[This post contains affiliate links.]For Teacher Appreciation last year, our drop-off preschool had each class take care of a meal for all 6 teachers at the school, so they'd get fed breakfast and lunch all week. Our class was assigned lunch, and I had an epiphany - I could pack them in EasyLunchboxes and they could keep the boxes as a gift! So I stupidly volunteered, and made them lunches and fruit bouquets. Other parents pitched in with ingredients, money, and one even made the dessert for me to add in (from my recipe - it's in the Cooking With Trader Joe's Easy Lunch Boxes Cookbook. You're welcome.)
They were a huge hit, and it didn't feel right leaving out our two teachers at the co-op preschool, especially as it was our second year with Teacher Suzanne. So I made completely different lunches for them the following week (there was a field trip that first week, so we decided to bump it.)
This year, I had three preschools to account for, with Little Z at the same drop-off one in the afternoon (6 teachers total,) as well as her ECE preschool class through the school district in the morning (3 teachers,) and Baby's class at the co-op preschool (2 teachers.) Eleven lunches, coming right up!
Since 6 of the 11 teachers had gotten EasyLunchbox lunches last year, I wanted to introduce them to the new Mini Dippers containers and Brights lids. So I stocked up on Amazon (free shipping! Woop!) Before tax, one EasyLunchbox and one Mini Dipper comes out to around $4.50 per teacher. (Amazon has offices in WA, so I get to pay sales tax on everything I buy from them. Yay.) Much less than a $10 Starbucks card, and they feel at least 10 times more appreciated!* The only down-side is that it wasn't really a surprise, as I had to check for any dietary restrictions, plus I didn't want anyone bringing their own lunch those days!
*results may vary
Prep: I did as much as I could over the weekend and the day(s) before, and Hubby helped out by taking a day off work so I could get stuff done. I had to buy groceries and supplies (gluten-free tortillas, uncured ham, veggies to fill out what I had from my organic farm share, cheap silicone muffin cups and bento picks for them to keep, etc) roast the radishes and then make my Pink Dip, and bake the muffins. Plus wash and cut the veggies and berries. And all the regular daily stuff, like pack lunches, and feed and ferry the girls around.
I spent most of the night before prepping the veggies and cutting the veggie shapes. It takes a little extra time to punch your way through those pesky root vegetables, then carefully pushing it out, one protrusion at a time, then clearing out the tiny eye-holes with toothpicks or spaghetti noddles! Plus a few spares, just in case.
And then, just to be annoying, all my golden beet shapes blackened overnight (which is common after you've cut golden beet. It's still okay to eat, just unsightly.) So I got to re-do all of those in addition to the actual assembly and dipper-filling. Which meant that I was running so late that I got them delivered to the PM school in time only by cutting in front of the line of cars picking up their morning class. Then I had to race off to pick up Z and deliver the lunches to her AM school.
Assembly: I don't have a lot of counter space, so my "assembly line" was more of an "assembly tower." Chop carrot sticks, divide them into boxes. Chop sweet peppers, divide them into boxes. Fill Mini Dippers, put them in boxes. Etc.
I chose hummus over guacamole as the dip, since guacamole in my lunches tends to start turning brown by lunch time, no matter what brand I use. Sadly, one package did not turn out to be enough, so for the first day, the 6 teachers at Z's PM preschool got Sabra hummus, and the 3 at the AM school got some thawed Wholly Guacamole from my last few packets in the freezer. For Baby's teachers, since I had to re-stock, Z picked out Sabra guacamole instead of more hummus. (The teachers thought it was home-made, and enjoyed the chunkiness! Scooore!)
This was pretty much the easiest part, as I just had to line up all the open Mini Dippers and plop stuff in. It was harder remembering which boxes got which!
The Pitcher: I sent a shared drink for the 6 teachers at Z's PM class, but the other teachers had to fend for themselves! I got the idea from a post at MOMables on making "Aguas Frescas," a refreshing low-calorie/low-sugar drink just by adding sliced fruit to water. I had bought an inexpensive pitcher to send it in, since mine is ugly. I just filled it with water and chilled overnight, then added ice cubes and sliced strawberries that morning. I crushed the berries a little as I dropped them in, to help release the juices. Hopefully it tasted okay. I didn't sample it, and ended up using all my berries, so I'm not sure if there were enough in there.
Little "Helper": Baby's two teachers each got an EasyLunchboxes cooler bag as well,
E now recognizes that her lunches come out of these bags, and she likes to "help" carry them, so she insisted on dragging these the 6-feet to the top of the stairs for me. While banging them into absolutely everything possible along the way.
The Detailsvegetable cutters, I gave each lunch a different feature, to keep it fun. (Plus when Hubby saw the charges on the card, and found out what they were for, he said I had better use them a ton. Challenge accepted!)
Here are an assortment of the lunches I made, featuring my dragon veggie cutter, phoenix vegetable cutter, 3-D bear cutter, flower cutter, and fish veggie cutter. I can't find the mini dragon cutter anywhere online now. And there are a few links at the bottom of the post for finding the mouse.
The ones with chopped mini sweet peppers all went to the PM preschool, and the ones with a single whole mini sweet pepper each went to the other schools. The Wednesday teachers got cucumber slices as well, and I made theirs the same, so only one is shown below.
Medium compartment: Gluten-free tortilla wraps with uncured ham, red lettuce, and Pink Dip (extra garlicky!)
Small compartment: Organic strawberries (and kiwi balls, for the Wednesday teachers. I had forgotten they were in the fridge until Tuesday night!)
Tools of the Trade
I got the mouse and fish from Sugarcraft, but TopFoodService has the largest assortment I've found online. (Don't even click that link unless you have a nice chunk of money burning a hole in your pocket. It's hard not just clicking every single one into my cart!) I've also found a few options here, here, here, and here. You can also try searching eBay for "vegetable cutter" or just "cutter" and the shape you want, but be warned: you'll have to troll through a lot of fluff.