Get a couple of units so you can mix and match lids and always have a cold pack in the freezer. Reusable containers allow for a lot of flexibility in what you want to serve them and are more environmentally friendly than sandwich bags. You can get insulated lunch bags – make sure your containers fit them appropriately – or an old-fashioned lunch box.
If you are strongly anti-plastic, you still have several options: you can buy or make beeswax-infused wrapping cloths, use wax paper/butcher’s paper/brown paper, and combine with a thermos and small screw-top sturdy glass pots for non-‘dry’ foods. You can sew your own cloth lunch sack from washable canvas or insulated fabric (the padded, quilted material sold for making oven mitts, for example) with the advantage of being able to personalize it.
PROTEIN: a lot of lunch meats are high in sodium and preservatives. The heavily processed ones like baloney and ‘loaf’ should be avoided completely…but there are healthier options, branded and otherwise. My local butcher has GOOD lunch meats – real sliced roast beef and real sliced ham – the flavour is unbelievable. Otherwise, take a day to cook a large roast/ ham/turkey breast from scratch, cool thoroughly and slice with electric slicer, freeze in small portions in sandwich bags. You can fit all three in the oven together and save cooking energy and your time. Lunch meats for the next three months! Also, there is nothing wrong with a piece / chunks of the leftover meat from last night’s dinner: cube the chicken breast, take the BBQ sauce skin off the left-over chicken leg, slice thin strips of a pork chop, or put in some cooked and cooled peameal bacon. Cold meatballs or mini hamburgers are often quite acceptable, with the trimmings. Once in a while, serve thin slices of sausage.
Don’t forget boiled eggs as a good protein. Oh, and soy ‘nut’ butter instead of the banned peanut butter – it even comes with little stickers on the back of the label for your kid’s lunch to ensure the teacher and other kids know it’s the safe stuff! Fish – we have it frequently but a lot of North American kids won’t even touch canned tuna. If yours is the happy exception, nothing wrong with tuna salad, or chunks of albacore! Cold shrimp, tossed with just a little bit of cocktail sauce (tone it down with a shot of ketchup or tomato paste) are delectable on hot days. Fish tacos?
Cheese, glorious cheese. It deserves a paragraph all to itself. Don’t limit yourselves to golden cheddar, lovely as it is. Anything you’ve got in the house for yourself, except maybe that expensive imported Blue from Germany, you can cut a wedge/sticks/chunks off and package for the kids. There, done. Also – cream cheese, cottage cheese, quark, and so on!
Get bold and make rice balls – there are all sorts of packaged mixes to flavour them in any Asian supermarket/import store. While I’m thinking about it, most kids take to dried seaweed pretty easily – sold in the sushi section of your supermarket, probably right next to the panko crumbs or the soy sauce. It comes in large sheets AND in individual packages about 3×2 inches, perfect for wrapping bites of meat and rice or just snacking on. Avoid the wasabi and perilla flavours. OK, rice, what else? Maybe couscous if they’ve had it at home before, stellini with some sort of sauce… cold pasta salad… you get the idea! Potato chips don’t have to be evil if you pick an organic brand, and there are other vegetable chips available that are delicious – taro, parsnip, etc.
Last – this isn’t food for the body, but rather the soul – consider a little note in the lunch box. A doodle on the outside of the paper bag, a calendar day torn off a mini inspirational desk calendar, a printed slip that looks like a fortune cookie… you can prepare your ‘love notes’ a month in advance and have them ready to go in a bag on the side of the fridge or tucked in with the lunch containers. Something that says to your child that she’s loved, that he’s cared about, that they can take in along with the food they are eating and have it strengthen their spirit!
Much love to you as you consider how best to feed your darlings – you are ‘lunch-ABLE’ to do this!