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Brown Bag/Lunchbox Meals for Kids & Adults


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All three kids are in school this year, and flat refuse to eat school lunch. It took them exactly two days of school cafeteria food to say "that stuff is nasty" (emphasis on the word nasty).

I will occasionally send leftovers (today it was masamun curry, rice, and bananas), but with 5 in the family, there usually aren't enough leftovers for three lunches. And who wants to eat the same thing for dinner and for lunch the next few days? You can only send pesto and pasta so often.

They want more than just PB&J. They are adventurous eaters; I do get pretty creative with sandwiches (smoked turkey, great mustard, roasted peppers, for example). They need something filling, and don't have enough time to do a lot of on-site prep. I can keep cold food cold and hot food hot for them, but a microwave is not an option.

Nothing terribly elaborate (I really don't want to be up at 4:00 am prepping lunches), and I refuse to go the pre-packaged lots of additives route.

Ideas? Think adult food here, even though they are kids.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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You are right, I should keep it simple, and they all like cheese (not velveeta or wrapped american slices, either).

I just checked the school handbook for elementary school, and no where does it prohibit alcoholic beverages. The middle school handbook, however, does prohibit alcoholic beverages. Funny thing is that we do let the kids have sips of wine, and Peter (1st grade) is very partial to the Russian River pinot noirs...

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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peanut butter and banana or apple sandwiches on whole wheat

thermos of homemade soup with crusty french bread

good cheese and good crackers, fresh fruit

julienned turkey and swiss on lettuce (or other meats and cheeses, chopped egg, etc.), with dressing in small tupperware -

my youngest enjoys salads for lunch - tricky part is keeping things from getting soggy. I separate as much as possible as he enjoys "building" it his way. Of course, with an eleven year old, that could change next week...

"Tell your friends all around the world, ain't no companion like a blue - eyed merle" Robert Plant

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Peter is definitely my kind of kid! I'll bet the others are pretty cool, too.

Go back and have a look at the thread about dips for vegetables, to bring to the office for lunch. (Sorry -- I'd post a link but it's too late in the cocktail hour.) That might work really well for kids -- highly participatory, high-fiber, fun, and easy to prep ahead of time.

Also, if you give them sandwiches, load them up with vegs along with the other filling. I love to put alfalfa sprouts, cucumber slices, grated carrot, etc. on instead of or along with the lettuce. One of my favorite sandwiches is chopped veg in blue cheese dressing plus chickpeas plus tiny cubes of cheese -- how perfect is that? Just remember to spread a thin layer of butter on the bread first as a barrier against the moisture in the filling. It's easy to mix up fillings and wash/cut veg the night before, then just slap the whole thing together in the morning. Or give them the components, as Steverino suggests, so they can put it together themselves.

Gee, I hope this all sounds reasonable to you; I never had kids and never had to make school lunches :blush:

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My children are like yours , they tend to have very adult tastes.

Pita pockets stuffed with filling of choice, my kids like tabouleh and cubes chilli coated chicken. Or lamb kofta with yoghurt and garlic sauce and lettuce.

thick slabs of bread with a selection of sreads in small containers. most often it is pesto, hummus, fava bean puree and umm I forgot the name.. the eggplant spread. They like the DIY approach for lunches.

Today everyone went out the door with leftover chicken korma with sweet potatos and red lentils with basmati.

My son adores taking rice balls ( onigiri ) wrapped in nori strips with teriyaki chicken in the middle. I give him a little container of soy sauce and wasabi to take along with this one. Often I just cook the rice ( kohishikari ) and he likes to make them himself the night before - he's 12

Another favourite of my kids is bagels with salmon, capers, onion and cream cheese.

They always take fruit or raw vegetable strips, some homemade baked goods of somekind ( today rhubarb and cinnamon muffins ) usually cheese and a muslie bar of some kind.

Date, cream cheese, celery and walnut sandwhiches go down well too.. sounds like a strange combination but it works.

Found this link on for making Onigiri for kids - so even better they might like to refine their skills on their own! :)


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Today everyone went out the door with leftover chicken korma with sweet potatos and red lentils with basmati.

My son adores taking rice balls ( onigiri )  wrapped in nori strips with teriyaki chicken in the middle. I give him a little container of soy sauce and wasabi to take along with this one. Often I just cook the rice ( kohishikari ) and he likes to make them himself the night before - he's 12 

In my kid's school, a kid who brings this stuff for lunch would sit at the lunch table all alone! :sad:

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In my kid's school, a kid who brings this stuff for lunch would sit at the lunch table all alone!  :sad:

Interesting you should say this. Diana (6th grade) has often brought "odd" stuff for lunch. The caucasian kids in her school look at her food, and go "ooh, yuck." Fortunately, there is a fairly large immigrant (Hmong and Hispanic) population, and she quickly learned to eat at the table with those kids, because they always said "ooh, that looks good." Got to be so that table was sort of like a pot luck -- kids sharing their ethnic treats.

