Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Project Lunch: Eating Healthy, EasyLunchBox-Style!

I've been wanting to introduce the kids (and their moms, of course) to bento-style/waste-free lunches for a while now. But I was worried about the cost. Until I discovered Daiso and their $1.50 (plus tax) bento boxes. But they probably have BPA in them. And they're small, so would require the kids to cut things up small to fit inside. And they might have a hard time stacking them the right way and getting the bands on them (band sold separately, 2/$1.50 or $1.50 each, depending on style.) Plus, I'd have to buy a variety of fresh produce, to give the kids choices. So it would cost a little more, with the food plus box to take home, and I wasn't in love with the boxes, for this age group and purpose. So I shelved the idea for a while.
Until I got a discount code from EasyLunchBoxes.com! I went in with a bunch of my friends, so shipping was negligible (it's free if you buy them on Amazon, or up to $9 flat-rate direct.) I ordered a few extra sets of boxes in preparation for finally getting to do a packed-lunch cooking class! (I ate my share of the shipping since I was ordering myself one of their new hot pink bags as well!)
So I got it scheduled just in time for back-to-school, where the reusable EasyLunchBoxes might come in handy, and to get the kids in a healthy-packed-lunches mindset!
We ended up having 6 kids, plus mine, since it was sprinkling out and we were doing this at a park, so we had some no-shows. It was a nice number for doing this, since I had enough space for everyone! (I was originally going to set up stations and have the kids move from sandwich to fruit to cheese etc. This way they mostly got to stay with their place-mats.) They were ranged from age 3 to 6 (or 7?) plus a bonus 12-year-old.

We started off making the sandwiches. I brought my  Butterfly BytesDynoBytes and SweetBytes (heart) cutters (I found mine at Winco, but I hear they've been seen at Safeway, so probably at other grocery stores too. Probably hanging from the shelves on the bread, baby, PB/Jelly and/or cereal aisle.) I also brought my Lunch Punch Animals set and Whimsical Set (Fairy Tale.) No one chose any from the Lunch Punch Transport set, and I didn't bother bringing the Puzzle ones. And I couldn't find where I had put the new Train Bytes cutter (from Winco.) I also had a star cutter from Dollar Tree and some weird dino/lizard cutter I found years ago hanging up at Safeway.
For our grains options, I brought both wheat bread and some tortillas, in case anyone preferred to make a roll-up sandwich. Plus I looooove Nutella roll-ups! (On those pasty white Mission tortillas. Not the wheat ones as much. The regular ones with Nutella taste like chocolate donuts. Yummmm!)

I opted for spreads rather than meats and cheese for our protein group, since the spreads would be more sanitary than a bunch of kids grabbing at lunchmeats. And easier to use the cutters with, for the littler podlings. Plus they were all able to spread their goop around (even if it wasn't done evenly!) I had squeezable grape and strawberry jams, Nutella, honey, and peanut butter (creamy. We prefer crunchy, but it can be a choking hazard.)
There were a lot of creative filling combinations! And everyone chose bread, so they could use the cutters. Except one boy chose a tortilla with spreads, folded in half, then put INSIDE bread with spreads!

The veggies weren't very exciting, since, other than peeled cucumbers, they're mostly too hard for kids to cut with butter knives. So I got some baby carrots, fresh green beans, and some peas in pods (snap peas?) and let them choose any combination they wanted, as long as they filled the little compartment of the lunch box.

The dairy (cheese) and fruit options were much more fun!
For the dairy, I brought slices of Colby Jack and mozzarella cheese and mini cookie cutters, plus some cheese sticks, in case anyone wanted to make nibblets instead. I brought my mini Easter cutters, mini dino cutters, and mini transportation cutters. Everyone but Z chose to make cheese shapes. She enjoyed hacking and pulling apart her cheese stick to put into the compartment.

