lunchboxes, and pull out the last of my husband’s award winning chocolate chip cookie dough from the freezer so they have fresh from the oven cookies when they got off the bus.  However, what I personally look forward to the most is my annual Back to School Mom’s Brunch! (photos are from brunch last year)

Chalkboard and Maps Oh the Places You'll Go Back to School Brunch for Moms

This is a tradition I started back when my daughter first started Kindergarten.  I knew I would be a little sad to see her growing up and wanted a way to celebrate the milestone – and to distract myself.  It served its purpose perfectly and I have had a casual Mom’s Brunch every year since.  I don’t go into full out party mode – the point is to keep it casual and just enjoy some time with the ladies without (most of) the kids running around.  I set aside the first day of school for myself with no real worries about the To Do List so brunch can go on as long as we feel like it.  I think a couple of years a few of us were still sitting around visiting until it was time to meet the afternoon bus 😉

Back to School Moms Brunch Celebrate the kids first day back at school with a fun get together with other moms

I do Mom’s Brunch potluck style so prep work on my end is minimal though I do like to add just a little bit of fun to the food display.  A few weeks before school started I ran across this great Dr Seuss printable (here) and with our big moving date looming in the near future I knew that a Places You’ll Go theme was exactly what we needed last year.  In keeping with the chalkboard style I printed out a few more school-type signs (ran out of time though so only one made it onto the table – the fun flags and water bottle labels will have to get their turn another time.  You can find those printables here).  Then I added a few maps to round out the Going Places idea.  The maps themselves were road maps of the states – one for North Carolina (where we lived at the time), one for Utah (where we were moving to soon), and the others were the home states of some of my friends.  And yes, my friends did actually notice and comment on the fact that their states were included.  (See?  The details DO matter!)

Oh the Places You'll Go Back to School Moms Brunch
Party Idea for Moms Back to School Brunch on the first day of school

I know – I should have taken the covers off the dishes and the coffee cake wasn’t even out of the oven for this photo but hey – when you have to decide between taking beauty shots for the blog and actually participating in your own party… 😉

Happy Back to School Everyone!  I hope this year is a wonderful one for all!

My Pinterventures

The Answer Is Chocolate

Featured on Merry Monday and BFF Open House

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End of the Year Teacher Gifts

May is crazy isn’t it?  There are so many things all jammed into one little month – testing and final projects, sports, field trips, recitals, graduations, weddings, parties, Mother’s Day.  Plus my anniversary!  It can be a little intense.  I’ve been trying to grab some time to get ahead when I can find it and one of the things I really want to get a jump on is all the gifts for this month.  I had the kids with me out shopping on Saturday and with Teacher Appreciation week about to start and teachers on the brain, we went ahead and picked up supplies for a simple gift for the last day of school for their teachers.

Teacher Gift in a Cup Last Day of School

Teachers are a big part of our kids’ lives for an entire year and while I never have a lot of money to spend on them, I do like to give them a little parting gift.  I figure teachers are looking forward to summer just as much as the rest of us are – maybe even more so!  😉  So we put together a little Summer Kit in a Cup, inspired by this tag

End of School Teacher Gift Tag Relax Summer

Wish I could give credit for the saying on the tag, but frankly I’ve seen it in quite a few different forms on Pinterest lately and I’m not sure which is the original.  To whomever came up with it – great job! 😉

I wanted to dress the cup up a bit so I added a vinyl monogram.

Monogram Cup For Teachers

Then we filled it with goodies related to summer

End of the Year Teacher Gift Relax for Summer Cup

Inside the cup:  lemonade drink mixes, sunscreen, Chapstick with SPF, and Italian Ices.

Teacher Gift Idea Summer In a Cup

They are now ready and waiting for the last day of school.  When the time comes, I just have to remember to send them! 😉

End of the Year Teacher Gift

Just in Case You Needed More Teacher Appreciation Ideas

Teacher Appreciation Gift Ideas for Teacher Appreciation Day and Week:  Countdown to Summer, altered clipboard, and more

According to my calculations, we have only one more week until Teacher Appreciation Day/Week.  You know those hard-working teachers need a boost, especially at this point in the school year (anyone starting to get as excited for Summer as I am?!), and it’s kind of fun to put together a little something for the kids to take to school.  I made Countdown to Summer blocks for my children’s teachers this year, which is one of my favorite ideas.  For those of you that may want something a little more simple/easier to put together (the blocks aren’t hard, but they do take a bit of time and prep) I thought I’d do a quick round-up and recap of the teacher appreciation ideas I have used in the past few years.

