Real Food School Lunches III

With less than a month left of school I am trying hard not to give in to the simplicity and ease of having my daughter buy her lunch. While slacking off at the bitter end is tempting, these thoughts are thankfully short-lived. So my hope is that one more lunch post will help rejuvenate us all so even during these last few weeks we can continue to send our kids to school with healthy, creative, homemade school lunches that contain nothing other than real food!

In my first two posts about school lunch ideas (post I and post II) I shared that my daughter goes to a peanut/tree-nut free school. As a result the school has an “approved” snack list that shows what food products parents are allowed to send into the school. To me their little snack list not only shows what is approved, but it also serves as kind of a suggested list of items that you could and should send for your 6-year-old to eat at nine in the morning. Some of the items on their list that immediately jump out at me are Wendy’s frosties, skittles, oreos, fritos, airheads, cheese puffs, twizzlers, chips ahoy, and gummy bears. In fact, only 17 out of the 200 hundred items (8.5%) are what I would consider to be “real food” approved. And you know I pay attention to what the kids are eating when I volunteer in my daughter’s class (which happens to be during snack time!), and I see that some parents are unfortunately taking these snack “suggestions” to heart.

So rather than sitting here and complaining about it what better thing to do than to try to fix the list? I am admittedly not fixing things as fast as I would like, but I am definitely making progress (thanks to the help of another mom!). The principal of the school said I could add whatever I wanted to the snack list, but that I could not remove anything. He said if they don’t specify a certain brand of nut-free donuts a parent will surely send in the wrong kind. So without further ado, this is my plan for the snack list addendum (which I hope will be the first page!)…

“Food impacts how well a child’s brain works, affecting their moods and abilities … In a child’s brain junk food can cause neurotransmitters, which pass along information, to function improperly.  Smart foods, however, allow information to be processed correctly and help the child function at their optimal level.”  – Dr. Sears, one of America’s most renowned pediatricians and author of over 40 books



  • 100% whole grain
  • Made with very little (or no) refined sweeteners like white sugar and corn syrup
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably organic), dairy products, seeds, dried fruit, and humanely raised animal products
  • More a product of nature than a product of industry


  • “Low fat” or “low carb” or “low calorie” products (in most cases)
  • Made with artificial sweeteners like Splenda
  • Deep fried in oil
  • 100-calorie packs made with refined grains like white flour (labeled as “wheat flour”)
  • Something out of a package containing ingredients you cannot pronounce
  • Highly processed food that is labeled as organic

After this intro, which will hopefully get everyone on the same page, I will list out suggested “real food” snack options that will be divided into the following categories: 100% whole grain, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried and canned fruits, and other real food snacks. I can’t wait to see the response once it is finished and can only hope it will lead to at least some changes!

In the meantime let’s talk about a few more lunch ideas to get us through these last few weeks. I admit that I struggle almost every night to come up with something exciting and creative for my daughter’s lunch, but I will share what I have been sending in with her (along with some photos) just to get the discussion started. I encourage everyone to please share your ideas as well in the comments below!

  • Leftover cold whole-wheat pasta noodles drizzled with olive oil and grated parmesan cheese, carrots, melon and frozen blueberries

  • Egg salad sandwich on whole-wheat bread, apples, plain yogurt with a little honey and homemade nut-free granola (extra seeds were added instead of nuts)

  • Homemade whole-wheat raisin bread and cream cheese sandwich, applesauce, local carrots and hummus

  • Whole-wheat banana bread topped with cream cheese, hard-boiled egg, leftover strip of local bacon, and local strawberries


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132 thoughts on “Real Food School Lunches III”

  1. Hi there!

    I am the mother of twin teenage boys who love (like all teenagers do) junk food. They have been eating school lunches with strict rules against drinking the non organic milk, partaking generously of the salads and sticking to the whole wheat options now thankfully served at their school, no luck on the meat though…sigh. I would LOVE to be able to convince them to pack lunches again but it seems too “uncool” for kids their age, plus they usually don’t give high schoolers enough time to go to their lockers for packed lunches. Do you have any suggestions for older kids like my own?
    I will say my kids are already very knowledgeable about eating clean and even surprise me at times by reading labels!
    So wish a blog like yours for families would’ve been around when my kids were younger and I certainly wish I had been more knowledgeable then about real food in our family life. Keep up the good work. Oh btw the 100 days on a real food budget was just that- REAL. As my sons would say “The struggle is real!”. Thanks for doing that and keeping it real!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Sonja. Sounds like they are making the best choices possible with what is available at school. That’s doing better than most, for sure. Perhaps they could take something that’s easy to carry (not a full on lunch bag) as a supplement for what they are eating at school even if it is just a pb&j or a thermos of a hearty soup or a bag of nuts, etc. to go with that big school salad? ~Amy

  2. I’m curious to know where you get your divided lunch plates. I assume they have lids. I can’t find anything like that.

  3. As I prepare to send my 5 year old (with a peanut allergy!!) off to kindergarten in two weeks, I’m so thankful for your blog! We have spent a very long time gluten and dairy free, and have reintroduced without issue. I hope she outgrows her peanut allergy as she has the others, but in the meantime your suggestions and ideas are helping immensely. My only confusion is—what on earth is ‘leftover bacon’? Hehe :) thanks again!

  4. Hi Lisa,

    I have a 15 month old, who is a pretty great eater, but her school is nut-free. What alternatives have you used in place of peanut butter for your daughters?


