“It Takes A Village to Pack a Lunch” – A New Cookbook Just for Lunch Packing!

For me, the hardest part of daily school-lunch-packing is they way my list of regular lunch items seems to shrink over time, as old standbys fall out of favor and I just can’t seem to come up with new ideas.  By year’s end, we’re crawling to the finish line.

That’s why I’m so excited to share this news:  Kelly Lester, creator of the acclaimed EasyLunchboxes system, has just published Cooking with Trader Joe’s Cookbook: Easy Lunch Boxes.  That’s right, an entire cookbook devoted exclusively to lunch box packing, with over 80 creative, healthful lunch box recipes!

You’ll find everything from fanciful, bento-style lunches (the kind where everything is cut into adorable shapes) to options you can throw together quickly on a rushed morning.   There are choices for vegetarians and vegans, and the photography is beautiful (click on the photo below to enlarge).  All the recipes come from food bloggers, including TLT friends Red, Round or GreenThe Six O’Clock Scramble and 100 Days of Real Food, and you can read each blogger’s back story along with their lunch ideas.

And guess who wrote the foreward for the book?  Me!  I’ve never had that honor before and I’m grateful to Kelly for giving me the opportunity.

The book is available in bookstores as well as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.

[Blogger disclosure:  As with most books I review on The Lunch Tray, I received a free copy of this book for my perusal.  However, I never accept any other form of compensation for any of the books or products I review on this blog.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 4,200 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch, 2012 Edition: “Lunch Box Inspiration”

Wondering what to put in that daily lunch sack?

Welcome, TLT’ers, to the 2012 edition of “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch!”

For newcomers to this blog, this is my third annual series of posts, shared on an ad hoc basis throughout the month of September, designed to help parents with the sometimes challenging task of packing healthy and creative school lunches on a daily basis.

In the past I’ve hosted reader exchanges of lunch ideas, shared round-ups of clever and sustainable lunch gear, and enlisted other bloggers to motivate and inspire you.  And this year I have a lot more in store!

Today’s theme is “Lunchbox Inspiration,” a few useful sources to get you thinking outside the (lunch) box.

LaLa Lunchbox

It’s a good idea to get kids involved in school lunch planning to ensure the packed food actually gets eaten, and here’s a high-tech way to do just that.  The LaLa Lunchbox iPhone app allows each of your kids to create a unique monster avatar and then plan a week’s worth of school lunches.  Parents set the template for a standard lunch (i.e., how many fruits, how many vegetables, etc.) and can also edit the list of lunch items, including adding new foods that aren’t pre-programmed into the app.  Once your kid has made his or her selections, a weekly shopping list is generated for you to take to the store.  Neat!

Red, Round or Green Monday Menus

Blogger Bri of Red, Round or Green is known for sharing delicious, healthful recipes throughout the year, but right now she’s offering her readers a special bonus:  six weeks of free, weekly lunch box menus!  She’s about halfway through the series, posted each Monday, and has already shared eighteen new lunch ideas in categories like Easy BitesMini-Meals, and my favorite,  Stuff in Other Stuff.

And speaking of Bri, here’s a recent article about lunch box packing in which she and I (along with Jeanne of The Jolly Tomato) are quoted, and here’s a great post Bri wrote last year for this series to get you “strategizing” about lunches more effectively.

EasyLunchboxes 

Kelly Lester, CEO of EasyLunchboxes, has been a friend of TLT since the very beginning.  In addition to selling her wildly popular lunch box system, Kelly has acquired a big fan base among bento lunch packers willing to share their ideas, recipes and tips.  Kelly’s compendium of lunch box blogs will keep you surfing  — and inspired — for hours!

A Special Offer from The Six O’Clock Scramble

Finally, I wanted to share an item which appeared with perfect timing in my inbox today.  Longtime TLT friend The Six O’Clock Scramble, a wonderful meal planning service for busy families, has a special offer going on right now. For every meal-planning subscription purchased through the end of September, you also receive a printable chart of The Scramble’s 25 Mix and Match Healthy Lunch and Snack Ideas, plus you’ll be entered into four weekly drawings for a variety of items that will help with lunch packing, including gear, food items and a cookbook.  You can sign up here.

* * *

What are some of your go-to sources for inspiration when  you hit a lunch rut?  Don’t leave a desperate mom or dad hanging – let us know in a comment below.

