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Easy, no refrigeration, lunch on-the-go ideas for a toddler

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Now that the weather's finally getting nice here, we're getting out more to places like the zoo, the kiddie amusement park, etc. and eventually the community pool and so on. It seems that the only food available at these kinds of places are hot dogs, burgers, pizza and chicken nuggets. With fries. Blech. Junk at high prices.

Can you help me think of some lunch-on-the-go ideas I can bring along so I can avoid paying crazy prices?

I say easy because we seem to do these outings spontaneously and I only have a few minutes to cram everything in my bag and get out the door.

I say "no refrigeration" because I don't want to carry a heavy cooler or ice packs with me because I like to pack light, but it does get pretty hot here in summer. (Hard to believe but, yes, even up in the low 90's). I'm guessing this stuff would have to stay in my bag for about 2 hours max.

So far I was thinking:

-Pizza-in-a-pita that I can slap together and put in the toaster oven before running out.
-PBJ
-Fresh fruit, raisins, applesauce
-Maybe some ham and cheddar corn muffins I can bake in advance and keep the in the freezer for a grab-and-go scenario?
-cheese sandwiches

He doesn't have his full set of molars yet so we have to go easy on super hard, crunchy vegetables like carrots and celery... Also, no popcorn or nuts yet.

What else? As always, thank you in advance!

~TDQ

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  1. These aren't good to make right before, but I make spinach fritters (big bunch of spinach, garlic and feta in a blender, add some panko and egg, form into patties and lightly fry them 'til they're browned on each side) in advance and keep them in the fridge. They're great to grab and go and you could do them with lots of different vegetables.

    My son does not like hot food, which works in our favor, in that I can grab something like veggie burgers from the freezer, throw them in a bag, take them to the park and by the time he's ready to eat them, they've thawed. Not something I'd enjoy, but he's good with it.

    I've also had good luck with the Ella's Kitchen squeeze packs. They're organic and have fruits and vegetables so there's some nutritious content in there. Also the all natural no sugar added cereal bars work well.

    I've also made zucchini and banana muffins and freeze them. Pop them out of the freezer and take them with and they're thawed by the time it's lunchtime.

    Oh and just to share- we're lucky in that no one in our family has any food allergies, but I just read an op-ed by a mom of a kid who is deathly allergic to nuts and another who is allergic to dairy. She wrote a piece asking other parents not to bring peanut butter or dairy products to public places and/or to make sure that your child is sanitized before they touch the park equipment with peanut butter hands. I had occasionally been taking pbjs with me, but I'm going to stop doing that now.

    14 Replies
    1. re: hyacinthgirl

      I was going to mention the peanut hazard too. A little kid wouldn't notice if you used sunflower butter instead, though.

      1. re: hyacinthgirl

        Wow. I did a little googling hoping to find the op-ed piece you were referring to (didn't find it, I don't think) and I realize I'm going to have to be more sensitive about the allergies. We haven't had to deal with this issue yet, though we do have to worry about strawberries in one class we attend.

        Do you have to be as careful with cheese as you do with peanut butter?

        ~TDQ

        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Here's the piece:
          http://www.slate.com/articles/life/fa...

          I don't know the ins and outs of allergen safety, but it's definitely something I'll now be more conscious of when feeding my son at parks and public places. Her daughter seems to have a contact allergy to dairy.

          1. re: hyacinthgirl

            Thank you for posting that. Erp (reading the article) goldfish crackers are a worry? Who knew they even had enough cheese in them to trigger a contact-dairy-allergy-reaction? I hate to say it, but I have a fine dust of goldfish crackers at the bottom of my purse from the occasional escapee crackers and everything I pull out of my purse, my hairbrush, my wallet, my keys, the spare sippy cup I carry, the packet of squeezie applesauce I carry for snacks, etc. is coated in this dust. She may need to worry about me more than my kid!

            ~TDQ

            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              My purse has become basically a starter shake n bake of ground randomness. If there wasn't also undoubtedly some ground blusher mixed into it, it would probably make a delicious chicken coating.

              1. re: hyacinthgirl

                I'm glad to know I am not alone in this.

                ~TDQ

                1. re: hyacinthgirl

                  Ha. Ha. I told the chowweasel she couldn't store rocks in my purse yesterday because they would get dirty. And it was true.

                  1. re: hyacinthgirl

                    Has anyone looked into
                    http://www.purseket.com/purse-organizer
                    or a homemade version of it?

                    1. re: Kris in Beijing

                      It would have to be someone more organized than I am. I have little compartments and pockets but when I'm trying to get out the door quickly, I never use any of them, everything just gets shoved in.

                      1. re: Kris in Beijing

                        Oh neat! More places the cracker crumbs can burrow!

                        ~TDQ

                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                  No.
                  European cheese shops don't always refrigerate their cheeses.

