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School lunches - a twist on the common inquiry - lunches that don't utilize containers!

Hi all,

I think this is a twist on what I usually see asked on this topic. I have a little one starting kindergarten tomorrow. I recently started thinking about how we help him at home with all his plastic wrapped straws and yogurt cups and string cheese wrappers, etc. and realized that he is not likely to get much of that help at school.

So while I'm teaching him to do all this at home, I think the first month or two at school I'll have to rely on sandwiches that don't go in a tupperware, thermos, and aren't sold in individually sized serving packs. (I tested him on tupperwares and thermoses this am, and decided that he can only open the ones with a small diameter and usually sideways or upside down - oops there goes my lunch on the floor!)

Please help me with some ideas! Particularly for mains, is there anything besides sandwiches and cold pizza that can go in a sandwich bag or get wrapped in foil?

I know there will be a lunchroom monitor who walks around and assists, but with 20 minutes for lunch and 100 kids eating each shift, I don't want to rely too heavily on that...

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  1. Tortilla roll can be a slight twist on anything that would normally be a sandwich. You can roll up a tortilla with PB&J, turkey/cheese, cream cheese/banana, etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: LabLady

      Awesome thought on the rollup - just a little different makes it seem very different - thanks!

    2. why not put his string cheese, fruit, etc also in sandwich bags or foil? anything that isn't too wet can be unwrapped beforehand and placed in foil or a sandwich bag. For a twist on sandwiches, maybe try stuffed mini-pitas, which are of a size that he can handle them, and you can put anything you'd put on any other sandwich inside. Make him his own lunchables kit inside small sandwich bags- one for crackers, one for cheese slices, one for ham slices, etc. You could even reuse the ones with dry things like crackers or cookies if you want to cut back on waste. Yogurt or juice might be a no-go for a while, but I see no reason why he can't have other traditional kids foods that are usually prepacked. Apple slices, veggie sticks, crackers of various kinds, cookies, string cheese/cheese slices, sandwiches, etc. are easy. If he likes wraps, those are easily kept in foil. hard boiled eggs can be sliced and put in a sandwich bag, or a whole one can be wrapped in foil. good luck with your little one :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: frannieface77

        Thanks for your reply! I had thought to take something like fruit leather and just trim off the top with scissors, I don't know why I didn't think to do the same with string cheese.

        I guess my mental hangup is because of my older child. He is not a sandwich guy at all, so I end up giving him lots of dinner leftoevers, etc, inside tupperwares. I have to put on a whole new hat with my younger one. He may actually go for sandwiches. Here's hoping anyway.

      2. You say he is starting tomorrow, your heart must be full tonight!

        I'm sure he'll learn very quickly, I would pay the older one to teach the younger how to open stuff--

        haha can you tell I don't have kids?

        Fruits and nuts, bread and cheese, I agree that anything that is rigidly wrapped can be rewrapped to be user-friendly. Sandwiches can be cream cheese on zucchini bread, maybe a little different.

        1 Reply
        1. re: blue room

          I'm not ready that's for sure. I can teach the little one. It would be nice if he could just sit next to brother and get some help, but they have different lunch periods.

        2. Would you consider getting a laptop bento box lunch container? It's easy to open w/ different containers and kids have a lot of fun with them. Plus, it's reusable so it's environmental. The inside containers have lids but you don't have to use them if you don't pack food that doesn't leak.


          My daughter used the same one for years.

          3 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            I would hesitate to use the inner containers w/o lids. I see the way these kids throw their packs on the ground when they get to school. I am afraid it would be a huge mess. And if I use the lids, I'm back to square 1, huh?

            1. re: sasha1

              I never packed anything messy, just cut fruit, a sandwich, small cookies and things like that. Most of the containers don't have lids, just a couple of the smaller ones. The lunch box holds it all in.

            2. re: chowser

              my friend does this for her K child...random little things in a bento type box ...just one lid to take off.