[Blogger disclosure:  I did not receive any compensation from any of the companies or individuals mentioned here.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 4,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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TLT Guest Blogger: Bri of Red Round or Green on “A Lunchbox Strategy Session”

As part of our ongoing “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch – 2011 Edition” series, I went to one of my fave bloggers, Brianne DeRosa of Red, Round or Green,  for some much needed inspiration.  And she didn’t disappoint!  Here’s her guest blog post giving us all a “A Lunchbox Strategy Session.”  And if you happen to have a child who eats grain- or gluten-free, be sure to check out her creative lunchbox ideas at the end of the post.

A Lunchbox Strategy Session

by Brianne DeRosa of Red, Round or Green

For some people, the mere mention of packing a healthy, varied lunch for their kids day in and day out for an entire school year (or, if you’re a lucky-duck day care mom like me, pretty much every weekday ALL YEAR LONG) inspires just one reaction: A duck-and-cover cringe.

For others of us, lunch-packing is a geektastic ritual of culinary fabulousness – or at least, that’s how we envision it.  In reality, most of us live somewhere in the middle.  We know how important a healthy packed lunch is for our kids, we are committed to doing it, but sometimes, it just seems like we’re dragging ourselves and our lovingly chosen waste-free lunch kits back and forth through an ever-deepening rut.  In times like these, even the most committed, energetic lunch-packers need a battle plan to get the job done.

I’ve been packing lunches for five years now, and my oldest child isn’t even in Kindergarten, so I consider it a mission of personal salvation to figure out 1) a way to streamline the lunchbox production; and 2) ever-fresh, ever-evolving ideas about what to pack without having to bust my budget, spend hours of extra time in the kitchen, or compromise my family’s beliefs about using only whole foods whenever we can.  My current commandments of packed-lunch preparation are:

1)    Relax.  Bento boxes filled with rice-ball bunnies and origami radishes (yes, I’m making that one up) are fabulous.  But remember, many of us survived on slightly-squashed PB and J and sad-looking bananas.  On a scale of squished sandwich to bento nirvana, shoot for anything above lukewarm tuna salad, and your kids will live.

2)    Know Your Fallback Position.  Sometimes, the vision of the beautifully organized, nutritionally balanced lunch that’s in our heads just doesn’t match the tumbleweeds blowing through our refrigerators (I could have sworn I bought cheese!  It was right here yesterday!).  When it seems like there’s nothing to pack, you’ll save yourself a lot of anxiety and aggravation if you know what the emergency options are.  In our house, we try to keep a jar of sunbutter and a couple of cans of chunk light tuna on hand at all times.  That way, when the “You ate all that chicken already!?” panic sets in, I can manufacture a very reasonable, if not glamorous, lunch in under five minutes using one of these failsafe ingredients.

3)    Keep a Lunch Pantry.  Most of us have a list of “pantry staples” that we like to keep stocked for our dinner routine.  I also have a list of “lunch pantry staples” that I continually replenish – not entrée items, necessarily, but practical sides and add-ons that my kids get alongside their main meals.  Dried and/or freeze-dried fruits, popcorn or whole grain pretzels, cheese sticks or slices, unsweetened applesauce cups, and frozen berries are all part of our lunch pantry.  We also keep Thermoses clean and handy so I can toss overripe bananas, milk, and frozen fruit into the blender while I’m packing the rest of the lunchboxes, and send my boys to school with a homemade fruit smoothie.

With these lunch-packing strategies outlined, we can move on to inspiration.  I pack all kinds of lunches, and my kids have no allergies or intolerances – though they do have their personal preferences.  However, recently I saw a TLT reader’s Facebook post about packing totally grain-free lunches for her first rader, and it got me thinking.  Here are fifteen grain-free lunches I’d happily pack for any kid (and you could easily adapt them to include grains, if you’d prefer) – round them out with staples from your “lunch pantry” and everyone will be happy.