                3. re: hyacinthgirl

                  If the child has a contact allergy, gloves and protective clothing for the child are a more realistic solution than any request for food restrictions or cleanups by other parents.

                  1. re: MidwesternerTT

                    I'm sure parents of children with allergies take whatever measures they need to keep their children safe. As a lucky parent who doesn't have to worry about that for my child's sake, I appreciate being conscious of the reasonable efforts I can take to keep the environment safer for everone.

                    1. re: MidwesternerTT

                      gloves and protective clothing will not protect the child with the allergies bc the said allergen will still be on their protective clothes. so it's just best to clean your kid up with a wipe after eating. it's that simple. you take a wipe and clean their hands and mouth. and if you spill your food just pick up after yourself and put it in the garbage. i do that anyway bc i'm not into littering. my child has food allergies and we have playdates with friends who bring PBJ's. we are all ok with this. the child gets wiped afterwards and it takes about a second. we like this bc it's teaching my child how to protect himself and understand his disability. i never wanted to say it's a "disability" bc he's fine otherwise but inorder for people to understand that my kid can go into anaphylaxis with one bite i've had to explain it that way.

                      we make onigiri or rice balls as our non refrigerated picnic food. salt the hot rice and stuff it with salmon, egg, or whatever you want. bring the nori with you so it doesn't get soggy. we use the seasoned seaweed from Trader Joes for a little flavor.

                  2. Hummus and pita
                    Smoothies in a sippy or straw cup
                    Snack box with assorted raisins, pretzels, pirate's booty. Throw a couple M&Ms in for fun too
                    Those ready to serve tuna/chicken salad with cracker kits

                    I used to freeze grapes in a ziplock and use that for an ice pack, then we'd eat the grapes for our afternoon snack. Saved me from carrying a reusable ice pack for the entire day. That way I was able to take along string cheese and keep cut up fruit cold too.

                    1. You mention buying chicken nuggets (or not buying them) but I make my own chicken fingers or cutlets and slice them into strips. I make them the day before and wrapped in foil and stuck in your bag when they are cold, they will hold up well for lunch time. My kids are fine eating them at room temp.

                      I also buy "fish nuggets" from Trader Joe's and the same goes for them. Cooked and refrigerated the day before, they will keep in your bag. My son will also eat these at room temp.

                      1. Not really answering your question since the other posters covered my ideas, but what about getting a small insulated pack that you can throw in your regular bag, like this? http://www.amazon.com/Icy-Diamond-Tot...

                        It's meant mostly for folks who have to carry insulin I think but the small size would be perfect for a few snacks that have to be kept cold, like yogurt or cheese.

                        1. kebabs made with pretzel sticks i.e.

                          cheese cubes and grapes

                          cooked chicken and cherry tomatoes

                          carry items and spear when serving, my kids loved these

                          frozen water in container makes great ice water for lunch

                          1. Hi TDQ! I'm with hyacinthgirl on the squeeze packs - those have been a lifesaver with my kids. Ella's, Plum, and Sprout are a few really good organic brands.

                            My kids love cheese so I usually take indv. wrapped string cheese with me (Polly-O, Sargento, etc) - if they're refrigerated before you pack them, they'll be fine in your bag for 2 hours.

                            I've made chicken croquettes - with sweet potato and ground chicken and panko breadcrumbs. Those will keep really well too.

                            1. My daughter loved frico--just wrap anything inside them (salami, ham, etc.) while warm and roll.

                              http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/201...

                              You can also just have grapes/apples with them.

                              Buy or make dough and make mummy dogs, or use cheese, again be creative--it doesn't have to be hot dogs. Like this, only I don't use crescent rolls (although Trader Joe's has good crescent rolls these days).

                              http://www.instructables.com/id/Mummy...

                              Come to think of it, crescents can be wrapped in all sorts of forms. I never used them until TJ's came out with theirs.

                              1. I'm a big fan of the sandwich crimpers ["unCrustable" makers].
                                Lightly coat bread with cream cheese-- flavoured might be nicer for the grownups-- and add meat, crimp, refrigerate.
                                Ham-apricot jam-cream cheese is a family fave.
                                They'll stay cool in a bag all day, especially if you keep them a cooler in the back of the van until you've arrived [but NOT Necessary to drag the cooler around with you].

                                You can also melt cheese "into" triscuits. Once they've cooled, they transport just fine, but have a bit of extra nutrition.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                  http://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Sandwich...

                                  This decruster seems so fun!

                                  And, as chowser said below, I could freeze the sandwich before hand... (In addition to your recommendation to keep them in the cooler in the car while you're en route to your destination...)

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    Pampered chef had one that could crimp the edges:

                                    http://www.amazon.com/The-Pampered-Ch...

                                    You could make pop tarts w/ it, too!