            3. One of my boys, as much as we try to teach him, just CAN'T seem to bring home anything except his lunch bag, and several of those have been lost too. I really have to be careful not to send him with any container I'm not willing to possibly lose. I still risk it because I love packing cute little bento lunches.
              for a field trip,though, or when there's no clean container, I'll pack chicken drumsticks in baggies or foil. Usually I'll roast or grill enough to last a few days. (You have to run cold chicken by your kids first though. It's a love-or-hate thing).
              Mini-meatball subs- the sub is mini not the meatball- mine are big enough that one is good for lunch.
              Baggie of chicken nuggets and one of sliced cucumber.
              That's all I can recall at the moment! Off to the Japanese dollar store for more containers ;)

              2 Replies
              1. re: iheartcooking

                That's a good point about losing things because those bento boxes aren't cheap. The boxes are really cute and my daughter looked forward to a variety in her lunchbox (and her friends did, too).

                1. re: chowser

                  Cute is right! I wish I had an excuse to use one.

              2. My son will eat chicken fingers or fish sticks (or Trader Joe's fish nuggets) at room temperature so sometimes I stick that in his lunch bag. And it can go in a bag or foil.

                1 Reply
                1. re: valerie

                  My K age daughter loves TJs tacos. And they're microwavable - takes a minute to make 3 mini ones. Those, wrapped in foil, even stay a tiny bit warm.

                2. My dd is now in 4th. We have been through a lot of lunchbox phases. Anymore we avoid plastic and aluminum, but have used them in the past. For baggies, I've sewn my own... similar to this tutorial here (http://www.craftstylish.com/item/5111...). The difference with mine is that I use a flap over the top with velcro on the outside. They are very easy to open. If I put something in that is not 100% dry, I use a waxed paper sandwich bag to line it. I don't put juicy things like fruit in them.

                  When dd was in kindy, we were using the less expensive Bento Boxes (not the more expensive laptop system) from ichiban kan. (Example here: http://www.ichibankanusa.com/images/5...) The nice thing about that system is that the lid is held on with just an elastic band, easily removed by even children with physical limitations like low muscle tone. It is plastic though. Still dd loved the little designs I made when doing bento boxes. She had a smaller appetite then and outgrew how much food I could pack in them.

                  For the last few years, as we've gone plastic-free she has been using the Planet Box system (http://www.planetbox.com/) which we LOVE because we've gotten almost completely away from plastic in our home. This is SUPER durable and easily cleans up. It's expensive for a lunchbox system, but worth it if your child is responsible enough to not lose it.

                  I considered getting one for myself, actually, but then went with the Kids Konserve system because I like to eat really large salads at lunch. The stainless steel containers have plastic lids, which is the only downside IMO. (http://kidskonserve.com/


                  There are a lot of other options out there, including the Zojirushi bento systems (http://www.amazon.com/Zojirushi-SL-JA...) and Tiffin boxes (http://www.happytiffin.com/) .

                  So, I haven't given you any food ideas, but there are some lunch box ideas if you are inclined to finding something more "user-friendly" for your son.

                  For a few mains ideas that can go into baggies or aluminum:
                  meatballs or köfte
                  chicken nuggets
                  fish nuggets
                  bagel and cream cheese with lox
                  leftover grilled chicken, roast beef (or any other whole meats
                  )(a spin off of that would be chicken caesar salad kit... you could include a bowl to be used to just assemble the salad - we do this a lot, but not with baggies)
                  bean and cheese burrito
                  salad roll-up (same as turkey roll up, but with veggies and dressing)
                  sushi rolls (can do anything with rice)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: velochic

                    Good ideas - thanks! I'm already thinking of putting room temp raviolis in a bag and giving him a tiny "solo" plastic cup of marinara for dipping. Because of it's small circumference, he has an easier time getting that lid off.

                    1. re: sasha1

                      I have visions of that solo cup getting smashed or geing opened improperly, spilling and making a mess.

                      I dont know, but my pref would always be to keep it really simple (sandwich in bag and piece of fruit., cookie. have to admit this is what our kids got, every day, along with a juice box.

                      and also kids do look at and comment on each others food. which can be good and bad - kids may envy your son's food or think its weird.

                      Its possible to overthink this all - an old fashioned paper bag can work in a backpack, as well as one of those simple cleanable velcro lunch bags.

                  2. Plastic baggies that close / open with a zip can be hard to open. They still make the old kind of sandwich bags with a flap that folds under. More likelihood of spills under rough and tumble conditions but easier to open.