    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Catherine. Sunbutter (brand) has been our go-to for a nut-free alternative. ~Amy

  5. My kids are used to processed organic food. How can I switch to better/real food? They turn up their nose when I mention leftovers. Of course I make sure it would be a yummy leftover. We use thermos food jars. I could try just not buying those processed stuff. Like I buy organic tortellini from Whole Foods. It is nice to have a quick meal on hand, but turn it becomes habit. Help!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Meredith. They can leak, just make sure the tops are secured tightly. I also put mine in a baggie just in case they leak. Jill

  6. We are gluten free, limited dairy, and organic. I live in Wyoming where it is difficult to buy fresh quality food, especially in the winter. I have 4 kids. We make 98% of our food and have for several years. Your lunches look well enough but all the plastic you are using is disturbing to me. I pack lunches everyday and have been using various sized glass containers. The tops have proven to not be very dependable as time has gone by so we rubber band them. Will be investing in a different brand soon. Back to plastic, containers, wrap. If you do your research you will see it is no little problem, especially for children.
    Toxic Chemical In Plastic Bottles Causes Cancer
    Posted on April 19, 2008 | Leave a comment

    Recent news has exposed the dangers of a toxic chemical known as Bisphenol A (BPA) used in some plastic containers that is believed to be harmful to consumers.

    According to Reuters Health News, BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic, a clear shatter-resistant material in products ranging from plastic baby and water bottles to sports safety equipment and medical devices. It also is used to make durable epoxy resins used as the coating in most food and beverage cans.

    People can eat or drink the chemical when it leaches out of the plastic into liquid such as baby formula, water or food inside the container.

    “At this point, the writing is on the wall for bisphenol A. Major retailers and governments all across the country and the world are now recognizing that this chemical is extremely toxic at very low levels of exposure,” Michael Schade of the U.S. environmental group Center for Health, Environment and Justice said in a telephone interview.

    Dr. Mercola reports that Bisphenol A (BPA) is an artificial estrogenic compound that may increase the adult breast cancer risk of female fetuses. This confirms earlier findings regarding a link between BPA and breast cancer.

    A study exposed pregnant rats to bisphenol A at a range of doses from 2.5 to 1,000 micrograms per kg of body weight per day.

    Their female children developed precancerous breast lesions during puberty at a rate three to four times higher than usual. BPA resulted in an increased level of lesions at all dose levels, which suggests that the current exposure limit set by the U.S. EPA (50 micrograms per kg per day) has put American women at risk of breast cancer.

    Urine analysis has shown that 95 percent of people have been exposed to BPA. BPA has also been linked to prostate cancer and brain tissue damage, even at extremely low levels.

  7. What brand of cream cheese do you use? Having trouble finding any that isn’t full of junk…even the organic.

  8. I’m new to your blog now that I’m packing school lunches for 2 kiddos! I love all the great ideas packed in those wonderful ziploc containers. Started reading “real food lunches iii” and I can’t believe the list of acceptable snacks they gave you! My 2 go to a public school that is not peanut or tree nut free but if ANY kid came to school with skittles, frosty, cheetos, candy for a snack…they are not allowed to eat it and the nurse does her job and talks to the parents about healthy snacks! My kids are semi-picky but they love fruits and veggies. I’m going to go through your lunch pictures with them and add to our lunch box idea list. Thank you!

  9. I too am a huge fan of your blog! I have a little one with many food sensitivities and you have so many options that work for us. I was wondering what lunchbox do you send the ziploc containers in? I haven’t gone to target looking for them yet, so I’m just trying to gauge if they will fit in the ones we have. Thanks!!

  10. I found your site via Pinterest. I just want to say thank you for all of the good ideas. We tried the cafeteria and my daughter only eats the “white” foods on her plate because she thinks everything else tastes weird. There’s no refrigeration at my daughter’s school for lunches brought from home and we live in the deep south so sometimes the classrooms are kind of warm when school starts in August, so bringing lunches to school and keeping them fresh is always a challenge.

    1. So glad you are enjoying the site! And I don’t skimp on ice packs when I send my daughters’ lunches…I use some kind of like this that are lightweight and can be cut to the desired size:

  11. all i have to say is skittles? really that’s not a snack. i pity the kindergarten teachers lol.

  12. You are seriously the best mom in the world!!! I would’ve loved it if my mom made me lunches like this when I was growing up! Love your site!

  13. I think the lunches are great but I was surprised to see cream cheese, there is very little protein or even nutritional value in cream cheese. Organic Cottage Cheese would be a better alternative.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      As mentioned above we don’t worry about our protein count too much. Also, we’ve tried cottage cheese and are not fans…although I am not sure how it would really be much better than organic cream cheese.

  14. I totally want to make these lunches for myself (or my hubs) especially since we don’t have little ones in school yet!

  15. Quick question. How do you keep your noodles pliable and soft for the next day? No matter what I do, noodles get hard and crunchy and I HAVE to heat them up again to make them edible. As my blog title suggests, I’m pretty “DUR” in the kitchen!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I am not sure what kind of noodles you are cooking with, but you could try mixing them with olive oil which also keeps them from sticking together.

  16. These are great tips, and I can’t wait to read through all of the comments to see what other readers suggest. My 2 boys (3-years and 19-months) are starting at a new pre-school in a couple of weeks where we have to provide lunch. Luckily, there are no nut restrictions because it’s a small school and there are no kids there with allergies… yet. Their old daycare was horrible when it came to food and angered me almost every day. The old one also told us that it was against state regulations for us to bring in our own food without a medical reason/note from a doctor (99% sure that is wrong).
    We’ll have to look at the containers you mention. The only thing is that my boys are usually big eaters even though they are relatively small (both are 30th percentile or less for weight). If I sent them with the amount of food in your pictures, they’d polish that off and start going after the other kids’ leftovers. :) Anyway, a couple of questions:

    Our work schedules are going to force me to drop them off pretty early with breakfasts in hand. Any tips for real-food portable breakfasts? I have some ideas but wouldn’t mind some others.