  • Use lettuce leaves instead of grain-based wraps for your favorite taco or sandwich fillings.
  • Make fruit and yogurt parfaits with either nuts, nut butter, or sunbutter swirled throughout.
  • Send homemade chili-cheese dip with sweet potato chips for a twist on nachos.
  • Hummus and veggies – not new or revolutionary, but a solid choice, especially if you mix things up by adding pureed vegetables or using different kinds of beans.
  • Unsweetened banana chips can be the foundation for a crunchy lunchtime treat, with peanut butter or sunbutter for dipping
  • Wrap cheese sticks in nitrate-free pepperoni or ham and send a side of leftover marinara for grain-free “pizza dippers.”
  • Roll cucumbers, cream cheese, or any other fillings your kids like in slices of smoked salmon.
  • Make grilled chicken skewers, or fake it by cubing leftover cooked chicken and sticking it on toothpicks.  Dipping sauce would be appreciated here, too.
  • Enlist the kids to hunt through the week’s leftovers and make their own “salad bar” for the lunchbox.
  • Homemade potato pancakes are a great grain-free substitute for sandwich bread, especially filled with turkey or ham and cheese.
  • Cut their favorite veggies – cooked or uncooked – into spears, bundle them up, and tie the whole thing up with slices of nitrate-free sandwich meat.
  • Sliders made of grass-fed beef or good quality ground turkey, with some roasted potato wedges and condiments for dipping, are a fun lunch even without the buns.
  • Meatballs don’t have to go with spaghetti.  A Thermos of homemade meatballs in marinara sauce is a great lunch all on its own.
  • A quick pumpkin or winter squash soup is a favorite in our house.  Send it in a Thermos with a side of roasted pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top.
  • Veggie boats, made of hollowed-out bell peppers and cucumbers, can be filled with egg salad, chicken salad, hummus, or refried beans.

Now.  Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “I am not afraid of the lunchbox.  The lunchbox is my friend.”  Oh, and don’t forget to pack some of these things for yourself, too.  It’s not just the kids who deserve a decent mid-day meal.

* * *

Thanks to Bri for sharing these great ideas and for the rousing pep talk.  Get packing, people!

Join Over 1,000 TLT Fans and Get Your Lunch Delivered!   Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll never miss another Lunch Tray post.  You’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

 

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And the Winner of the Free MOMables Subscription Is . . .

. . . TLT reader Sahnya, the ninth commenter selected by my random number generator:

(Just FYI, if you left two or more comments on the post — which was fine, as some of you were conversing with each other – I only counted your first entry for the purposes of selecting a winner. )

Congratulations to Sahnya!  I hope you enjoy your free, three-month MOMables subscription.

Now that the drawing is over, I’ve gone back and left replies for a few people who asked for specific guidance on their lunch packing quandaries.   And thanks to all of you for participating in this Lunch Tray giveaway — and for all of your great comments!

 

Join Over 1,000 TLT Fans and Get Your Lunch Delivered!   Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll never miss another Lunch Tray post.  You’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

“It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch – 2011 Edition:” Gourmet Sandwich Ideas from Melissa Clark

While I’m sad that the Borders book store chain is going out of business, I was happy to go to our Borders over the weekend and snag a 60% off hardback copy of Melissa Clark’s (relatively) new cookbook, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite:  150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love.  (If you don’t already know Melissa Clark, she’s the author of “A Good Appetite,” a wonderful cooking column that appears in the New York Times Dining section, as well as the author or co-author of numerous cookbooks.)

It seems Melissa must have heard about TLT’s “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series  :-) , as today her column (“Here’s Eating Lunch With You, Kid”) is a collection of delicious, unusual sandwiches to make for your child’s lunch box, along with simple variations to make a second version of the same sandwich for adult palates.  (Example:  kids get a Turkey and Apple Sandwich with Maple Mayonnaise, adults get the same sandwich with a squirt of spicy Sriracha sauce.)

Some of these sandwiches are a little fancy and might need some advanced planning for the morning lunch box rush, but they all look pretty delicious.  Cheddar, Cucumber and Marmalade sandwiches?  I’m feeling inspired!

Join Over 1,000 TLT Fans and Get Your Lunch Delivered!   Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll never miss another Lunch Tray post.  You’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

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“It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch – 2011 Edition:” Win a Free Subscription to MOMables!

The whole motivation behind TLT’s “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series is to provide a forum for readers to help each other with the daily grind of packing school lunches.  And what better help could there be than someone doing all the thinking for you?

That’s the premise behind MOMables, a lunch box menu service that provides subscribers with a weekly lunch plan each Friday (complete with photos), along with a shopping list.  According to the company:

Most of the recipes you’ll make ahead of time saving precious time in the morning. There are no special gadgets needed to make your kid’s lunch, no hard-to-find ingredients, no processed food and no lengthy recipes.  MOMables™ is all about uncomplicated yet good food for your kids.  In nearly all recipes, you’ll be able to swap ingredients to accommodate for food allergies and ultra-picky eaters.  Unlike store-bought lunches, MOMables™ recipes provide kid-sized portions you can adjust based on your child’s eating needs.