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      Cute! It kind of reminds me of campfire pies my husband says they made when he was a kid with canned pie filling and 2 slices of bread crimped around it.

                                      ~TDQ

                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        My current one is a Pampered Chef product.
                                        I like it better than other, cheaper ones I've had over the years because it's completely deconstructable [the deconstructable uncrustable?] so it's easy to wash off honey or jelly or sauce that I inevitably get in/on it.

                                      2. re: chowser

                                        Ok, now that I have perfectly uniform sandwiches, does P.C. sell a perfectly-sized sandwich to-go container?

                                        ~TDQ

                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          I used to put them in a square in those bento boxes but if we were out and about, glad press and seal works wonders. I've also used the crimpers for perogies and hand held pies. If you don't have time, use Trader Joe's pie crusts and nutella. Okay, maybe not lunch like but delicious and fun.

                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            I LOVE THIS Tupperware Set:
                                            http://bit.ly/Z3Khm8
                                            (also known as a Bagel Keeper).

                                            Or
                                            http://bit.ly/Z3Kx4K

                                            Also, just in terms of Tupperware, the Hamburger Press and the Ice Cream Sandwich Maker sets are great, Great, GREAT. I find the "stacked together"-ness makes them easier to use.
                                            http://bit.ly/Z3KDck
                                            http://bit.ly/Z3Kndv

                                            1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                              I love the stacking ones. There is also this one, very cute for a toddler:

                                              http://www.allthingsforsale.com/bento...

                                              A lot of fun bento boxes, varying sizes.

                                              http://www.modes4u.com/en/cute/c258_B...

                                      3. re: Kris in Beijing

                                        Kris, on your recommendation, we bought one of these pampered chef uncrustable sandwich maker and we absolutely love it. Such a life saver!

                                        ~TDQ

                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          Lol.
                                          Hello again TDQ : )

                                      4. Is there any reason that any sandwich under the sun wouldn't work?

                                        13 Replies
                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Somewhat of an aside, but do most toddlers eat sandwiches? I can't get my almost 2 year old to eat them unless they're somewhat un-deconstructable, like the way a peanut butter and jelly sticks together. If I put anything else between bread, he'll eat the bread and pick out everything else. The kid really LOVES bread.

                                          1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                            When our grandbabies were just barely one, they ate PB sandwiches where the bread was lightly toasted and it was cut in barely 1" cubes. Their moms would pop some in a small container for on the go.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              My daughter (2) still eats her sandwiches this way. She's not interested in a sandwich to hold.
                                              She likes trader joes mini pita breads with pb (can use soy butter) or cream cheese.

                                              Also, tortilla rollups with pesto and cheese or cream cheese.

                                              Frozen yogurt squeeze tubes are great to bring along.

                                              I know you said no ice packs- but on really hot days I like to bring a frozen water bottle along for myself. I toss it in my bag and it keeps everything cool.

                                          2. re: c oliver

                                            I would worry that any sandwich with meat or seafood or mayo would spoil and be a health hazard.

                                            ~TDQ

                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              Would you feel comfortable freezing them first? They'd thaw in time to eat.

                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                Store bought mayo is no problem. I probably wouldn't do fish but ham, roast beef, chicken, cheese, I wouldn't consider risky It's what I carried to school for a dozen years :)

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  Unfortunately, I'm not the type to feed my child a chicken or ham salad sandwich that has been in my purse for 2 hours when it's 90 degrees out.

                                                  I know there are people who might be comfortable with this, but I guess I'm looking for ideas that meet more conventional criteria for "no refrigeration required".

                                                  ~TDQ

                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                    Ewww, given the scenario you've described, I think your best bet is PBJ (or alternative soybutter if there are allergy concerns). Other options could include hummus/bean dips or just plain beans.

                                                    Eta: and fruit, crackers, squeeze snacks

                                              2. re: c oliver

                                                My 2yo loves sandwiches. But then she does deconstruct them. Is it so bad really that they eat them separately? My standard quick packed lunch to go are cheese or meat (ham, roast beef, etc) sandwich, fruit, bread stick, raisins, dried apricot and yoghurt. If I have them in the freezer, I take some frozen savory muffins too.

                                                By the way, I don't consider the cheese, roast beef, ham etc risky either because so many kids carry them in their lunch boxes too. You could pack a frozen drink with you to keep the temperature cool if you are worried. I used to do it and they are always melted by lunch time.

                                                1. re: lilham

                                                  I would be fine if he deconstructed it and ate the parts separately. Unfortunately, he deconstructs it and then eats only the bread and refuses anything else. If we give him meat with no bread in sight, he'll eat it happily, but the moment bread becomes an option, everything else is apparently inedible.

                                                  1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                                    Mine deconstructs and eats only the meat. Lately, he's taken to dunking the bread in his milk and taking a few bites, but otherwise the bread goes untouched.