    Do kids really not mind if some things are just thawed out as opposed to warmed up? I’m thinking of the chicken nuggets, for example. We make your chicken nugget recipe, usually 3-4 lbs. at a time and freeze them for later. But we always heat them up in the toaster oven at home. Just eating thawed out ones doesn’t sound appealing to me, but maybe the kids are different?

  17. Are you ever a girl after my own heart! I am speechless with happiness after finding this website as so many times it is just nice to see another persons groove or way of doing it. Anyways…very curious as to where you found those lunch containers. Sometimes I hear that certain plastics aren’t as good for us and especially with microwaving. So…I’d be so happy to hear from you and again THANK you for your work on this website. I will be a fan (smile)

    Happy Healthy…

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I got them from Target…they are made by Ziplock and BPA free. And we actually don’t put them in the microwave since they are just for school lunches. I hope that helps!

  18. I was recently told about your blog and I love it. I have found that many of the recipes and ideas are adaptable to my families special dietary needs. My daughter has celiac disease and several food allergies to include peanuts and tree nuts. I applaud your childs school for making that brave and difficult decision to go peanut and treenut free. I will never forget the day we had a class party and a parent decided that it wasn’t a party without “real cookies”. She made peanut butter cookies for the class and didn’t tell anyone that they were peanut butter. I told my daughter not to eat the cookie because it wasn’t GF and she was ok with that. There were plenty of other snacks that were safe for her to eat. However, my child has a skin sensative reaction to nut oil so just avoiding the cookie wasn’t enough. When it came time to leave and the kids were hugging and giving high fives my daughter started itching and breaking out in hives. The parent apoligized to me and said “I just didn’t think it was fair that your kid got to decide what my kid had at the party.” Nice, right. I fought for the rest of the year to allow my child to sit next to someone in the classroom and at lunch because the school was afraid she would have another reaction. We are a military family so I know how hard it is to stretch a dollar and what an easy quick nutrient rich meal a whole wheat pb-n-j sandwich is. Whoa, sorry about the rant. Thanks again for the great ideas. Since school lunch isn’t an option for us(ever) I love any tips.

  19. Hi there,

    Love your blog! Just found it the other day. I too try to feed my family as little processed food as possible – which can be a little tricky sometimes! I am amazed at the school list of “approved” snacks – I live in NYC and so many schools have banned sugar and other sweetners – school lunches are another story – and contain food that is still a mystery for me! Good for you for providing an alternative list.

    Great ideas for lunches! Can’t wait to dig into your other posts…

  20. Thank you for all of your wonderful lunch ideas. I have followed your blog for a while but never had to worry about sending lunches (I homeschool). However, my daughter is starting a “real” school in January and I came here first to look for wholesome lunch ideas! You did not fail me!!! :)

  21. Thanks so much for posting school lunch suggestions. We are just beginning to try the unprocessed food pledge and my daughter normally eats lunch at school (which is sometimes horrifying what they serve).. She is also in a CMS peanut-free school and the list of “approved snack” items aren’t great either! I will definitely be going to Target today to get the “bento” style box. Thanks again and love the posts!!

  22. I just stumbled upon your blog (thanks to Pinterest) and am reading through your posts. This one shocked me. You’re school’s list of suggested snacks is horrible – even putting processed foods aside. A Frosty? Really? Talk about sugar highs with huge drops – scary! Thank goodness our schools (my boys are older, HS & MS) encourage “healthy options” across the board.

    I love your realistic options. You’re not crazy over-the-top with your choices. (my family might die without mayo) But share a guideline on how to eat more naturally. I can’t wait to put your tips into action! THANK YOU!!!

  23. Ok, I have to be honest, I thought, really school lunches? How can you change this up? Variety? Is that really possible? I have 4 children and we pretty much have the same thing over and over again. Anytime I see things it is pretty much the same PB&J I do but maybe with crackers.
    This is AMAZING! Since it’s Sunday, I am not going to attempt this this week but I am getting my grocery list together to do this next week. I’m a little excited and nervous. my kids might go into PB&J withdraw….thanks for the AWESOME completely fool proof {b/c the kitchen is NOT my area of expertise} way to re-do school lunches. Excited to give these a try!

  24. I third the request for egg salad recipe :D
    When I do it I simply chop up the hard boiled eggs, toss in a bit of mayo, which may sometimes be flavoured with herbs, lemon or lime juice and a bit of curry powder, and if I have any odd bits of bell pepper, celery, or other random vegetables left in the fridge I might toss them in too.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      My “recipe” if you even want to call it that is super simple. I just add enough mayo (store-bought organic version) for it to stick together, a big dab of mustard, and a few shakes of salt. That’s it!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      It is very simple. I just cut up hard boiled eggs and mix with enough mayo (the least processed stuff I can find) to make it “stick” together. Then I add a big dab of mustard and a few shakes of salt. Not really an “official” recipe, but it is a hit every time!