I’ve never used MOMables myself, but when I was contacted by its founder and TLT reader, Laura Feuntes, I couldn’t turn down her offer of a free three-month subscription for one lucky Lunch Tray reader.

copyright 2011 MOMables TM

All you have to do is leave a comment below and I’ll use a random number generator tomorrow (August 31, 2011) at 6pm CST to select a winner.  Just to keep it inspirational, how about leaving a comment that’s either about your goal for this year’s lunch packing (e.g., “I’m really going to try to cut down on lunch waste“) or your child’s favorite lunch box item, especially if it’s one that others might not have thought of.  That way, even those of us who don’t win the subscription can still get some fresh ideas.

Have fun and good luck!  :-)

 

 

 

Join Over 1,000 TLT Fans and Get Your Lunch Delivered!   Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll never miss another Lunch Tray post.  You’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

 

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TLT’s Table: Light and Fluffy Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

It’s great when commenters on The Lunch Tray leave a URL for their own blogs or websites; whenever I have time I check out these links just to see what everyone is up to, and I’ve discovered lots of great resources that way.

The other day a reader named Alissa left a link to her blog, The Simply Wholesome Kitchen, and there I stumbled on her recipe for pumpkin muffins.  What intrigued me about Alissa’s recipe was that it uses 100% whole wheat pastry flour and no white flour at all (even my healthiest muffin recipes usually use some white flour to avoid a leaden muffin).  It also calls for the entire can of pumpkin, so there are no annoying leftovers you have to freeze (or waste).  I was a little worried about that, though, because when I’ve put a lot of canned pumpkin in my baked goods my kids sometimes find the result too “squashy” tasting.

Well, I gave the recipe a whirl and was impressed with the results.  Due to all the leavening (baking soda, baking powder and yogurt), the muffins were remarkably light and fluffy for a whole wheat baked good, and the pumpkin flavor wasn’t overwhelming.  (I should mention that I was out of butter that day – a discovery I only made after I’d mixed up the dry ingredients (doh!) – so I substituted the same amount of organic canola oil.  While butter might have been tastier, I didn’t miss it.)  My only quibble with the recipe is that it uses less spice than some pumpkin muffins, so the next time I might ramp up the cinnamon and add other warm spices like ginger and nutmeg (or take the lazy route and throw in a lot of “pumpkin pie spice.”)  But that’s just a matter of taste, and this recipe is now part of my baking rotation as a healthy breakfast item, an after-school snack, or a lunch box add-in.

You can check Alissa’s blog out here, and be sure to let her know if you like her muffins!

And remember, you can find this and all TLT’s Table recipes using the Recipes tab above.

 
 

Join Over 1,000 TLT Fans and Get Your Lunch Delivered!   Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll never miss another Lunch Tray post.  You’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

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It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch – 2011 Edition

So, it’s Day Four of the Houston ISD school year and, yes, I’m already looking for some lunch box packing inspiration.  Uh oh!  :-)

Based on feedback from The Lunch Tray’s Facebook page, I know I’m not alone in despairing in front of those empty lunch boxes each morning, so I thought I’d bring back a feature I ran last fall called “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch.”

In the first post of that series, I and other TLT readers shared our go-to lunch entrees, especially ones that are a little “outside the box.”  You can find all those great suggestions here (although many of mine are out of date for my own kids, as old favorites have since been deemed unacceptable – don’t you just hate that?).   You’re certain to pick up at least a few new entree ideas after perusing everyone’s comments.

But wait, there’s more!

In the coming days, I’ll be sharing a few more posts to help you out:  a round-up of blogs and websites with helpful lists and recipes for healthy packed lunches; a guest blog post from Bri of Red, Round or Green that will get you “pumped up to pack” (plus her super-creative list of ideas for kids who need to go gluten- or grain-free);  a healthy muffin recipe from The Simply Wholesome Kitchen that can serve as a quick breakfast, a school lunch item or an after-school snack; a free lunch menu subscription give-away from MOMables, and more.

We’re all in this together, people, so let’s get packing!

 

Join Over 1,000 TLT Fans and Get Your Lunch Delivered!   Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll never miss another Lunch Tray post.  You’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love.  ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?

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“Lunch Box Blues” – Unconventional Lunch Ideas From AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch

Recently I posted my interview with J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press Food Editor and author of High Flavor, Low Labor, a cookbook full of flavorful weeknight meals.  But I didn’t realize then that J.M. also has a blog called “Lunch Box Blues” in which he documents with text and photos the creative school lunches he packs for his impossibly adorable six-year-old son, Parker.

