Packing lunches is something that I’ve not really had to put much thought into; at least…not since I was in school…which was a while ago. The main reason for this is that I’ve always homeschooled my two boys. I don’t mean to imply that I’ve eaten every single lunch in the last 17 years with them, but for the most part we’ve always just worked around lunches and it hasn’t been too much trouble. That is…until they became teenagers.You see, when my boys hit a certain age, our homeschool routine just wasn’t enough for their quickly growing brains, bodies and social needs. We had to expand our routine to include some charter school classes. We started taking art and drama and violin and piano… and suddenly, my boys were all over the place at lunchtime and I quickly had to begin planning meals that both satisfied them and still met our fairly strict dietary specifics.
The other issue that I discovered when planning lunches for teenagers is that the cute, fun and whimsical ideas in most of the school lunch guides out there are not really the kind of thing that they’re concerned with when they sit down to eat.
I know for my boys, a good lunch basically boils down to two things: “Is it substantial?” and “Is it healthy?”
5 Tips for Staying Sane With Lunches
Our family has been doing this “Real Foods” thing for about 18 years. It’s one of the ways that I was able to recover my mental and physical dysfunction because of a devastating eating disorder. Over the course of this time, there are a few things that Ben and I have discovered that are helpful to keep in mind, and helpful in keeping your sanity when it comes lunches.
1. Be Sustainable: This is not a sermon on using pastured meats. Yes, I’m a firm believer in the sustainability movement, but what I’m talking about here is thinking beyond, “what are we doing for lunch tomorrow?” This is actually just a good life principle; implementing something into your life without considering how reasonable it is for you to KEEP doing that thing is just setting yourself up for failure and discouragement. So, though we do like to have fun, we aren’t afraid to keep things simple when needed. Sometimes it’s the same lunch three days in a row because that’s just what we have on hand food wise. It doesn’t have to be a Pinterest fest everyday. But it can be fun too. That said…
2. Relax Your Ideals: Genuine health/allergy issues aside, don’t feel like every lunch has to be nutritional perfection. Don’t forget that you have both breakfast and dinner in which to load your teens up with all the nutrients they need. So ease off a bit for lunch or you’ll burn out in no time. As long as you’re not seriously compromising their health, I promise they’ll get what they need in the big picture. Do they need their lunch to be the most nutritionally dense packed food on the planet… not really. If that were the case I’d likely just send them to school with a thermos of beef heart, kale and anchovies smoothie. But what we’ve discovered over these 18 years is that there’s so much more than just nutrition to think about in this life. And I’m not talk about emotional eating (which is filling an emotional need with food.) I’m talking about living with a measure of freedom and abandon.
3. Delegate: If your teens aren’t already helping you make their lunches, put those suckers to work! I know that can be like pulling teeth at times, but the reality is, in a handful of years they’re going to be on their own and having to do this for themselves anyway. This is their chance to learn how to plan and prepare healthy, satisfying and enjoyable meals from a pro (you!).
4. Plan Ahead and Prepare Early: Definitely meal plan and make up what you can ahead of time. I like to make a few batches of waffles and tortilla dough to keep frozen or in the fridge so the boys can make a quick, easy sandwich if needed. Or I’ll make a few days worth of jello or chia pudding and such. Things like spiralized veggies are best made the day you are packing the lunch, but you can make up sauces and dips ahead of time. You could even plan sometime on the weekend and meal plan with your teens, then do some meal prep. Open a bottle of wine, delegate and watch your minions work….you know, like real chefs do.
And that brings us to one more tip…
5. Buy the Right Tools: This will be forever my mantra. There is nothing worse that packing up a gorgeous lunch full of natural, healthy real foods…only to have them turn into a wilted, soggy mess by the time lunch comes around. And don’t get me started on bacteria. I AM A BACTERIA NAZI and I’m not ashamed to admit it. That’s why I was so excited about when PackIt approached me about doing a feature on their lunch bags. Let me back up and give you some context…
My oldest son Oscar started his first summer job this June. He’s a counselor at an outdoor adventure camp for kids. Which means that his lunch sits in 100+ degree Texas heat for at least 4 hours before lunch time rolls around. To deal with this, we bought some lunch boxes that had these freezable inserts that click into the lids. And they did an OK job of keeping the food reasonably cool. Not good enough to make me feel confident….but enough that I wasn’t worried that I was poisoning him everyday. The problem was….we have all these different shaped lids and inserts that were a nightmare to keep track of. We’d forget to put the right one back in the freezer or we’d need a different sized box and the lid would be nowhere in sight. Such a pain…
This is what makes these Packit Lunchbags so amazing. The entire interior lining is filled with freezable gel. You just throw the whole bag in the freezer at night and the next morning you pack it up and you’re done. Somehow the 360 degree lining makes the cold radiate inward and keep things nice and chilly…for up to 10 hours. I’m not kidding. The picture above…the one where my thermometer reads 37 degrees….that bag had been out of the freezer all morning while we set up this photo shoot. They fold up nicely so as to not clutter your freezer, they come in multiple sizes (include a grocery shopping bag) to suit your individual needs, and there are a number of different patterns and colors to suit your kids own personal style. As you can see in the photos above….for Oscar that included adding a Slytherin patch to his. 🙂
You can see all of their options on their website and you can save 15% between now and August 15th by using the coupon code URBANPOSER15. We’re also doing a giveaway for $100 in online store credit so definitely check that out at the bottom of this post.
And if you’re looking for awesome stainless steel lunch containers, like the ones in the photo, you can check them out HERE. Its the ECOlunchbox 3in1, stainless steel. These are my absolute favorite. You can fit tons of food and they stack and clip together. The little jar I used for the dressing, I found it at The Container Store. Essentially it’s like the jars you would buy for making your own lip gloss. And it was under $1! Perfect for small sauces and dressings. But there will be more of these fun ideas in the e-book.