  25. At our school (and some other schools in our city), we have instituted a snack program where we provide organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables and distribute it to the whole school. Parents come in on Monday afternoons to wash and sort the produce for the week, then each morning a parent puts it out on the school yard. Each week a different grade is responsible so the job is shared by the whole school. The fruit for the kindergarteners is cut up, but the the rest of the school eats theirs whole. Some schools raise money to buy the produce, other schools get it donated. The teachers love it!

  26. Did you compile the list of approved/approved snack foods? I just got Drew’s approved list from school today and it’s even worse than I imagined. And, according to the website at the bottom, it’s from Canada! They didn’t even take the time to research foods themselves, just took it from another country. They are not nut-free in the lunchroom but they are for snacks since they can’t keep the kids with allergies separate in the classroom as easily. Anyway…I would love to steal your list and send it in as alternatives!

  27. I had lunch with my daughter in 5th grade.. I was soo upset.. a fruit.. what they considered a fruit.. was an icee.. yes.. it was horrible.. and she had pizza.. it looked like card board.. no joke at all. with some white stuff on it.. it was all she had to eat.. pizza and icee. and she paid full price for lunch.. she is going into 6th grade this year..she is picking.. and i advised her i would be packing her lunch every day.. so i at least know when she eats fruit it will be fruit.. i told her if she wants pizza friday..i would be glad to make pizza for fridays dinners.. that way its fun times too.. we usually try to eat the same same during the week.. its easier for me. weekends we try new things..

    but school lunches are so horrible.. I love Jamie Oliver Food Revolution. I have his it.

  28. Lisa, thank you again for being a light in the darkness for the rest of us. You are an inspiration to me everyday. Forgive me for sounding so cheezy…..

  29. I work in a public school and refuse to eat lunch from the cafeteria. When I eat with some of the kids they are always interested in what I bring. I think kids really want to eat the less processed stuff, at least for the most part. They are always trying to get some part of my lunch off of me. :) If you feel a bit stumped for yourself, or even your kids, check out There are some great ideas there and she also has a cook book. Laptop lunches also has an idea section: that I go to when I need inspiration.

    1. I also work at a school and refuse to eat the lunches. I don’t think schools are any less informed than the general populace, but it does seem politics and spin become more of a concern than what is really healthy. I see kids bring an energy drink and Pop Tarts and call it lunch! Breakfast doesn’t happen because they get up after Mom and Dad have gone to work and no one takes the time to make breakfast. I use this lunchbox and often bring posole with all the fixins, or a Moroccan stew with yogurt and cilantro. The other teachers who try to lose weight while drinking diet sodas and eating a tasteless salad with chemical dressing think I’m crazy, but then they see my success and want to know more. Everyone needs to be educated about how amazing real food can taste! JustBento is awesome and has great ideas for making healthy food attractive and fun!

      1. I was actually eyeballing that lunch set for this year! Do you like it? What about leakage? I usually take leftovers from the night before, or I’ll have something super simple like rice with steamed veggies, or cheese, crackers and fruit. When you only have a few minutes to eat you want it to taste good so you can still feel human! I completely agree with you on the salads. I love a good salad, but a good salad is a difficult thing to pack so it will stay fresh and by golly, I want a real dressing on it, not some low/no fat chemical concoction.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I bought a rectangular fabric type lunch box from Old Navy last year that worked. I also saw some the same shape at Target this year.

  30. I really love your project, and was just sent your blog today after a family member read about you in the paper.

    My hubby and I eat 95% non-processed food, despite how we were both raised. I think you and your family would really love this apple-cheddar sandwich I wrote about yesterday, it’s a different kind of sandwich but definately kid-friendly.
    Good luck as your continue you new lifestyle!


  31. This school lunch issue really gets under my skin. The thing that bugs me the most is the total false impression that the schools are giving to parents that don’t know a lot about nutrition. In my kid’s cafeteria there are all kinds of signs about how great the govt food pyramid is (which I think is a joke), how much physical activity kids should be getting and how great and nutritious the school lunches are. The last time I was at my kid’s school during lunch time they were having “uncrustables” those ridiculous PB&J sandwiches made of white bread, HFCS grape jam and PB with hydrogenated fat, low fat pudding cups, fruit in heavy syrup and of course no-fat chocolate milk. What a joke! It makes my blood boil just thinking about it. This is the reason I send my kids with their own lunch everyday (and we will be homeschooling next year, so it’s not even an issue anymore). Now, I do not feed my kids a perfect diet 100% of the time, but I’m also not trying to push some fake food as real, nutritious food. The majority of parents don’t know much about nutrition except for the misinformation that our government gives them. They think their kids are getting nutritious food at school and there is nothing further from the truth. The icing on the cake was when I was asked to bring in jello cups for my son’s kindergarten class for a snack. I expressed my concern to the teacher and she said to just make sure that they are sugar free jello cups. No wonder so many of our kid’s have learning problems.

  32. What about the lunch containers from They are the best for keeping things cold and organized. They last forever and keeps everything separate and nice. My kids love them. We have even brought them to Seaworld when I wanted them to have a healthy lunch from home.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I only wanted my daughter to have to open one lid and I believe those are separate containers, right? It was a while ago when I looked into it.

  33. While I could do better on what foods my kids are taking, all of their food containers are no waste/no plastic. They use a small Klean Kanteen for their drink, and for food storage: To-Go Ware small stainless container, LunchBots divided stainless container (love it!), snacktaxi and reusies reuseable baggies, and wrap-n-mat for sandwiches (and placemat). I hope that helps!