I grew up in Thailand, and made the decision when my kids were born that they would eat the same food as Paul and I. I couldn't justify dumbing down my meals to fit the child, nor could I justify buying those little jars of glop. I remembered that in SE Asia, kids (even babies and toddlers) were eating the same food as everyone else. I had a real moment of pride the other day. Peter was invited to eat dinner at a friend's house, and when he returned, he said "Mom, did you know you can get peas in a can? They don't look like real peas, and they don't taste like peas, but Kay (the other mom) said they are peas." He also had his first taste of tuna noodle casserole. He was not impressed.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Here's another sack lunch thread. I love all these ideas because I'm a teacher, and I always bring my own lunch.

What about cold roast or fried chicken? Or cold/room temp roasted vegetables--you can always throw extra vegetables in the oven when you're cooking dinner.

My favorite sack lunches usually involve cheese, bread, and salami.

snowangel, what sort of packaging do you use for keeping things hot/cold?

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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Why not get the kids involved in all aspects of the process, from planning and scheduling, to purchasing and storing ingredients, to preparation and packaging, and of course consumption? Start with a recipe testing phase, then establish favorites, create a rotation of 10 such items (with rotating garnishes and accompaniments), figure out which ones can be made in large batches and frozen (like soups, stews, chili, etc.) versus which are most labor-intensive. You get the idea.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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snowangel, what sort of packaging do you use for keeping things hot/cold?

Short, wide-mouth thermoses for hot stuff. Their lunch bags are insulated with a pocket for a freezie thing for cold stuff.

And, yes, I do get the kids involved with planning and preparation. Today they marched off with hummus sandwiches on pita and tabbouleh (sp?), and canteloupe (fresh from the farmer's market, best I've had in years). It was Diana who yesterday afternoon noticed that our parsley plants were sort of out of control and suggested tabbouleh would be a good use. She's good at putting together meals, or portions of them, from the oddities left in the fridge and cupboard.

The rotation idea is fabulous. I think we'll come up with a few this weekend.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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In my kid's school, a kid who brings this stuff for lunch would sit at the lunch table all alone!  :sad:

aww Kim, I think that's sad :(

I guess as they get older it changes a little. I have always tried to give my kids what they like to eat, therefore they feel good about it and are not embarassed to eat it.

I had to laugh the other day. My daughter ( 14 ) took a slice of mudcake to school with her lunch - she said to me when she got home

" Mum did that cake have alcohol and coffee in it ? "

" Yep" I said " coffee and Tia Maria "

" ahh ok "was the reply .. " me and my friends thought there was.. they wanted to know if you can make some of that for camp next week? "

I asked her if she had been analysing my cake.

" Oh yes .. your baking is the favourite at school everyone always likes to see what I have for lunch, they just have boring stuff "

So there you go.. I doubt that that attitude would have been there when she was little, but as the kids have got older they almost like to " show off " what they have for lunch I think.

Sooo Leah is off to her school camp for a week with 2 specially made mudcakes


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When my three children were very small, 6,3,1, we lived across the street from a woman with five kids. My oldest started school that year, and I would get up around 6:30 in the mornings to make him a nice lunch. I noticed that my neighbor was always up even earlier. One morning, I ran out of bread for sandwiches, and trotted across the street to borrow a couple pieces.

This woman's kitchen looked like the line in a short-order diner. My eyebrows went up and my eyeballs got big. "What on earth are you doing?"

"I'm making everyone's lunch. I wish I could get them to eat the same thing, but...." She went on to say that "this one didn't like this and that one didn't like that and this one HAS to have his this, and that one HAS to have her that." She was making five DIFFERENT lunches, lunches to order, for these kids.

This poor woman was getting up at 5:30 every morning just to make breakfasts and lunches for these five kids. Now, understand that these were BIG kids, all of them in junior high or highschool. As with so many ordeals, this one had started off small, and then had insidiously expanded beyond reason.

Shaken, I crossed the street back to my own home. I could see my future, and I resolved that would never happen to me.

Where this story is going is this: my kids made their own lunches.

I either bought or made whatever they wanted that they couldn't prepare themselves, but they packed it themselves.

For example, one of them liked cold leftover tomato stuff. When I made lasagna, pizza, whatever, I made plenty extra. He'd take it in some sort of plastic container.

I always had lots of cheese and fruit, and the rule was, you had to take one fruit.

I made salads for sandwiches: tuna, chicken, egg. They could take them in a small thermos that kept them cold. They'd take two slices of bread and a pickle (and their required fruit) and make their own sandwich at school.

In the winter, I made lots and lots and lots of beef stews, vegetable soups, chili, etc., always trying for leftovers for the kids to take in their thermos.

A real favorite was baked beans. In the morning, in the microwave, they'd heat up the beans, and heat up a frankfurter. Then, they'd pour the beans into the thermos and stick the hot frankfurter down into it. Seal it up, pack up a bun and some potato salad. Lunchtime, retrieve the wiener, put it on the bun, and they'd have a nice warm hot-dog, with beans and potato salad.

Another was soft tacos... The kids would take several pieces of leftover roast chicken, or beef, or pork canitas in a bag, and a small container of my salsa, and some tortillas. Soft tacos.