So without any further ado, let’s dive into three of the e-book recipes. All of these are fairly easy to assemble so you can put your teens to work. Many of the recipes in the ebook will be accompanied by photo instructions, which you can see an example of at the end of the post.
- First up is BLT (Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato) Salad Skewers. Which basically consists of iceberg lettuce, Bacon and Cherry tomatoes (you could sub another veggie here). Now I know iceberg gets a bad rap for lacking nutrition. However, we love it. It’s fresh, watery and crisp, and remains so for some time.
- Then we have a delicious Pizza roll-up using my Cassava Tortilla recipe found HERE. You could also sub turkey lunch meat for the tortilla if you want a lower carb version. But I find my boys feel and function better with some carbs in their day.
- Finally a delicious healthy fat-packed, nut-free Coconut Macaroon Thumbprint cookie. Your teens will get their daily dose of coconut oil with this cookie and with only a minimal amount of natural sugar for taste and energy.
*These recipes contain affiliate links…these are products I love…it’s cool.
Grain Free Tortilla Pizza Roll-Up’s
Ingredients: (for two roll up’s)
Two 6”-8” grain free tortillas (get my recipe HERE)*
2 tablespoons cream cheese (see above adn nore for options)*
Just a light smear of your favorite tomato sauce
6 large Applegate Farms pepperoni slices*
optional, 2-3 leaves of fresh basil
Place one of the tortillas on your work surface, spread about 1 tablespoon of cream cheese or other spread evenly over the surface. Then spread a very thin layer of tomato or pizza sauce. A super thin layer is all that is needed.
Place the pepperoni slices, slightly overlapping down the center of the tortilla. If using, layer the basil leaves on top of the pepperoni.
To roll, rotate the tortilla 90-degrees so that the pepperoni is horizontal and then tightly roll away from you until the entire tortilla is done. I like to spread a little extra cream cheese on the edge of the tortilla to “seal” the roll.
Using a serrated knife, slice the roll at a 45-degree angle into 4 equal size pieces (see photos).
*Note: I generally make two 6”-8” inch tortilla roll up’s per child, however this can vary depending on the tortilla size and the appetite of the kid, or mom, haha!. What doesn’t fit in the lunch box I eat immediately….obviously
**Note: For the cream cheese in the recipe I like to use the lactose free brand by Green Valley Organics. If nuts aren’t an issue I like the almond based cheeses spreads or ricotta by Kite Hill (exclusive to Whole Foods for the moment). I also like to make my own cultured cashew spreads when I have the time. I’ll have that recipe in the e-book..
BLT Salad Skewer w/ Ranch Dressing.
Makes two skewers, or easily double, triple, etc… for more
Ingredients: Dairy Free
For the Salad:
Two 5’ skewers (size needed can vary depending on lunch box)
1 head of iceburg lettuce (you won’t use the whole thing)
3-4 strips of bacon
4 cherry tomatoes
For the Dressing:
2 tablespoon mayo, like Sir Kensington’s or Primal Kitchen
1 tablespoon full fat coconut milk, or more as needed
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon garlic powder or granules
2 teaspoons mix of finely chopped chives and parsley
salt and pepper to taste if desired
For the salad: To clean the lettuce, simply cut off the stem and peel away a few of the wilted or browned outer layers.
Using a sharp knife, cut the head of lettuce in half. You can wrap one half of the lettuce, to be used later. Now cut the half you are working with in half to make 2 quarters. Remove the hearts so there is just a shell of 4-7 leafs (this varies based on the head of lettuce). Holding the “triangle” end, make one cut that’s parallel to the stem side cut, approximately 1.5 inches in. Repeat so that you have two “strips” and one small triangle.
Discard the triangle and cut each strip in half to make a total of 4 square-ish stacks of lettuce.
If that sounds too complicated….just figure out how to cut a bunch of small squares… 🙂
Repeat with the other lettuce quarter.
For the Dressing… whisk everything together in a small bowl. This serves 1 but the recipe can be doubled…tripled…whatever.
Chocolate Macaroon Thumbprint Cookies
Ingredients: Nut & egg free
1 ¾ cup (140g) fine shredded coconut (I use Let’s Do Organic)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons full fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
about ¼ cup of our favorite jam
Preheat the oven to 325 (163c) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together all the ingredients till well combined. The dough will be slightly wet and clumped together when squeezed in your hand. Note: Because the size of coconut shreds varies, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid or coconut to get the desired consistency. In this case, it is not a science.
Using a 2 tablespoon scoop, fill and gently press the dough into the scoop. Tap it on a bowl or if using a mechanical scoop use the lever to release the dough into your hand or on the parchment. At this point the dough is fairly fragile and will need to be shaped and pressed together.
Once the dough comes together you can start to create a “thumbprint” in the center. You will need to use your fingers to keep the shape on the outside of the cookie while you press in the center with you thumbs. Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until slightly browned on the edges. Remove from the oven and cool completely before transferring. The cookies will be extremely fragile before they are cooled. But as they cool they will become sturdy.
Using a measuring teaspoon, drop small spoonfuls of jam at the center of each cookie. Amounts needed will vary depending on the cookie or imprint size.
Pro tip: If you want a jam that really sets well, you can do the method used for making Linzer cookies. Simply heat your jam (I just do it over a burner in a 1 cup metal measuring cup) till it is hot and liquidly. Then drop it by the teaspoonful into the center of each cookie. Leave it to set.
I store these in the fridge for up to three days.