  34. For the mom who needs an idea of something special to take on a Friday – Knudsens makes a sparkler drink that is juice and sparkling water. Ocean Spray also does one as well – label and ingredients approved by you of course. :)

    Does it have to be a sealed bottle of soda? I was thinking you could have fun with sparkling water and a 100% juice of your choice and pack it in a water bottle… or sparkling water with lemon in it.

  35. Hi!

    Your website is so inspiring! With the help of my boyfriend (who has cured himself of allergies and bipolar disorder!) through eating real food, I have given up sugar (I used to put buckets in my coffee every morning and subsist largely on Coca-cola) and am committed to eating local, organic produce and meat. I feel amazing! I am also an AmeriCorps volunteer, and I work in a low-income elementary school. It is CRIMINAL the way processed, sugary snacks are handed out to kids as rewards for anything and everything and as bribes to “focus” (when their hyperactivity is no doubt exacerbated by the constant sugar that is being funneled into their mouths!). It’s difficult working with students who do not have the parental support (and funds!) to eat wholesome foods, but I have found that organic apples (can be bought at Costco!) work just as well as a reward–fresh fruit is such an rarity in these kids’ lives. UGH! And even kids I know in better economic situations still have parents that feed them “Reduced Fat Sour Cream Pringles”! The horror! Anyway, thanks for all the information. I think I might pack myself some of these lunches! Yum! :)

  36. Great lunch ideas! We also pack real food, whether its for the school day or for a day at the museum – it’s so difficult to eat well anywhere but home. Here are some of my packable lunches:

    I estimate that it costs, on average, about $0.80 to pack my daughter’s lunch – with organic fruit. Compare that to the $2.40 school lunch that contains too much wheat, salt, and sugar every day!

    On the plastic – I recently read a peer-reviewed article about chemical infiltration from BPA- and phthalate-free plastics into food. The researchers artificially aged the plastics but also measured some compounds in the food from unaged plastics. This is a problem that I hope will get more attention, but given how long it took the U.S. to pay attention to BPA, I’m not optimistic. We pack cold food in plastic, but have a stainless steel food jar for hot foods.

  37. Shari, Your daughter might enjoy taking juice instead of soda. My daughter loves pineapple juice. We can buy it in individual sized cans here. She loves to feel like she has a special beverage too. (She doesn’t like soda, or most other juices)

  38. I’m just saw this post and it’s one of my biggest hot buttons for our school. All of the junk that not only kids bring from home, but that is also allowed for classroom parties as well. In addition a lot of the rewards for various things are food based (ie ice cream parties, popsicle parties). My daughter will be in 4th grade next year. The kids are allowed to bring a soda from home on Fridays if they do certain things during the week. The fact that they are allowed to bring sodas from home to begin with just really makes me sick. I plan to talk to the principal about this, but it’s been a long standing tradition from what I understand. So, I’m looking for an alternative for my daughter so she doesn’t feel left out. Because most likely most of the kids will bring a soda in. Anyone have any ideas about a ‘special’ drink my daughter could take instead of soda?

    1. I recently saw cans of carbonated 100% apple juice at the grocery store. It would still be a fizzy drink and a special treat for her!

  39. Kim in Phoenix

    I love your ideas! My three boys eat like this and it’s so weird! In our world, I mean. The world of food that’s not food. I home educate my kids so this stuff is easy for me but you gave me some fresh ideas. I’m not sure of the plastic, though? Are they non-BPA? I am switching everything back over to glass. What was old is new again. Even if it’s BPA-free, we never know that the new plastic is any better than the old until it’s too late. So for me I’d use they containers for picnics and when we eat outdoors (a lot) and I’m concerned about the weight of the containers. Hmmm. Better get to work on that. Maybe they make light metal Bento boxes….

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I agree…people think we are the weird ones too! We are also slowly getting rid of plastic, but I don’t think I can send a glass container to school with my kindergartner. I’ve seen her drop her lunchbox many times! I haven’t researched other alternatives yet, but I am sure some are out there.

  40. I absolutely love your lunch ideas! I, like some other moms however, have children that would not like most of them at all. I’m really tired of making the same lunch for them every day. I’ve been fighting this battle for years now. This is how we currently operate: At dinner I make whatever I want to make, and the family has to all eat at least some of it. My son used to throw up whenever he had to eat something that he didn’t like, but I found that if I sat next to him and talked calmly saying things like “You can do it” and “You’re doing a good job” and such that he would be able to make it through. Now he likes more things, but we are far from where I want to be. He still won’t touch a carrot with a ten foot pole. (And they are so perfect for packed lunches!)

    So that’s dinner. For lunch, at the beginning of the school year, I packed what I thought was a good lunch regardless of their opinion. But their lunch boxes came home with the food untouched. So now at lunch (and breakfast & afterschool snack) I pretty much fix them what they want. But like I said, I love your lunch ideas and really think they could benefit from branching out a bit. So I’m wondering, when you started your “100 days of real food” journey, were your kids willing to eat the variety of fruits and vegetables you were serving right off the bat, or did it take some time for them to adjust? Should I just make the lunches that I want my children to eat, no matter how they feel about it and hope that at some point they will start eating it?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      It sounds like you have your hands full! When we started our “100 Days of Real Food” pledge we had one child that was extremely picky and limited in what she would eat and another child that would eat almost anything. So I really got to see their response from two very different angles. The biggest piece of advice that I can give any parent is to never give up! After offering my picky child green bell peppers more than two dozen times she finally decided she liked them! It came out of nowhere. I do recommend only giving them one “new” thing on their plate at a time so they don’t get too discouraged and also try to place more focus on the “real food” items they love as opposed to the processed stuff. My picky child loves cheese so I will say if you take one more bite of your broccoli I will give you more cheese. That usually works with her, but she has the whole gagging reflex down and has thrown up on her plate before too :) Here are a couple more posts that might be helpful…and good luck!