                                                    As far as whether or not meat is a risk, you are all going to have to trust that my circumstances are such that I can't afford to walk on the risky side of food safety. I am happy for those of you who have more flexibility, but I do not.

                                                    ~TDQ

                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                      I'm with you on the food safety side. I'll take risks for myself but little ones can't recover as easily as adults and the dangers are too great. I did the same when I was pregnant.

                                                  2. re: lilham

                                                    I am 28 and still on some level guilty of deconstructing sandwiches ok its a big mac or whopper from respected places but still deconstruct it to eat it yes its bit odd but doesn't bother me.

                                                2. I'll try to come back and post more ideas later but think about freezing small bottles of water or juice boxes as your icepacks. I would freeze small reusable bottles and then pop them in a light weigh insulated bag with the food. Keeps your food cold but doesn't weigh you down (as long as you were bringing drinks anyway). Some days they weren’t fully defrosted but my son never seemed to mind. Amd once they are out the bag they melt quickly.

                                                  15 Replies
                                                  1. re: foodieX2

                                                    I remember doing that, now--thanks for the reminder. It was tricky trying to get it frozen enough that it would still melt in time for them to drink. Frozen yogurt tubes work well, too, plus frozen yogurt tastes like popsicles.

                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                      Our adult daughter who's VERY outdoorsy will fill her water bottle half full and freeze overnight. The next morning she fills it the rest of the way up. When we're in hot climes, I now do the same.

                                                    2. re: foodieX2

                                                      Here are my son of my son's favorite from that age. Sunbutter and other nut butters can be subbed for PB. All shelf stable for 2+ hours even without a cold or frozen water bottle or juice box.

                                                      -PB and Banana roll ups. Spread PB over a wheat tortilla, place a peeled banana at the age and roll up. Slice cross wise to mini roll up sandwiches. You can even freeze the banana first.

                                                      - Do the same as above but use spreadable cheese (goat is good choice) layer with ham, roll and slice (oops just saw your ham comment)

                                                      -cut celery into kid friendly pieces, stuff with PB or cream cheese and raisins. All kinds of fun cream cheese flavors these days or make your own. This is also great with cut up fruit.

                                                      -mini containers of, hummus, salsa, guacamole with things to dip into them. crackers, veggies, pretzels

                                                      -cubes/slices of cheese and crackers

                                                      -hard boiled eggs. I would peel them right before eating and he would eat them whole or if there was a picnic bench or table I would slice, put on cracker and top with russian dressing. He LOVED those! To this day I still put a hardboiled egg in a tupperware and throw in my gym bag for after a work out. You might not be comfortable with that either, though.

                                                      -cold WW pancakes or french toast "sticks" with nutella, PB or cream cheese dip.

                                                      -there are TONS of great protein rich "healthy" muffin recipes out there-ones low in sugar but still taste great. But you can cut the sugar in half for most muffin recipes with little to ni impact on taste. My son loves carrot/ginger, chocolate/zucchini, sweet potato, raisin/bran muffins to name a few. Keep in the freezer and they'll be defrosted by the time you need them

                                                      -on the weekends I used to make granola oatmeal bars/cookies. You can add almost anything to them-veggies, nuts, fruits and freeze. Take out and you got a nutrient dense "cookie" then defrost pretty quickly

                                                      -While a little heavier than tupperware a thermos is great for packing things like cold sesame noodles, yogurts, cold soups and pasta salads (my son loved the non mayo based ones so this was great on really hot days. I would use fun shaped pasta and make it with chopped up steamed broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, peas and cut up feta cheese, etc). They make thermos in all shapes and sizes these days.

                                                      1. re: foodieX2

                                                        Great ideas! For some reason, I would be more okay with ham than ham salad, though it's still not my ideal. Still, maybe I would feel okay if I put it in there next to something frozen. (Like yogurt! I love that idea!)

                                                        ~TDQ

                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                          What about deli meats that don't need to be refrigerated like pepperoni, salami? Why are you okay w/ ham and cheese muffins but not sandwiches?

                                                          I used to make a banana peanut butter oatmeal muffin that my kids loved. It was something like this, minus the chips.

                                                          http://yankee-kitchen-ninja.blogspot....

                                                          Another one my kids loved (and you can obviously do muffins) is sweet potato zucchini bread:

                                                          http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                                          This might be helpful:

                                                          http://www.ehow.com/info_8271950_kind...

                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                            Pepperoni and salami are terrific ideas.

                                                            RE: the ham and cheese muffins--I was thinking that I'd bake them in advance and freeze them...they'd be thawed by the time they were ready to be eaten. Which in my mind is different than a freshly-made ham sandwich. And mayo is completely out of the question for me.

                                                            P.S. thanks for the link and the recipes!