I bought big bags of chips and the kids put them into smaller ziplock bags.

They could take one bag of chips.

I had a junk box. It held crap like Twinkies, Little Debbies, and other sweets. Each kid could take only ONE thing from the junk box for dessert.

My daughter never liked sweets much, but she did take something from the junk box daily. One day I asked her why, and she said, "It's just good to have it. Sometimes I trade it for stuff. Sometimes I give it to a friend. I never eat it but it's kinda like money. You may not need it, but it's a good thing to have with you just in case."

My children had taken another step down the path toward self-reliance; they had nutritious, imaginative lunches; and I could sleep in until nearly seven.

At which point I'd appear in the kitchen to inspect the lunches and be sure they met with my nutritional approval, and give each child a hug and big kiss, and send them out the door.

If they didn't like their lunches, it was their own fault.

I HATE whining.


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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All three kids are in school this year, Ideas?  Think adult food here, even though they are kids.

Wraps are also good, expecially if you pack the tortillas and fillings seperately, and they can be prepared the night before. A favorite of mine is leftover roast beef with horseradish cheddar, greens, tomato and coriander mayo. If they like onions, some mandolined red onion is great also.

Another thing that came to mind when reading about the babaganoush, is sending it with a portion of the little pita-ettes and some crudites. Toss in some chips and fresh fruit, and call it lunch...

In everything satiety closely follows the greatest pleasures. -- Cicero

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No kiddies, so my suggestions are based on the brown bag (or Tupperware container--how cool is the Zen collection?!) lunch options that my husband and I like.

Onigiri. Japanese rice balls, as mentioned above, are excellent--our current favourite. We buy 400-500g of fresh salmon at the fish market on a Saturday. Sunday, we cook it teriyaki style, flake it. We use the seasoned salmon flakes as an onigiri filling on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The teriyaki sauce seems to improve the salmon's longevity. Later in the week, we use an all-natural umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) paste as a filling, or bonito flakes mixed with a little soy.

Shredded salad--an Asian-ish coleslaw. So quick to make, if you have a mandolin-style slicer. We use all of, or a selection of, the following: shredded carrot, shredded radish, shredded Asian-style cabbage, shredded cucumber, and shredded red capsicum. Dressed with a combination of pure (not extra virgin) olive oil, soy, lemon juice and lime juice.

Lately, we've been on an onigiri and shredded salad bender, and haven't been eating much else for lunch. In the past, we've made noodle salad, roasted vegetables, Chinese-style mushroom and eggwhite soup, tabouli salad, curried sweet potato and chickpea soup (with wholewheat bread croutons stashed in a Ziploc bag), Asian-style sticky rice parcels, Asian-style vegetable buns (these freeze so well), and chirashi (sushi rice with bits of veggie and/or seafood mixed through or scattered over; must be prepared same-day, not night before).

Something that works incredibly well as leftovers is last night's home-made pizza. Guaranteed, when your kiddies open their lunch boxes, they won't be thinking "Oh no, not this again!"

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I just have to say congratualtions to the parents who taught their children well. It's comforting to see children with experienced tastes who have the knowledge to say "I don't like this b/c...." and not just whine and refuse to eat something b/c it looks weird.

I'm hoping that when John and I have children they will have open minds and be willing to try "good" food. I'm worried that they'll end up like most kids and not appreciate food till it's too late. I'm worried that I'll push too much and cause them to back away from food. And I'm terrified they'll have food allergies. *sigh*

anyway...good luck with the lunches :)

There's a yummy in my tummy.

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I like to make a simple salad that is served at almost all of the restaurents I visited for lunch in Tel Aviv, Israel. The salad is really simple consisting of tomatos, cucumbers cut into a 1cm cubes, lightly salt them and set them aside. If you like rough chop some basil, mint or parsely to mix into the salad. Mix in a teaspoon or more of EVOO or a simple balsamic premade salad dressing. Can be eaten by itself or on chips, or breads (flat or sliced).

My mother used to ship me off to school with leftover spicey peanut noodle salad, fruit, bread and some sort of juice. I guess you need to be cautious of the peanuts if you know your childs or your friends are allergic to them.

I also cook a lot of "rice bowls", simple rice dishes using brown or wild rice with prepackaged spice mixes or my own mixes. Then include some seered beef or grilled chicken, stewed tomatos, corn or what not.

Should be some food for thought in this post :)

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  • 5 months later...

Here's hoping (you don't become a robot!) this is the right forum for this.

A lot of nights I get home from work pretty late, so dinner ends up having to be something fairly quick. There are a lot of good things you can make that don't take a lot of time, so that's fine. However, I do like to spend the evening cooking, so I was thinking that packing more complex lunches would be a good idea - I can do them the night before and that way I'm not starving the whole time I'm cooking.

Does anyone have any ideas for something like this? I mean, I know I can do various slaws, sandwiches, salads, etc. but just wondered if anyone had a great idea for a sandwich that involves a lot of prep, or something. Note that I am a horrible failure at bread baking in anything other than the machine (don't know why - I think my hands are too hot and I end up overflouring), alas.

What did you eat for lunch today?


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