                    I'm a big fan of brown paper sacks with his name written in big black letters.

                    I think I'd skip the marinara dipping sauce and just go with finger food.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: GraydonCarter

                      Well, I'm going to try the marinara tomorrow. If I pick him up from school and he looks like a crime scene victim, I'll rethink this idea :)

                      The tiny cups should also be good for salad dressing and hummus, or honey mustard, for dipping veggies and pretzels.

                    2. i hope i'm not repeating... i was (and still am) an anti-sandwich kid... don't know how broad his taste palate is or what he's willing to eat room temp/cold, but...

                      polenta squares stacked with a little sauce in foil

                      stuffed potato skins - chicken, broccoli, cheese, etc.

                      leftover chinese food :) like egg rolls or dumplings

                      burritos wrapped in foil, or quesadillas

                      macaroni'n'cheese bites - bake mac'n'cheese in mini muffin tins and send in foil

                      breakfast for lunch bites -- put shredded potatoes cooked with onion in bottoms of muffin tins; top with eggs mixed with fillings of choice and bake

                      mini meatloaf muffins - with a mashed potato "frosting" baked on top

                      meatballs with garlic bread on the side

                      don't know if any of these are helpful, so i won't go on, in case i'm barking up the wrong tree! hope his first day went superbly!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Emme

                        Emme thank you. I love your ideas. I wouldn't have thought to do the mac/cheese or meatloaf in muffin tins and then wrap in foil. This is genius. First day went fine, except he didn't eat much. Said there was no time. Second day same. I think time might be a bigger issue at this stage. But I'm looking forward to trying your ideas out once he is actually eating at lunchtime.

                        1. re: sasha1

                          >no time

                          He must be one hell of a conversationalist.

                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                            He's very social :) And it's his first week - he is getting to know folks...

                            He and his older brother run on fumes though - I know that about them. Tiny appetites, huge amounts of energy. Tall and thin - like dad.

                        2. re: Emme

                          what recipe do you use for the mac and cheese in muffunb tins?

                          1. re: lilmomma

                            lately... 1 can evaporated milk, 1 egg, 1/2 -1 tsp mustard powder (never measure), salt, good cracking of fresh black pepper, 6 oz cheddar, 4 oz havarti, 4-6 oz swiss/gruyere mixed with pasta, then i sprinkle another maybe 2 oz/2 oz mix of more cheddar/swiss gruyere on top with some panko crumbs and occasionally some grated parmesan. i also like to finish with some coarse kosher salt. i've never had an issue with it being too salty...

                        3. In addition to meatloaf muffins, another cute thing is to bake meatloaf mixture in halves of those mini "Yummy" bell peppers (http://www.bonnieplants.com/tabid/420... it's like having an edible container. My local grocery store has been selling in 5 pound bags, and kids seem to love them.

                          You can also stuff with tuna/egg/chicken salad as long as it isn't too gloppy.....or bake quiche mixture in them (shave off a bit at the bottom so they sit flat on a baking sheet).

                          Another fun lunch is calzones instead of pizza....actually, that might be fun to do together on a weekend!

                          1 Reply
                          1. I think I'd take him to the store and see which containers he can open easily. I'm wondering about the lock n' lock kind or the Ziplocs with twist-on lids. Hope he's enjoying his first days of school!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: jvanderh

                              God help me - more containers!!! I already have a lazy susan in my kitchen full of tupperwares that I am scared to open. It's like that proverbial closet in the kids room that will knock you down with falling toys and sports equipment if you dare open the door.

                              1. re: jvanderh

                                I agree lock 'n lock and ziploc containers are what I pack my kids lunches in (Kindergarten, Grade two and Grade five). I started with Tupperware and switched because my eldest kept either losing them or complaining about how hard they were to open. The lock 'n locks take up more space (because I bought a variety of sizes) than the ziploc containers which nest together so each size and lid stack atop each other. I like ziploc because they're inexpensive, and while I care if they lose them I don't go broke replacing them. I use a sharpie or Mabels labels to put their names/initials on the containers so if they go missing they're easy to identify in lost and found.

                              2. Homemade baked empanadas that can be made in advance over the weekends and stashed for the future. You can fill it with anything you like.