                                                            ~TDQ

                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                              Could you share the ham and cheese muffin recipe? It sounds good. Have you seen the uncrustable maker suggestion? I used mine often for the kids lunches, esp when they head off to school. It holds the sandwich together. You could make a ham sanwich and freeze that, too. I read about someone who would make a whole loaf of bread worth of sandwiches, freeze them and she'd just put the frozen one in the lunch in the morning. One less thing to do. BTW, I can't believe your baby is already a toddler. It seems like you just had a baby!

                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                It goes fast, doesn't it? Yes, I saw the uncrustables recommendation. Who knew they sold such a gadget? I love the idea of it. It's kind of what I had in mind with my pita pizzas (stuffing the cheese etc. on the inside so it's more self-contained), but even better because it's MORE self-contained.

                                                                And, yes! great idea about freezing the ham uncrustable sandwich in advance.

                                                                I just found this recipes for ham and cheese muffins. I don't know if it's any good, but it's worth a shot: http://www.columbusparent.com/content...

                                                                P.S. I've made giant batches of sandwiches to freeze, so that my husband could grab and go in the morning when I start to notice the empty Burger King bags in his car. It seems that it shouldn't be a big deal to make a quick sandwich before you rush off in the morning, but some days, even a few minutes seem like too much. They work really well, actually. The key is to put a light layer of butter on each slice of bread to reduce the likelihood of soggy bread. I have a friend who makes zillions of panini to freeze for lunches...

                                                                ~TDQ

                                                              2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                From fda.gov:

                                                                "Note: Commercial mayonnaise, dressing, and sauces contain pasteurized eggs that are safe to eat."

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  Does it say that it's safe to eat after being left at room temperature for multiple hours? I'm not real big on food safety, I probably have some questionable practices when it comes to that, but even I wouldn't want to eat a sandwich with mayo on it that hadn't either been freshly made or kept cold up until the point of eating, let alone give it to a kid.

                                                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                                                    No, it says that pregnant women can eat commercial mayo and dressings because they contain pasteurized eggs.

                                                                    http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForY...

                                                                    There's a whole other page that the above-linked page links to about food safety and maintaining food at a proper temperature . For pregnant women. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIlln...

                                                                    ~TDQ

                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                      In order for bacteria to grow, there needs to be bacteria to begin with. They just don't show up out of nowhere. But I understand that this is a non-negotiable point for some and obviously you're one of those and I respect that. It's like people used to think it was the mayo in the potato salad when in fact it's the potato. No problem. None of you will starve, I'm sure :)

                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                        HA! True. No one's starving here. Good point about the bacteria, but I'm afraid there are a lot of people in my kitchen and there's just no knowing who has compromised what. I've also heard that infants and toddlers have a weaker immune system than adults... Just not worth risking anything, I think.

                                                                        ~TDQ

                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                          Commercial mayo is shelf stable for safety:

                                                                          http://www.dressings-sauces.org/foods...

                                                                          Key paragraghs in the article for those who don't care to click:

                                                                          "Atlanta -- It’s picnic season and millions of families are packing their coolers and heading outdoors. Whether you’re ordering out or bringing the food from home, there are several important facts to remember about food safety. And, despite what your mother may have told you, mayonnaise does not increase the chances of food poisoning. In fact, commercially prepared mayonnaise actually contains ingredients that protect against bacteria. It’s homemade mayonnaise recipes using unpastuerized eggs that gave birth to the myth that mayonnaise causes food poisoning.

                                                                          The Association for Dressings and Sauces (ADS) has collected 50 years of research that supports this claim. The trade group of mayonnaise and salad dressing manufacturers and suppliers blames the bad rap on old recipes for homemade mayonnaise which call for raw eggs in the ingredients.

                                                                          “Our studies have shown that when harmful bacteria are added to commercially prepared mayonnasie they die off quickly,” reports Dr. Michael Doyle, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the University of Georgia, Center for Food Safety and Quality Enhancement. Doyle, lead researcher for the most recently completed study, says this ability to kill bacteria is “largely because of the presence of the acid that’s added to commercial mayonnaise. This includes vinegar, lemon juice and salt.”

                                                                      2. re: juliejulez

                                                                        Miracle whip is egg free ever consider that

                                                          2. We almost carry a packed lunch with us unless we have something delicious specially planned. And for us, lunch becomes part of the adventure. We eat out almost every day when the kdis are young. I’d personally rethink the philosophy that your lunches must be packed in a flash. A bit of planning will make the day more enjoyable, the lunch more nutritious, and save money. Some thermoses are often key for us, like the fogo by thermos.

