To Pack or not to Pack – That is the Lunch Question

Editor’s Note: Katie has a lot of mouths to feed, and her story, as well as her helpful tips, are inspirational and realistic. Looking for more reasons to pack lunch and stay out of the cafeteria? Her post may be just what you need. Thanks for this glimpse into your busy life Katie!

Katie's Lunches The lunch-packing story of our home began years ago, before the munchkins arrived.  I worked as a school teacher and wasn’t a big fan of cafeteria lunches, so my options were packing or purchasing. And I found myself eating out for lunch quite often.  My husband also bought his lunch frequently. Because hey, we didn’t have kids yet. Yes, we had bills, but it seemed less extravagant to buy ourselves lunch back then. With children come increased bills, and a smaller budget. So after four children and my decision to become a stay at home mother, our budget is even tighter. When our eldest daughter started Kindergarten two years ago I made up my mind to pack her lunch for a variety of reasons. And I did a pretty good job of packing it nearly every day.  Then when she started 1st grade I packed almost every single day for the first half of the year. Then in January of that year I had my fourth baby and lunch-packing fell by the wayside in favor of the convenience of just having her buy lunch at school. Until the day last spring when she pointed out to me: “Mom, you used to pack my lunch every single day, and now you never pack it.  I miss that”. And the packing started back up. This school year Max started Kindergarten, so I had two in school, and it seemed silly to spend so much money each week on lunches for both of them AND my husband. So I decided to start packing lunches everyday (ok, not really every day, but as often as I could!).

Packing Lunch Saves Money and the Environment

Not only was I going to pack their lunches as often as I could, but I was going to find ways to make their lunches more “green”. I made a wise investment of Easy Lunchboxes for the whole family, set about making cloth napkins out of my fabric scraps, and my husband purchased camping utensils. The kids helped me a bit with the napkins, and we spent time talking to them about these measures we were taking to make less waste in the lunchboxes. They even know to bring home plastic yogurt and applesauce containers for recycling.  I also purchased silicone muffin liners to separate foods in their lunchboxes, to replace the use of wasteful baggies.

More of Katie's Lunches

Portion Control

Cost isn’t the only reason I want to pack for my family. Sure it’s great to save money, but there are so many other reasons. One of the big reasons is that my kids are not adventurous eaters.  If I am packing their lunches I know what foods they will eat, so I can pack healthy lunches that they will actually eat. When they buy the school lunch they won’t try the veggie if they know it something they don’t like, or if they just think it looks “yucky”.  And Ella is not a big “meat eater”, so even when she does buy lunch she ends up getting PBJ.  So what’s the point of spending that much money on a PBJ sandwich when I have the fixins to make that at home?!  I like that using the new lunchbox sets I bought, I can pack smaller/child-friendly portions of a bunch of different foods (less waste!).  Have you seen the portions they get at school?!?!  Huge scoops!  Don’t even get me started on dessert size portions at school.  I don’t claim that we are healthy all the time, but dessert portions at our house for the children are small and we don’t get dessert every day.  I’m not saying that their packed lunches are perfect either, sometimes (gasp) they don’t have a veggie, or they have an extra sweet treat.  It all depends on what’s on hand to throw in there.

Allergies

Another reason that I am working so hard to make lunch-packing happen is that in two years Sam will be starting Kindergarten, and Sam has food allergies.  My stomach gets in knots just thinking about it.  I worry so much about him eating foods that he is allergic to.  So I know that I will be packing his lunch every day to avoid the risk of him getting allergens in his school lunch.  So by making it the “norm” now for the other kids, it won’t seem to him like he is doing anything different or out of the ordinary when he starts school.  As a matter of fact, he is enamored of their lunchboxes, and many mornings while I am packing theirs, I pack one for him as well, so that when he gets home from preschool he can grab it out of the fridge and eat right away. This is a huge help at noon time, when things are chaotic after getting home from school with a hungry babe, a kindergartener excited to tell me every detail of his day, and a 3 year old that is ravenous. This way he can take care of things himself while I tend to the baby.

Even More of Katie's Lunches

Manic Mama Tips

People often ask me how I do it, get four kids ready in the morning, feed them breakfast, get them dressed, and pack lunches without losing my mind.  Here’re a few tips from one manic mama to another:

  • Prepare the night before: set out items to pack (or even pack the lunches if you have time!), set out your kid’s clothes so they can get dressed without your help, have backpacks all packed up.  These things all help mornings go much more smoothly!
  • Think about tomorrow’s lunches while you clean up tonight’s dinner. Evenings are often too hectic for me to get the lunches packed, but while I’m putting away dinner I try to portion it out for the next day’s lunches. I usually pack my husband’s lunch with dinner’s leftovers.
  • Think outside the box: what are some new and interesting things that your child might be likely to try?  I was surprised, but my kids will eat cold pizza in their lunch.  Blech.  They love it, and it helps unload the leftovers from the fridge. And I just discovered that I can make jello and pour it right into their lunchboxes to chill!  They love it!
  • Try to make their lunch look appealing.  Lots of mamas out there pack the cutest darn lunches for their kids, I am amazed at their creativity. I don’t have time or the talent to go to the extreme that some of them go to, but I try to make my kids lunches look fun, and appealing. I even use little trinkets sometimes to add a little flair to an otherwise boring lunch.

We have come a long way with lunch packing in our home in the past few years, and I feel like the changes have made a positive impact on our lives. Sure it would be easier to just let them buy lunch each day, and some mornings that’s the decision I come to. We don’t pack every single day, because they LOVE grilled cheese day, and because I don’t want them to think that school lunch is forbidden. But they generally prefer the mama made lunch, and I love the money it saves us, and the knowledge that they are eating good foods & healthy portions for lunch.

What are your lunch packing tips? How do you make it happen at your house?

Katie resides near the great Ohio river with her husband and four young children. She worked for years as a preschool teacher in the public school system until she had her 3rd child, and now she is a stay at home mother who keeps busy with her four children, exploring all of the nooks and crannies of their surroundings. She creates and sells note cards to make a little “fun money” for the family. She also enjoy crafting, cooking, reading, scrapbooking, movie watching, and blogging. Wander on over to The Little Things to see what Katie and her little things are up to this week!