I love making school lunches! (Said no mother, ever.)

About a week ago I started noticing all of the social media posts about school lunches. There were the “What’s the best container on the market?” discussions. There were parents asking if the school hot lunch programs were worth the money. (Yes! The answer is YES!) There were parents without a clue as to how much food needed to be sent to school. There were parents completely freaked out about the nut ban. There were posts about nifty new lunch snacks and there were posts begging for meal ideas for the pickiest of eaters.

I gravitated towards the last group. I’m over the whole Bento/Timpany/Yum Box debate. They are all fabulous options; exceptional pieces of design that keep food warm and uncrushed, organized for perfect balances and combinations.

My kids? They lost those expensive containers and lunch boxes within the first 3 weeks of school.

My kids are lucky if they get Ziploc reusable stuff and not juts plain plastic wrap. I go through phases of using Ziploc baggies too. Boomerang lunches, garbageless meals and Platinum eco-school ratings be damned. I just can’t afford to keep up with my kids’ abilities to throw away or lose the fancy stuff. I don’t serve them at home with crystal and Wedgewood, and for good reason. It’s kind of the same, right?

Now my boys are going into grades 1 and 3. Last year one did hot school lunches and I made the other one lunch. This year neither is willing to go for the hot lunch. I would pay almost anything for them to eat the hot lunches and not have to make lunches.

A world without making lunches would be paradise!

But no. There is no convincing them. Mom torture is in these days. And they don’t like the same foods. Of course.

For lunches, I specialize in non-sandwich items because my boys have an aversion to things that are easy for me to make – with two exceptions. The older one will occasionally eat the following sandwiches: Corned Beef. Turkey. Salami. Yes, a grand total of 3 types of sandwiches. The younger one will also eat a scrambled egg sandwich with ketchup.

He kind of grosses me out.

Every lunch includes: one main course, one fruit, one dairy (Greek yogurt, yogurt tube, cheese) and one granola bar. They have water to drink at lunch. Rarely, I’ll toss in a special surprise.

So without further ado, I would like to offer all of the moms out there my handy dandy list of great lunches.

Waffles: So easy, just toast ’em and slice them into fingers. Include a separate container of maple syrup for dipping.

Leftovers: I always try to cook extra if I know they like it so that I can turn it into lunch.

Sushi: It’s easier than you think. Rice, rice paper and avocado. I don’t send fish because I don’t like the idea of it sitting unrefrigerated from 7.30am until noon, but you can use fish. Or you can cheat and pick up a pack of pre-fab, many groceries now carry freshly made avocado and California rolls.

Wraps: These are tricky. They’re technically not sandwiches so my kids fall for it occasionally. A bit of beef or chicken, stir-fried and topped with cheese and salsa. You wrap them fast. They don’t like lots of toppings. Wraps also work with red peppers and hummus; cold cuts; meat and lettuce. One son likes falafels, so occasionally I’ll buy a box of falafel mix and make some, wrapped with pita and hummus.

Pizza: Make your own, use last night’s left-overs, or keep a few pre-fabs in the freezer. When I realize I don’t have any other options, I cook one at night and pack it for lunch the next morning.

Pierogis: These can be boiled in the morning (I boil water for oatmeal, pour some off and dump in 12 pierogis per kid – two birds, one stone!) I like to give them a fry. I make a side of bacon with the oatmeal and dice up a strip to toss with the pierogis for flavour.

Wieners & beans: I never feel good about feeding them hotdogs, but I do feel good that they’re eating. Sometimes I even buy veggie dogs. You can heat wieners & beans up while going about your morning routine and just dump it in a Thermos – if they haven’t lost their Thermos yet – or put it into a microwavable tupperware. Most lunch rooms will microwave food. *

Steak, pork chops or meatloaf: Yes, my boy eats well. We’re a steak-n-potatoes kind of family, and the boys love the leftover steak cut into thin strips with whatever side dishes are left over – rice, corn, squash. I also do a lot of meatloafs, they’re so fast to put together and can be left to cook through the evening, just put them into the fridge before bed. Meatballs are also popular at my house, and I do occasionally buy the prefab ones.

Dumplings: My boys love dumplings. Dim Sum dishes are a higher order of food in their minds. Scan the freezer aisle. Like Pierogis, they’re easy. I put them into the steamer for 10 minutes while I shower and they’re ready to pack. Haw Gaw, Sui Mai, BBQ pork buns, chicken gyozas – just so long as you avoid the ones with nuts in them.

Noodles: Pasta with sauce, pasta salad (last night’s dry noodles mixed with a great dressing, served cold!) dry noodles, Zoodles, Mac’n’cheese, gnocchi, tortellini, Beef-A-Roni – I won’t judge and neither will the lunchroom monitors. The only time you’ll hear about it is if you forget to send a lunch!

(I forget to send lunch about once a month. I’m a genius. Don’t be like me.)

Cereal: One container full of cereal. One container filled with milk. One spoon. Sometimes I’ll announce “Breakfast for Lunch!” and I usually get a cheer. It means I have to send one of my good containers with for the milk, chancing losing it into the abyss of the school’s lost-and-found, never to be seen again, so I also consider this one a last resort.

Chicken: My boys are suckers for a drumstick and some ketchup for dipping. Easy peasy.

Ham: Black Forest Ham, cut in slices or fingers and paired with some bread or a roll on the side. It’s technically not a sandwich, even though all the components are there, so they’ll eat this. But heaven forbid I place the meat between the bread without asking first…

Soup or stew: Again, this requires having a leak-proof container and reheating, or else a hot container that they haven’t lost. I make a lot of soups, very thick, hearty soups full of chunks and pieces – from butternut squash to chicken to beef lentil. My kids are soup eaters. It’s great, especially in winter, with a big hunk of crusty bread – though they only get soup until they lose their second Thermos, and then they’re out of luck.

*We don’t own a microwave. My husband strongly believes they’re not healthy and damage the nutrients in food. So please don’t tell him I send lunches with the intention of having the school microwave them. (Sorry Hunny!!)

If you have any lunch ideas I’ve overlooked, please please share! It will make the pain of school lunches just a little less severe!

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