                                                            My kids favorites main dishes from ages 1-6
                                                            Quinoa + (often quinoa, sautéed veg, crumbled lamb burger)
                                                            Black beans and rice
                                                            Mortadella on buttered brioche
                                                            Whole wheat pasta + spinach + marinara
                                                            Fried brown rice
                                                            Leftovers from dinner

                                                            some sort of veg if not incorporated into the meal, usually eaten in the car

                                                            fresh fruit, washed and chopped for easy eating

                                                            a small portion of something snacky like pretzels

                                                            water bottle

                                                            14 Replies
                                                            1. re: JudiAU

                                                              I am a big fan of planning ahead (and, in fact, hope this whole thread counts a little as planning ahead) and don't mind doing some advance prep in the sense of baking some little muffins or making little sandwiches I can freeze in advance, but I'm finding that when we're rushing out of the house in an effort to get to the zoo (or whereever) by 10am before it gets too hot, too crowded, too impossible to park, etc., I don't have a whole lot of time leftover to make and pack lunch. Partly because I (and my husband) are also probably making & cleaning up breakfast, dressing my child, packing a stroller bag, feeding the cat, loading up the dishwasher to run while we're away, queuing up a load of laundry on timer, mapquesting our destination, checking the weather forecast etc. ...

                                                              As it is right now, we're running out the house without lunch and planning on buying lunch at our destination. We always bring snacks and cups for water, but we haven't been packing a meal.

                                                              I figure starting even with "quick and easy" on the go lunches would be an improvement over our current habits.

                                                              Baby steps.

                                                              ~TDQ

                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                You got it! Baby steps is the way to go with anything but especially preplanning. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you have so much going on in the mornings so if you bite off too much at once you end up saying “the heck with it!” .

                                                                I just recently went back to work 30 hours a week and it has been really hard getting back into the swing of things. My son is 11 and eats lunch at the cafeteria but still-backpacks and homework and dinner, oh my! I keep telling myself baby steps. When he was small and I was working FT I was the queen of meal planning, had grocery shopping down to science, laundry etc rarely piled up. These days? Yikes! I almost gave in and got some lunchables to have on hand for him to eat after school between sports. One look at the label stopped me in my tracks. So I dug out his old bento type lunch box and make my own “lunchable” and bring them to work with me so he can have it when I pick him at 4:00.

                                                                You might want to look at these. My son loved these and used them right up until he started eating in the caf.

                                                                http://www.laptoplunches.com/

                                                                1. re: foodieX2

                                                                  Love those ideas, thank you!

                                                                  I also like the idea folks have mentioned of packing frozen things (yogurt, juice or water, etc.) in place of an "ice pack".

                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                  1. re: foodieX2

                                                                    I, as an adult, use the laptop lunches for myself. Asked for it for Christmas and it has been great. I don't use it every day, depends on te lunch.

                                                                    1. re: foodieX2

                                                                      I pack my kids bento lunch lunches for school everyday, but I also pack them an icepack every day too. When we do day trips (zoo, picnic, etc), I pack bento style snacks in disposable containers (like takeout bento boxes). I freeze juiceboxes and/or freeze grapes to keep the food cold instead of taking reusable ice packs.

                                                                      As for mayo -- I only do mayo/deli meat IF we are going to eat the food within 2-3 hours and I have the food chilled with the frozen juice/grapes. Otherwise, I pack non-refrigeration foods. But I don't pack things like potato salad, or yogurt, ie. things that contain quite a bit of dairy/egg. A smear of mayo on a sandwich that's kept cold doesn't worry me.

                                                                      1. re: boogiebaby

                                                                        Mayo is risky because of the egg, but yogurt with live and active culture is actually good for a few hours at room temp because the same beneficial bacteria that colonized the milk and made it yogurt, will continue to multiply.

                                                                        1. re: Rasam

                                                                          I've read that elsewhere! Pretty neat.

                                                                          ~TDQ

                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                            Yes it is neat, innit?

                                                                            Products like yogurt, kefir, cheese, etc are ways to preserve dairy for longer times and travel before refrigeration. So let's not lose sight of that. Yogurt is one of the perfect foods for travel, and cheese sticks another.

                                                                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                      Ha. Ha. Ha. I am just a few years ahead of you. I have kids 5, 3, and 4 months. And this is why I pack my lunch: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/775293 .

                                                                      1. re: JudiAU

                                                                        Oh dear Judi, I'm sure you're ahead of me. Everyone is.

                                                                        Honestly, I try to do it all and trying to be supermom but am finding it impossible.

                                                                        At the time I wrote this query, I'd had house guests for two weeks straight, while maintaining a full-time career of course, and had been getting up at 4am every morning for about a week to prepare for a garage sale. Cooking to take meals to a family from our church. Had to let the cleaning ladies go due to some household downsizing, so kicking my family out of the house (to the park)from 7-8am so I could speed clean the house before company. Thankfully my husband did the baking for the charity bake sale but otherwise, trying to do it all with basically no family support whatsoever. (And I don't mean financial support, I mean "encouragement" kind of support.) No time to exercise. Am barely sleeping. And, I'm working on a book.

