Karen Humphrey: Fresh and Fearless


School Lunch Survival

Are you just as sick of making lunches as we are?

Let’s face it, June is a crazy month. All year you’ve slogged through making lunches, and now that you’re in that home stretch you’re ready to throw in the towel and call it a day. The kids are sick of lunches, you are sick of packing them, and all anyone can think of is the lazy days of summer where they can help themselves to watermelon and spit the seeds off the porch.

As someone who eats lunch with a bunch of 6- and 7-year-olds every single day, I have some tips to get you through the next few weeks with (hopefully) little trouble. This isn’t about pieces of fruit carved into favorite shapes or something that will have you slaving away in the kitchen creating things from scratch. This is survival, baby. Sometimes you have to compromise just a little.

1. Get the kids involved to make their own snacks

Don’t roll those eyes at me, Mama. Trust me on this one. Here’s how you do it-get some of those wicked little snack re-sealable bags. Set out some various snacky type foods. Let the kids create their own little bags of trail mix or veggies. If they create 2 or 3 each, then just stash them in the cupboard for you to toss in their lunch bags in the morning. Done. 

Some good combinations:

goldfish crackers, wasabi peas, pretzels

teddy grahams, mini marshmallows, cheerios (a bit of chocolate chips)

cheerios, Life (or other square shaped cereal), dried cranberries, chocolate chips

You can also do this with veggies. Buy a bottle of ranch dressing (or make your own dip) and send along in a little dipping container. The following are really easy to grab and stuff in a bag:

sliced cucumbers

sugar snap peas

cherry tomatoes

sliced sweet peppers

baby carrots

2. Pick portable, easy-to-eat fruit

I’ve seen your kids wrestling with a big orange or apple in the class and you know what they do? They valiantly try to eat it, but then the bell rings and given their choice to play or try to eat some messy orange that is dripping juice all over their desk, they throw it away and go play. Prep the fruit while the kids make their trail mix, and you’re good to go.

berries (any kind)


mandarin oranges

already sliced/peeled fruit such as mango, watermelon, kiwi

3. Wrap it Up

Lots of kids don’t really like sandwiches but they will eat a wrap. Keep it simple; one boy I know often has a small tortilla with a little mayo, some shredded cheese and a bit of lettuce. Wraps are so versatile and they don’t get soggy, either. Some combinations:

chocolate cream cheese and a banana

ham and cheddar

hummus with sprouts, grated carrot, and chopped green onion

turkey lunch meat with cream cheese, sprouts, grated carrots

4. Dip It

Kids love things that are easy to handle and can be dipped. Ditch the bulky sandwich and send in lots of finger food items that can be dipped and noshed on. Paired up with veggies, some fruit, and even some cheese slices you’ll have a full meal-just deconstructed. Some suggestions:

Guacamole, salsa, or bean dip and tortilla chips or pita bread

yogurt dip with fruit, pancake or waffle strips

ranch or plum dip with chicken fingers

hummus or chipotle dip and triangles of pita or raw veggies

5. Leftovers rock

When you are making dinner this month, try to make a little extra of the sides you know your kids love specifically for lunches. Things like pasta or potato salad pack well in lunches as long as you keep them cold with a freezer pack. Just keep the portions small — kids are often distracted and don’t eat a lot. Throw an extra piece of chicken on the barbeque so it can be stuffed into a wrap.

Just think, you’re almost there! You can do it. Pretty soon summer will be over and you’ll get to just relax on the beach, with no lunches to pack or containers to clean.

That is, until you discover that Junior’s lunch bag has sat, unopened, for a good week in a hot car.

Oh well. You can deal with that in September.