I brought strawberries, black (seedless) grapes and blueberries as our fruit options. I had planned on including bananas, since the kids could cut them with a butter knife, but all the ones available were too green. But I did bring my long (4"?) sandwich frill picks, so they enjoyed cutting up strawberries with butter knives and making fruit kebabs along with the grapes and blueberries.

I often don't include a dessert or treat in our lunches, but there were yogurt-covered pretzels in the bulk section at Winco, in four flavors: raspberry, blueberry, cherry and cinnamon. So I got some of each, and let each kid pick four to put in a cupcake liner for dessert. I brought my Wilton Dancing Daisy Flower cups and some butterfly design ones from Target at Easter as girly-er options, since I have a surplus of both. For the boys, I had accidentally bought two packages of the Wilton Pirate combo packs with picks (I got mine at Party City online, plus must have picked up another pack somewhere else,) so brought one.
I limited them to 4 each not to be a scrooge, or because I was going to run out, but because when kids take a packed lunch to school, they decide what order to eat things in. So this way, if they chose to start with dessert, it's not going to be as filling as, say, a cupcake or package of Twinkies. I've found that a cupcake liner (or mini liner!) is an adequate size for a treat, like Cheetos, chocolate-covered raisins (mini liner!) cookie, etc. Since the size of a small child's stomach is roughly equivalent to his or her closed fist, keep that in mind when tossing a pre-packaged bag of anything into your child's lunchbox! Most individual serving-size packages would be pretty filling to a toddler or preschooler, leaving no room for the veggies!

Their Masterpieces
Train and mini car cheese (on butterfly liner,) fruit kebabs,
LunchPunch dolphins sandwiches,
Nutella roll-ups (under kebabs, with Pirate flag pick)
carrots, yogurt pretzels (in Pirate liner)
Yogurt pretzels (butterfly liner,) ButterflyBytes sandwich (under,)
grapes kebab,  strawberry kebab,
cheese ducks (all with eyes poked in using flag pick! Butterfly liner)
Yogurt pretzels (butterfly liner,) snap peas, loads of fruit kebabs
on frill picks and Pirate flags, ButterflyBytes sandwich.
(Lactose intolerant, so was excused from dairy requirement.)
Yogurt pretzels (in plastic cupcake liner package insert!) snap peas,
fruit kebab, cheese dinos, mystery dino sandwiches (with tortilla inside)
Z's Lunch: hacked up cheese stick, snap peas,
LunchPunch fairy PBJ, fruit kebab and black grapes.
The pretzels were eaten before I could snap a pic.
My lunch snack (since we were off to swim class right after.
Plus I wanted a Nutella roll-up!):
Grapes, carrots, mystery cheese scraps (found left on a mat,) Nutella roll-up
I didn't manage to get pictures of all the kids' lunches, but they all packed a balanced meal (possibly a little heavy on the jelly, though!) Since all the kids I knew were coming were 2-6, I kind of planned it based on helpful serving sizes I found online for toddlers/preschoolers. So assuming they each ate their whole lunch, they each got approximately:
1.5-2 servings of their 6 Grains per day (1 slice bread = 1 serving,) 
up to 1 serving of their 2 Proteins (2 tbsp PB = 1 serving,) 
1 of their 2 Dairy servings (2 oz cheese = 1 serving,)
1-2 of their 2 Fruit servings (1 tbsp/year of age* = 1 serving,)
1 of their 3 Vegetable servings (1 tbsp/year of age* = 1 serving)

*up to age 6. After age 6, recommended 1/2 cup serving sizes, same as for adults.



  1. *I saw 3 of the kids again later that day, and found out that they had all gobbled down their entire lunches! Z had been snacking while making the lunch, so didn't eat much of it after. She ended up finishing it off after dinner. Everything went onto the kebab pick after she'd eaten whatever was on it first. It was adorable.

  2. You are way more creative than I am about this. But you may have inspired me to do a post on our bento boxes. We'll see. You know how lazy I am.

  3. Those look like such fun lunches! I can't wait til my easy lunch boxes and bento stuff comes so the boys and I can have some fun too!!


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