                                                                        So, yes, I'd love to plan ahead but some days the best I can do is shove a cup for water, apples, raisins, and crackers in my purse and hope for the best in terms of hot food options wherever our spontaneous (hey look! It's not snowing and/or freezing temps for the first time since November) family outing takes us.

                                                                        I can't get into my personal circumstances but I will say we were very behind the eight ball for the first year with this child. I just now feel like I'm on even ground.

                                                                        I'm sure planning can bring many benefits, but sometimes, I really need options that are as spontaneous as slapping some peanut butter between two slices of bread.

                                                                        I did just order the pampered chef sandwich crimper, by the way. Can't wait!

                                                                        ~TDQ

                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                          It's tough preparing lunches and getting out of the house with a toddler on a normal day. I totally appreciate your dedication to your family and your church. Keep going at it and it will get better!! :)

                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                            It gets better or easy or we get better. I am not sure. Really.

                                                                            For some reason by Friday evening leaving the house for 12 hours on Saturday with a sling and a bag and my two hands and three kids always sounds AWESOME. Oh, and at the same time I should order some rabbits cut up for sausage or drive 45 minutes across town for the good fish.

                                                                            Meanwhile, the kids would probably prefer to sit on their bottoms lego-ing all weekend.

                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                              No one is ahead of you. You just think they are. Everyone does. When my kids were little, my idea of good eating was when I thought they got most of the nutrients they needed over the course of a week. And I remember many lunches for my son, a picky eater, that were just tortilla chips and salsa from a jar. There is no such thing as a supermom.

                                                                              1. re: Isolda

                                                                                Well said. Letting go of the notion of a supermom is freeing.

                                                                      2. Toddlers love to dip, so anything dippable is awesome. Pretzels and celery with peanut butter, for instance. (And I get the allergy worry but it's just not ever going to be possible to scrub the outside world clean of danger...just clean his fingers well before he runs and touches anything, I guess). Will he do hummus?

                                                                        Those little reusable tupperware dip containers are genius-ranch, PB, hummus, etc, in one, another one with goldfish, another with cut up fruit, then some veggies on the side.

                                                                        The laughing cow cheese wedges are yummy and don't need to be refrigerated.

                                                                        One of my kids' favorite lunch is "snacky lunch"-they each get a 6 hole cupcake pan with something different in each compartment-so we'll have goldfish, cut up cheese, pieces of chicken, carrots, grapes, and marshmallows, for instance. You can easily adapt that for your lunches-keep a few of the snack containers ready to go, fill em with whatever you have on hand (ooh...leftover plain noodles is huge with my kids!) and then throw in a bottle of water, half frozen, or a frozen juice box.

                                                                        Now I'm feeling motivated to do this more myself this summer :)

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: girlwonder88

                                                                          I love love love the snacky lunch idea. I was wondering what to do with my beaba baby food trays... http://www.amazon.com/Beaba-Multiport...

                                                                          ~TDQ

                                                                          1. re: girlwonder88

                                                                            The Tightwad Gazette recommends clean, dry egg cartons for portable, disposable and/or recyclable "snacky lunch" containers. Fill the spaces with grapes, other cut up fruit, cheese cubes, chicken cubes, peas, chickpeas, pretzels, crackers, popcorn, cereal, raisins, etc. It's a good way to use up the last bits and pieces that might otherwise get tossed.

                                                                            To the OP -- make it easy on yourself. There is nothing wrong with simple sandwiches, some fruit, and baby carrots.

                                                                          2. Grain-types of salads would work well if your son will eat this sort of thing-- pasta salad, quinoa, barley, etc. You could mix in diced veggies, beans or cheese.

                                                                            1. TDQ, I was going through my Pinterest this morning and found a couple things that might be worth a shot... I haven't tried them but they look interesting...

                                                                              These are probably more desserty, but probably a filling snack for a kid...sorta like a better version of those nutri grain bars?: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/20...

                                                                              Apple Hand Pies with Cheddar Crust: http://www.alexandracooks.com/2011/11...

                                                                              This doesn't have an actual recipe but the idea of it is interesting... uses store-bought croissant dough. http://myfancypantry.com/2012/12/13/c... I would think the filling combinations would be endless. She mentions using fig preserves... yum!

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                              1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                I love those apple pies, but I wonder if there's a way to increase the cheese content (maybe put a slice of cheese inside each pie along with the apples, rather than just in the crust??? Or will it just get obliterated in baking?)

                                                                                And I'd reduce the sugar. In order to make it less of a dessert and more of a meal.

                                                                                ~TDQ

                                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                  How about using pizza dough and making mini calzones? You do various combos that are stable at room temp and still taste good.