      1. Hello! I just wanted to give you a report on our progress! I am much happier this school year with the lunches I pack for my kids! I’ve been trying to do it more like yours are and we have actually found a number of healthy things to pack that they enjoy! And I think they are relieved at the increase in variety as much as I am. They love your banana bread, and I think it’s great too! So I just wanted to thank you for helping me!

  41. Not much will spoil in four hours… ever eat cold pizza that’s been on the counter all night?

  42. My children are in Middle and High School, but they all have to pack their lunches every day. The only choices at the High School are “Pizza Hut” or “Taco Bell”. They usually take leftovers from dinner or a quesadilla with local cheese. I also require that there be at least one veggie and at least one fruit. We use washable containers, mostly, to get away from those awful plastic baggies. Breakfast burritos or bean and cheese burritos, heated and wrapped in several kitchen towels and tucked in a small cooler stay warm. Also, they all love peach/berry/apple cobbler made with homegrown/homecanned fruit for breakfast or snack or dessert. We talk a lot about my beliefs surrounding food and our foodshed, but they make up their own minds… something I encourage completely! I don’t always agree with their choices (kind-of the flip side of the parents/ inlaws discussion above) but they know the alternatives and they often teach their friends.

  43. I just have to say God bless you for taking on the “snack suggestions list” at your child’s school. This is going to be a major battle for us and for many parents at schools all over the country. The things they are serving our children are making them fat, unproductive, and unhealthy. It is a great opportunity to teach children and parents REAL healthy eating habits. I hope your efforts are fruitful! I know I will not ever allow my children to eat school lunches until there are major changes! YUCK!

    1. Claire, it isn’t schools alone making kids fat. There are a lot of other factors, There are a lot of pressures on schools to cut costs. You and I know it is possible to feed a family real food cheaply, because we are willing to put in the extra hours cooking and shopping for real fresh food, but on an institutional level, it’s more difficult. Fresh food has to be prepared and that takes manpower, which costs money. I’m a teacher and see kids come to school with an energy drink and a Pop Tart from home. This is breakfast AND lunch! Hopefully, educating people and teaching them what is healthy and easy will help! Many people are just at a loss as to what is and isn’t healthy because they believe the advertising. Having a snack list will hopefully help people make good choices for their kids.

  44. How do you keep the lunches cold until they eat? My daughter’s school serves frozen Tony’s pizza every day (ick). I called the principal and he said next year they are switching to whole wheat frozen Tony’s pizza- yeah great…

  45. Love these ideas! My kids have multiple food allergies so I pack my son’s lunch every day and will next year for my daughter as well. Their food allergies are what made me learn to really cook and get away from convenience foods. My son is really picky which stinks but thankfully my daughter will eat almost anything she’s not allergic to. I’ll definitely have more fun packing her lunches (my son wants the SAME THING EVERY DAY) and these are great ideas (minus the egg and dairy products which we have to avoid).

  46. I make avocado and hummus sandwiches. Spread the hummus on one side and avocado on the other. They taste great. Also, cream cheese and strawberry sandwiches. Roll ups are good too. I will often make them with beans, cheese and spinach leaves. I microwave them for about a minute just to soften the cheese and make the whole thing stick together. Then I slice. You can pack some mild salsa for dipping. Or, cheese and spinach and pack a little tomato sauce for dipping. Thanks for your post and sharing ideas. I also agree with many of the posters. I’ve been at my child’s school many times and was horrified at the quality of food parents send. I wish the schools would understand what an opportunity to teach good eating habits they have. In the grand scheme of things good eating habits affect ones life more than just about anything else because it allows you to be healthy, productive and happy.

  47. I love these lunch ideas! I’m no longer packing my kids lunches, simply my own…and then taking them off to my classroom at school. My kids (particularly the boys) were not the easiest, but now they’re so much more tuned-in, and tend to make health a priority these days. So…I guess the message is ‘if you build it, they will come!’ I think about what was packed for us in the 60’s and it was all whole, unboxed, unpackaged and wrapped in waxed paper usually. Even the school lunches were made right at school. Today, on the odd occasion that I have to buy at school, I’m horrified to see the offerings there. Pizza…french fries, oh, and yes, there is a salad bar…but the germie factor is always something to consider there! In the past, we’ve told our parents that students may bring a snack, but it must be a fruit, a vegetable or some type of cheese or nuts for protein. I’m not a big fan of the string cheese and processed cheese that I see. I’ll have to revisit this next year for sure! Thank you!

  48. What about those little packs of edamame? I would like those for my own lunches when I go to work, or when I take food with me out. Where can I get them? I have Publix, Winn-Dixie, Albertsons, and Target (I don’t shop at Wal-mart), but no Earth Fare or Whole Foods nearby.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I would think Publix would have them in the freezer section…at least a big bag of them.

    2. Publix is also usually very good about special-ordering things if you can’t find it anywhere else.

  49. I hope that you will share your “real food” snack list, and perhaps the final cover letter as well – maybe via Google docs or similar? I would LOVE to use this info to send home to the parents of my first grade students at the beginning of the next school year!