J.M. makes no bones about the fact that packing a daily lunch can be a real trial, and he approaches the task with a refreshing, lets-get-it-done sort of attitude.  An excerpt from an introductory section of his blog says it all:

If you are one of those parents who somehow finds the time to craft your kid’s lunch into cutesy animals and characters from their favorite movies, good for you. And good luck with your therapy.

J.M. is constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s “normal” to pack for lunch.  For example, this past week he decided that leftover breakfast pancakes were a perfectly suitable vehicle for a sandwich, with great success.  And in the past he’s given Parker everything from leftover spaghetti carbonara to a spelt tortilla filled with pepper-garlic jelly, cream cheese and leftover roast chicken.  Clearly, he’s not your basic PBJ sort of guy.

Reading Lunch Box Blues is like giving myself a much needed wake up call.  Although the TLT household also favors rather unconventional lunches (today’s entree for both kids was a Thermos full of steamed chicken and cilantro won-tons), we still get stuck in terrible ruts and  J.M.’s out-of-the-box thinking opens up new lunch horizons.

One thing about Lunch Box Blues makes me laugh, however, and that’s the sheer quantity of food that little Parker is apparently putting away each day.  For example, on the day when the aforementioned spelt tortilla sandwich was served, J.M. also packed salami slices slathered with hummus, some hunks of pork sausage, pretzels, strawberries, apple sauce and a drink.  [Ed. Update: NOT a drink!  Squeezable fruit!   See my comment below.]

I’m pretty sure my kids, aged 8 and 10, wouldn’t come close to being able to finish that lunch.  Maybe J.M. will stop by and shed some light on this mystery.

It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch, Pt. 2 – Even More Lunch Box Ideas!

First, a big thank you to all the Lunch Tray readers who took the time to visit our Lunch Box Idea Exchange earlier this month and post their “go-to” lunchbox items for the rest of us to read.  If you haven’t had a chance, it’s worth stopping by and scrolling through all the comments, which are full of great ideas.  (And it’s not to late to add your own!)

But now let’s broaden our universe to other great sites that are also collecting or offering lunch box ideas:

Laptop Lunches

Not only does this company make a great, environmentally-friendly bento lunch box, they also tell you what to put in it!  You can visit their site for countless healthy lunch ideas and/or you can subscribe to receive their weekly lunch menu.  The site also has a chart of “Quick-Reference Lunch Ideas” (scroll down) that lets you see at a glance all sorts of ideas for breads, fillings, other lunch entrees and fruits and vegetable sides.  (I think I need to print that chart out and stick it on my refrigerator for those days — and there are many — when I have a total failure of imagination.)

[Hat tip:  Peace and Love in the Kitchen]

Culinary Thymes

My new friend Alyce Ester is the former editor and publisher of a magazine called Culinary Thymes, which, though no longer in print, continues to thrive in the virtual world.   Earlier this month, Alyce turned her considerable cooking skills to the task of packing lunches and had all sorts of ideas to share, which you can read here.  And when you’re done reading about lunches, be sure to check out the rest of Culinary Thymes — it’s got great recipes, fun commentary by Alyce, and — for Houstonians — some references to local hot spots and food sources.

“A Month of Lunches” from Oprah

Oprah’s website currently features this post, which provides appealing lunch box ideas for elementary, middle and high school kids.  (There’s no reason, though, why you couldn’t make any of these recipes for any aged child.)

Notes From the Cookie Jar

I learned of this blog just a few weeks ago, when I entered the blog party it co-sponsored with Mrs. Q.  Written by Scatteredmom (love that name), the site is wide-ranging in its topics – not quite a Mommy Blog, not quite a Food Blog, more like an amalgam of those genres and more.  But I especially wanted to direct you to her recent post about lunch box ideas, which is stunning in terms of the number of helpful links she supplies.  Click here and get surfing.

Do you have any other good links to lunch box ideas?  Share them in a comment below.

Lunch Tray Reader Poll: Your Lunch Box Packing Routines

A reader asked me if, when we got around to the Lunchbox Idea Exchange (which is still open for your ideas – hint, hint), I could also take a survey of everyone’s lunch packing routines.

Are you a morning packer or nighttime packer?  Or maybe you leave the packing to your kids?  Do your kids want the comforting routine of the same lunch every day, or do they expect a variety of lunches in the rotation?

Take a second to answer this Lunch Tray Reader Poll and I’ll post the results in tomorrow’s Friday Buffet.

Lunch Box Idea Exchange Going Strong – Come Share!

In a late Friday afternoon post last week, I officially opened The Lunch Tray’s Lunch Box Idea Exchange to answer that never-ending question: what on earth do I put in the lunch box today?