                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                    I think if you did a thicker slice of cheese (as opposed to grated or thinner slice) it should work out OK. Think of cheese in stuff like calzone... it doesn't get killed by the baking process.

                                                                                2. how about carrot sticks (you can steam them to a semi-soft consistency), sugar snap peas, nice young raw green beans, a dressing for a dip (I can't make myself say the r@nch word, because I hate it and it's too ubiquitous with so-called kids' meals. Try a Caesar or a nice raspberry vinaigrette in a sealable container for a dip. breadsticks, and cheese cubes? I applaud you for not wanting to give in to the "kids' meals' that are so gross. And pack some water, don't give in to sugary juices or sodas

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                    Green goddess is a hit with mine! But homemade buttermilk is divine!

                                                                                  2. When my son was a toddler and we were going to see Sparky the seal, I'd pack up some Laughing Cow cheese wedges, wheat crackers, salami pre-sliced into triangles and grapes, strawberries or an apple with a small paring knife. Dessert was always a cherry sno-cone. Momma's choice! :)

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: justalex

                                                                                      That sounds like a perfect lunch for my kids and I. Salami is a great idea...Trader Joes has good prices, and my kids devour it.

                                                                                    2. Playing off the uncrustable and the "sandwich in bite size" ideas-- what about nontraditional raviolis?

                                                                                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg61dM...

                                                                                      has some ideas. Fruit or vegetable purees, nut butters, cheeses-- all would do well at room temperature.
                                                                                      And of course you could dust the "dessert" ones with sugar and cinnamon. A dipping sauce would also be easy-- honey [if they kids are old enough], marinara, jelly-- essentially the same as the fillings!

                                                                                      1. Along the lines of a veggie burger: how about felafel? Costco has these spinach-chickpea patties that DS (almost 3) and I love, and they can be frozen. Of course, you cold always make your own. :)

                                                                                        We also got a lot of use out of a small cooler bag (roughly 5x8?) - it was big enough to hold cold snacks, like string cheese, a box of milk, or a frozen squeezy yogurt, and then easily fold up into the diaper bag.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: truman

                                                                                          That's what we just did this weekend, falafel and hummus, worked great!

                                                                                        2. Other nut butters like almond, which the stores carry and can be very creamy. Avocado on toast. My daughter has always liked plain rice eaten with beans out the can (rinsed well). You can of course make the beans from scratch if you have time. Just get a bunch of those little plastic containers and keep food in there. Bring along a little spoon. Lots of fruit. Veggies like cooked broccoli, snap peas, defrosted frozen peas or corn. Sweet potatoes. You should have him try boiled beets. Dd has been a big fan of those for a while. Various types of cheeses to eat straight.

                                                                                          1. I wanted to thank you all for your contributions in this thread. We've had a couple of weekends since I solicited your ideas and I've already used several of them. My husband recently took my toddler on an outing where they ended up having to take an unexpected early lunch break, but we were prepared. A woman actually approached my husband and asked where he bought the sandwich!

                                                                                            I have to say, though, that I'm having a surprising/crazy amount of fun with the pampered chef sandwich crimper. I ended up going on Smucker's website and ordered some "uncrustable sandwich-keeper-Tupperware-thingies. They haven't arrived yet, but I'm hoping they will take up less space in my purse/diaper bag than the containers I've been using, yet protect the sandwiches from getting smushed.

                                                                                            Thanks again, everyone!

                                                                                            ~TDQ

                                                                                            1. Throw some shredded carrots, olives, sunflower seeds ( basically whatever you have on hand) in a food processor with some cream cheese, and store in the fridge-the next day or whatever, just spread on a bagel and go. Should be fine room temp. Also, you can make little turkey roll ups- slice of turkey, slice of lettuce, a tiny pickle sear, a little stick of cheese and some mustard, just roll and go. Works with salami too- slice of salami, spread of cream cheese, roll and go. PB and honey or PB and banana is always good too. If he's a little more adventurous, cold pesto pasta (made the day before) could work well. Just maybe go easy on the garlic :)

                                                                                              1. A bit late to the party, but totally get your issues. I always have some crackers in my purse for the squirrely bored moments, but you need more than that.

                                                                                                My kiddo loves smoothies. Blenderize yogurt/kefir (I culture my own kefir cause it really is easy) with some frozen fruit and maybe some chia seeds if I'm not working that day, and hugely popular snack before we leave. Which buys me so much appetite time later.

                                                                                                Otherwise our standard restaurant waiting for food bag: string cheese, chopped up fruit x2, crackers, diced hard boiled egg with cold pack.

                                                                                                1. Bana slices with little lemon juice in plastic container.gold fish crackers they arent suoer hard. Blueberries halfed strawberries with lemon juice. That's all I got I wish I remembered more from when sibs where little.

                                                                                                  1. You can get a tiny lightweight icepack the size of a sandwich. I have done this often in my purse while traveling.