  50. My kids have been eating fruits and veggies since the day they could chew them! I was so blessed to have a part-time daycare owner only serve fresh, clean food. The had a farm and grew or raised their own food. Even with only being in day-care for a year, I knew once I stayed home with them they were accustomed to eating what was served and they never once questioned what was on their plate. Sadly, when they went to school and saw all the unhealthy snacks, we started having meltdowns here at home. My biggest complaint in school was rewarding good behavior with food, chicken nuggets or fries 3-4 days a week and a treasure box full of candy. My kids are now mid-teens and have chosen to eat healthier lunch choices. My son now works in the evening and takes a home made dinner with him every night. My youngest has been packing her lunch for 3 years. Mostly salads or wraps. Hard boiled eggs, hummus and veggies. Thank you for more great ideas~

  51. Great post again! It is amazing what food choices are being reinforced at school. My son came home with a writer’s workshop board and the food choices listed to write about were: chicken nuggets, pizza, milk, pop, hamburger, French fries (with a McDonald’s logo), hot dog, popcorn and candy.
    I was so upset. This is what sits at his desk everyday during the year to inspire him to write about things. This even came from a teacher whom I have had many discussions with about food.
    However, I am still encouraged by the growing communities of food conscious families!

  52. I have found that if thats all there is to eat, eventually they eat. Dont worry about them starving. I can just see social services comming to your home. How dare you feed your children REAL FOOD!

    Its a slow process but hey, it will work. I have two of the biggest kids around, my husband and son and little by little they are changing. Most important is to be persistant.

    As for Granny…….ask her how she liked having her mother or mother in law butt in or how she raised her kids? Its amazing the look you get when you put it that way.

    Good Luck!

  53. I am wondering about the frozen smoothie pop. My son leaves for school @ 7:45 & has lunch around 11:30. Is there any way the pop would stay frozen/cold? We use also use laptop lunchboxes.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I pack my daughter’s lunch at 6:30 A.M. with 3 or 4 ice packs and it is half melted/half frozen by lunch time at 10:30 and she loves it! It’s like there is still a frozen chunk in the middle and the rest is a yogurt consistency.

  54. Have you thought about making pasta/rice/quinoa salads? You could toss some sauteed veggies, corn, They hold pretty well and make some good meals too.

    I love your lunch boxes and content, it’s kind of what I aim for to take to work, except that I have more of the savory stuff.

  55. My kindergartner’s lunch today was a hard boiled organic free range egg, kale chips, a huge bowl of strawberries (the kid eats them like they are going out of style!) and a slice of homemade zucchini bread for a sweet treat.

    She is the best eater! :) I’ve been with her class for lunch and it just kills me what the other kids eat. That’s not brain food! At least the kids ask her about her food at lunch everyday. If they aren’t exposed at home, at least Sydney is teaching them about healthy food! LOL

    1. Who wouldn’t eat strawberries like there is no tomorrow?? If only I could afford them. ;)

  56. I had missed those homemade freeze pop containers–brilliant! I’ve started sending salads and just putting the dresser in one corner of the container to avoid the small dip container mess. My daughter reports that the greens don’t get all that soggy. Toss in chickpeas and she loves it. We use laptop lunches and I just wrap a cold pack around it. She’s also a fan of boiled eggs w/ the bento egg shapers.

  57. i think all of these are great. however (and, sadly)… my kids woudn’t touch ANY of this. the oldest has been brainwashed by the whole fast food/convenience food thing — with NO HELP from a grandmother who indulges on every level. beyond frustrated. :-( keep up the good work!

    1. I am in the same boat as you. I try and try to get my kids to eat real foods and feel like everyone else especially my mother is against me. She will bring home rice crispy treats for them to eat for breakfast and goldfish crackers for them to take to lunch. When I get home from work, she is baking them french fries and giving them koolaid. Granted I’m not perfect but I’m trying to pack that best lunch I can for my picky son but her putting fritos after I’ve packed his lunch makes me extremely angry! I don’t know what I’m going to do this summer since they spend the day with her.

      1. Jennifer,
        It must be an AWFULLY big boat! I get frustrated with the elder generation as well. I get frustrated with the artificial sweeteners, crazy candy with all the HFCS and colors and flavors, and the “thoughtful” gifts of fruit chewy things packed in the kids’ favorite cartoon character packets. All I can suggest is that if they’re going to spend time with G’ma, then buy healthier versions of what she wants to give them for her to keep at her house. I got organic suckers and licorice for my in-laws’ house, but I haven’t gone much further than that. It kind of works, but we’re only there for a few hours. If yours have to spend all day, then you could buy a week’s worth of better versions of junk food for g’ma to serve. It might not be 100% “real” but at least it would be way better than koolaid and rice krispie treats! I’m sure you know there are 100% fruit juice boxes, fresh fruits, organic chips and crackers, granola bars, and frozen organic “dinners” and frenchfries…I think the generation above ours is used to that pre-fab convenience and not thinking much about where it comes from. If you do the thinking and purchasing for her, maybe she’ll go with it. If she thinks she will only be the cool g’ma if she gives the kids junk, then provide the junk for her with a compromise you would feel better about than what she’s giving. I get a lot of blow back from my mom, and I’m not even that far along on the spectrum of healthy eating yet. She says it’s too much trouble and she’s surprised I’d buy eggs not knowing what color the chicken was… Good luck! It’s hard to put your foot down with your own mother…I know that!!!

      2. You have to simply begin the adjustment… I have been doing this for awhile and simply reconciled myself that I can’t be with them 100% of the time. But when I am with them, or what we have in our home will be the best “real food” I can provide. My kids have slowly gotten used the idea that their lunches are from home, contain real food (as much as I can)…

        You can try showing their grandparents the reasons why you feed them the way you do. Simply put, the food they ate is NOT the same as today. You want your kids to be healthy and fit and it starts with their food. As they other reader wrote — bring what you want them to eat to her house and explain that she doesn’t need to agree with you, but she should respect your wishes for their well being.