In 2011 I put together a little kit of office supplies and candy for the teacher.  The PTO at the school had a standard gift idea list – one day was a card, one day candy, and one day was a flower.  I went along with those too, but wanted to add a more personal gift as well.Original inspiration (and instructions) for the project found here. I chose a smaller size bead organizer from Walmart and grabbed a few coordinating office supplies, which I divided between the two kits (one for the teacher, one for the assistant), and of course added a little sugar to finish it off.  I was shopping with both kids for the candy and couldn’t concentrate, or I would have made sure the wrappers were blue or green to go with my color scheme too. 😉

2012 followed much the same format from the school – cards on one day, chocolate on another, flowers on a third, then I did a little something on my own that wasn’t part of the suggested list.

I picked up a bunch of yummy smelling hand sanitizer (in pocket sizes) and holders at one of Bath and Body Works big sales knowing it would come in handy for something like this.  The tag says “you are scent-sational.”  The printables for this one and the chocolate came from the Eighteen25 blog and can be found here.

2013 was once again cards, chocolate, flowers and I added in a set of countdown to summer blocks in fun black, white, and red patterns.

I added the option to count down to the beginning of next school year – just for the fun of it.  These were an absolute hit with the teachers and I have repeated the idea again this year – see earlier post).

Last year (2014) – chocolate, cards, flowers (tiny pots with seeds this time) and the personal gift was altered clipboards.

I found the owl printable card first (Printable found here) and decided to go with that as the theme.

I modified the printable water bottle labels found here and used that for the tags on the rest of the items.  The tag on the flowers reads “Thanks for helping me grow.  Love, ___ ”

The chocolate:  The tag reads “you deserve chocolate! Love,  ___”

And finally, a more personal gift from the kids.  I like to get a little creative with these, not only to give the teachers a little variety but hopefully they also get the message that we participate in Teacher Appreciation week not just because we are asked to, but because we really do appreciate their contribution as teachers to the lives of our children.
I took Plain Jane clipboards

and turned them into something fun, pretty, and personal.

The tag reads “You’re just write, teacher.  Love, ____”

So there you have it – a few more Teacher Gift Ideas to add to your Pinterest boards. 🙂 You all do that right?  Compulsively collect a lot of ideas for things so that when you need them you will have more than enough ideas to choose from?  Well, in case you need even more feel free to check out my Back to School Pinterest Board where I collect all kinds of ideas for teacher gifts, lunchbox notes, and more.
Now I’m off to find a cute soccer coach gift idea.  My son’s final soccer game of the season is tonight and after dealing with eight 8-10 year olds twice a week, the coach surely deserves a treat!

Teacher Appreciation: Countdown to Summer/Back to School

I’ve been working on quite a few smaller projects lately.  Since most of my creative time is spent working on orders for the Etsy shop and most of my project time is spent dealing with giant organizing/spring tasks, it’s been nice to work on something new.  I have a whole list of things I want to share with you and with Teacher Apprecition Week/Day fast approaching (It’s the week of May 4-8th this year.  I looked it up!), I figured that would be a good place to start.

Teacher-Appreciation-Countd

My children and I have been very lucky to have a lot of great teachers so far, and this year I am particulary happy with my children’s teachers and how helpful they have been with the kids’ transition to the new schools.  I know teacher appreciation gifts aren’t a requirement, but I’m always happy to have an excuse brighten someone’s day, especially ones that go out of their way for my children.  This year I decided to go with my signature countdown blocks to use as Teacher Appreciation gifts.  I do these blocks for all sorts of occasions (pregnancy, holiday, vacation, etc).  I have given them as teacher gifts in the past and they are always well received – everyone loves a good countdown.  The blocks have numbers on all the sides and you just rotate them from side to side to show the correct number of days left as you count down.

Countdown Blocks Teacher Appreciation Back to SchoolTeacher Appreciation Days Til Summer CountdownThe base block is double-sided for even more countdown fun.  In May, the teachers can use the blocks to count down until the end of the school year.  And in the fall the base block can be flipped to the other side, which reads “days ’til school” and they can countdown to the beginning of the next school year.  (I’m tricky like that – always trying to find another way to get a little more use out of my crafts)

Teacher Appreciation Countdown to School Blocks

I’m still working on a cute saying to put on the tag or card.  Maybe something like ‘I can always count on you teacher!”  ?? (If you have a better pun, please share!)

Now I can happily pat myself on the back for being ahead of the game and not rushing to find a last minute teacher appreciation idea.  If only I knew what to do about Mother’s day…

I’m curious though – what’s your favorite teacher appreciation gift idea?  And also, do you do teacher appreciation gifts for just the teachers of the younger children or do you carry it on once they get to high school?

Featured at:  Diana Rambles: Back to School Ideas
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