We already have lots of great suggestions posted and I personally am getting busy expanding my rather narrow lunch box repertoire, but the more ideas we get, the better for everyone.  So if you haven’t done so already, please stop by the exchange and share an idea or two.  (And in the coming days, I’ll also link you to lots of other blogs’ idea exchanges on the same topic.)

It takes a village to pack a lunch, so come do your part!

It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch

I have Lunch Tray readers well trained not to expect posts from me on Friday after the Lunch Buffet appears, but then I learned of a blog/Twitter party (who even  knew there was such a thing?) being hosted over the weekend by Mrs. Q (the anonymous teacher behind Fed Up with Lunch) and by Scatteredmom at Notes from the Cookie Jar. Apparently if I blog about certain lunch-related topics and let them know about it, as well as mingling (in a virtual sense) with other bloggers, I’m eligible to win all sorts of fabulous prizes.  Or something like that.

At any rate, the blog/Twitter party was a good excuse to kick off (a few days early) September’s Back-to-School festivities on The Lunch Tray, starting with the promised TLT Lunch Box Exchange.

First, the ground rules.  To participate in the exchange, leave in a comment below your favorite, go-to lunch box “entrees” – you can share a whole list or just one, you can link to recipes, whatever you like.  The only thing you cannot do is comment unfavorably on an idea left by someone else.  Lunch Tray readers have shown themselves to be a polite and supportive bunch, but it’s clear that we all come from different perspectives when it comes to kids and food.  So if you find someone else’s lunch idea nutritionally wanting — too high in sodium (I know I’m guilty there) or sugar or overly processed or whatever, just keep that little thought to yourself. 

OK, I’ll kick things off.  Here are three entrees that my kids have liked – on and off — over the years that are a little more unusual than the standard PBJ:

Brown rice and edamame: If you don’t happen to have leftover brown rice, and if, like me, you’re willing to pay a grossly inflated price for convenience, throw one of those pre-cooked, frozen brown rice bags into the microwave until done (three minutes).  Mix a half-cup or so of the rice in a bowl with a handful of cooked edamame, season to taste with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.  Put in Thermos.  (If you really wanted to get fancy, you could add sliced green onion and/or sesame seeds, but who wants to get fancy at 7:o0 am?)

Bean and cheese wrap:  spread canned refried (fat-free, if you like) pinto or black beans on a whole wheat tortilla and sprinkle with shredded Jack, Colby or other cheese.  Microwave just to warm it up a bit, spread on some salsa, roll and slice.  It’s room temperature when eaten, but apparently that hasn’t bothered anyone so far.

“Limey” Dip:  I got this recipe from one of my favorite bloggers, Catherine Newman, back when she was writing for the now-defunct Wondertime magazine.  Not everyone loves the admittedly odd combination of edamame and lime pureed in a creamy dip, but I do (and my daughter did for a long while).  Put the dip in a small container and pack with dipping vehicles like crackers, pita chips, crudite, etc.  By the way, I leave out the optional garlic when I make this.

Keeping in mind that, with only a few exceptions, sandwiches are generally spurned in my house, here are . . .

My other go-to lunch box items:

  • Amy’s or Whole Foods bean burritos, heated until cooked, then wrapped in foil;
  • yogurt;
  • leftover anything, but especially pastas, black bean soup (packed with some baked corn chips and shredded cheese to mix into it), turkey or bean chili (ditto);
  • steamed Asian dumplings, cut-up into a Thermos and doused with soy sauce;
  • peanut butter – on crackers or in a PBJ on whole wheat;
  • hard-boiled eggs;
  • shredded cheese (for some reason, my kids reject cheese in stick or sliced form)
  • spicy, pumpkin-stuffed Indian naan that we get at a local farmer’s market;
  • hummus and pita chips; and
  • tomato soup
  • [Ed update: “forgot” to add one I’m not proud of – deep fried, frozen chicken taquitos from Whole Foods, microwaved until hot and then cut in half and put in a Thermos.  Not so great nutritionally but tasty and really easy if you’re pressed for time.]

Sadly, that’s the beginning and end of my entire lunch box repertoire at the moment, and more than a few of these have fallen out of favor (don’t you hate when that happens?).  So I’m counting on you, Lunch Tray readers, to dig me out of a serious rut.

Start talking, people.

[Ed. Update:  After you check out all the great ideas below, be sure to read “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch, Part 2,” which collects even more lunch ideas from around the Internet.]