  58. I would like to know where to get the trays too. They would be great for my 3-year old to take to daycare!

  59. If I might just say something about the label “organic”–many, well, actually MOST people dont realize what is necessary for a grower to be Certified Organic. Its an expensive, grueling, multi year process. For instance, land must have been prepared and used in a particular way for FIVE YEARS prior to the first crop being planted for consideration.
    Many local growers and farmers use methods that would be considered organic, or if pesticides are used, they use only the few that are approved for organic use. (And yes, organic growers DO use some chemical pesticides and fertilizers.) My teen-age son has surveyed the local summer job scene and decided he would be better off raising tomatoes, peppers, melons and some herbs for sale. So many people have asked him, “are you “doing organic”?” but when he explains what that really means and what it entails, they are always shocked and never had the slightest idea what that label means.

    So, moral of my story–dont be afraid to buy local food from local growers regardless of the “organic” certification of lack of it–as my brother in law the enviromental chemist says, anything containing carbon is “organic” and if big business is using the label, you may be SURE people are not always getting what they think they are buying. Local growers and producers can always tell you how the food was grown and what, if anything, was used on it. Just ask them.

  60. These look great. How do you keep the cold stuff cold and the hot stuff hot? Are they allowed to use a microwave? Or do they eat them cold? My 3rd grader packs her lunch around 7:30 but doesn’t eat until 12:15 so we have to either pack foods that won’t spoil at room temperature, or use an ice pack. A smoothie pop would surely melt by then… I would love to pack lunches like this, but I don’t know how I could keep them from spoiling (unless I deliver them at lunch time, which would be difficult since my girls go to different schools). Any ideas?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I mostly send her cold stuff (the noodles are cold) and I use several ice packs in her lunch bag. I put two little ice pack strips under her lunch tupperware and two on top. If I send something hot I put it in a thermos that keeps it warm. I pack her lunch at 6:30 in the morning and she eats at 10:30 and the ice packs do the trick! Her smoothie pops are usually about halfway melted (like yogurt) with a chunk that is still frozen in the middle.

  61. Tiff @ love, sweat, and beers

    Thanks! I’m going to use some of these for myself, and I’ll super-size some for the hubby. Hummus = Yummus

  62. This is my 2nd year as an assistant preschool teacher. Our kids take turns bringing snacks for the class each day. During my first year I was APPALLED at the snacks they brought in and we dished out: HFCS-sweetened drink pouches, chocolate-covered snack bars, fluorescent-orange chips! I asked the preschool director what directions the parents were given, and the answer was “we ask for healthy snacks at the beginning of the year parent talk, but it degenerates over the year.”

    I asked and was given permission to create a snack guideline booklet that each classroom attached to their “snack basket” which the kids bring home to fill. I gave suggestions what to bring and what not to bring in each food group page of the booklet. Yes to apples, applesauce with no added sweeteners, berries. No to fruit roll-ups or fruit gummy candy. I think it has been a great success. MOST of the parents have respected the guidelines throughout this whole school year, and the sugary processed treats only show up for birthday treats and party days, but that is a huge improvement!

  63. Love them thanks for sharing. : )

    Where did you get those lunch trays????? I would love a couple!

    1. Katie – I actually use the same thing for our lunch boxes. I found them in the “tupperware” or plastic container section of my grocery store.

      1. Thanks! We school at home but I like the thoughts it will bring to my head for getting small amounts of different items.

        I showed my midwife my menu, which is based on healthy/homemade and CHEAP. That she pointed out some obvious things, like where were our vegetables? Or even more fruit. I felt pretty silly. She had me so focused on fiber, iron, and protein. (beans, grains, and dairy) LOL

        (for example we do oatmeal in the morning, and bean/rice burritos for lunch)

    2. 100 Days of Real Food

      They are Ziploc brand divided storage containers (like Tupperware) from Target…much cheaper than all those fancy lunch systems!

      1. Thank you! I think this and your ideas will be a HUGE help!!!!! I am so different already from everyone I know it is great to find someone to get new ideas from.

        (Don’t know about you but my folks and in laws think I am nuts! They still argue fruit snacks are fruit.)

  64. I bring the sliced & bagged apple slices and individual cheddar cheese sticks when I’m asked to bring a snack. Snacks have to be “store bought” (i.e., in some kind of wrapping with the ingredients on it). It’s a liability issue in my school district, I’ve heard.

    And your daughter’s lunches look so good. I asked my 6 year old what he thought of the lunches He said they “looked good but Mom, please pack me more food. I have to have energy to play Dinosaurs vs. Robots at recess.”

  65. Thanks for sharing these meal ideas! I use the same containers for my kids’ lunches, and love them. The “suggested” snack foods from DD’s school are not so bad as what you listed above, but I did notice animal crackers and Jello both listed as “healthy choices”.

    1. My son is not old enough for school so I do not have to worry about that, but I get (from grandparents especially) all the time about how healthy things like animal (and graham) crackers are really healthy. Um? They may say “low fat” and “low salt” on the package, but have they read the ingredients?

  66. I love all the lunch ideas!!! I’m not imaginative at all… maybe I’ll have my daughter review this and see what she might like to eat!

    I like your snack list addendum – you’ll have to let us know how it’s received.

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