You have a lot on your to-do list.  Life couldn’t get any busier.  You have to get out the door, be where you need to be, and there is no time to waste.  Every day is a marathon.  Sometimes you’re so busy you don’t have time to eat.

Let’s talk about lunch.  Theirs and yours.  If you have kids, you may already be feeling the air going out of the lunch balloon.  Whatever you have been making for the past few weeks is getting ho-hum.  How about some ideas to put a little variety and surprise into that mid-day meal?  Think about yourself, too.  Eating out can be expensive. Foraging for food is a nutritional gamble.  Preplanning means you get what you want, when and where you want it.

Americans are now eating a lot of their meals as snacks.  Bento-style snack boxes are hugely popular.  Just check out the bistro boxes they have right now at Starbucks.  The food items work well for any time of day – lunch, dinner, snack, late night?  An added bonus:  they have several small portions that you can eat all at once, or save for later, like after school, work, or sports practice.  These on-the-go meals are a logical evolution of things we have been relying on for a long time.  (Think string cheese, yogurt cups, and snack sized portions of all sorts of packaged foods like popcorn, crackers, chips, cookies, and the ever popular energy bar.)

When you pack lunches at home, you get a say on what goes in that lunchbox.  Your bread or crackers will be whole grain and you can nix anything with preservatives or artificial anything.   Start by getting the  elements together ahead of time, so it’s easy to assemble and you have what you need in your fridge and pantry.  Enlist your kids to help at the store.  Let them read labels on boxes, choose whether they want an apple or grapes, or maybe try a new fruit.  Show them how to take advantage of what’s in season, and what’s on sale.  This is teaching them about math and money, too.  There is nothing worse than opening a lunchbox at the end of the day only to discover most of its contents uneaten.  Letting them have a say about what goes into their lunch is a good way to make sure they will eat it.  They can even pack their lunch the night before, which means less for you to do, and gives them confidence, responsibility, and an interest in what they’re eating.

Make up a bento of your own.  Here are some elements you can mix and match to get you started.  Use small containers, or wash and re-use ones from the store.  The packaging is a lot of what makes bento lunches so appealing.  You can buy special bento containers like the LunchBlox system from Rubbermaid (Target or Walmart) or the one pictured here from LunchBots.


Protein, etc.

ham, turkey, salami
chicken strips, cubed or shredded chicken
hard boiled egg
cheese – slices, sticks, cubes, or mini-wedges
mozzarella balls
chicken, egg, or ham salad
roast beef
sliced sausage
Greek-style yogurt
leftover pieces of chicken or meat
dinner leftovers
peanut or almond butter
mixed nuts
sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
olives (technically a fruit, but it seems better grouped here)
mashed pinto or black beans
baked garbanzo beans



cherry tomatoes
celery sticks
bell pepper slices
sugar snap peas
broccoli or cauliflower florets
avocado slices or guacamole
kale chips



dried fruit
star fruit


Crackers, Bread, etc.

pita or flat bread
tortilla chips
animal crackers
graham crackers
small cookies
Chex mix
chocolate pieces


Don’t forget the beverages.  Milk of any variety, a juice box, or a small bottle of water.

A small thermos is a great way to add something warm, like soup, or hot chocolate.  This is really nice in the winter when it gets very cold, and can cut your routine down to soup, crackers, cheese stick, and fruit.



If your child has allergies, a home made lunch is your best bet.  It will let you substitute and eliminate and be assured that they are getting enough to eat and eating what they are supposed to.   Because food allergies are becoming so prevalent, some schools have now have policies banning nuts altogether, or if your child has a lunch containing nuts they may be asked to sit in a separate area.


Themed lunch:

  • tortilla chips, shredded cheese, black or pinto beans, shredded chicken or beef, salsa = nachos (or add bell pepper strips and use tortillas cut into triangles for mini fajitas)
  • pepperoni, shredded mozzarella, spaghetti sauce, bread rounds = mini pizzas
  • shredded chicken, peanut sauce, red bell pepper strips, lettuce leaves = lettuce wraps
  • mini pancakes or waffles, bacon or breakfast sausage, fruit = breakfast


A mini lunch:

  • mini meatballs, baby carrots, baby cucumbers cut into rounds, baby pickles (sweet or savory), cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, mini crackers



  • small slices of pumpkin bread, pumpkin seeds, cheese cut into leaf shapes, apple wedges for fall
  • picnic-style deli chicken, watermelon cubes or strawberries, deviled eggs, olives, celery and carrot for summer



  • A red and green themed lunch with broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes, pepperoni, red and green bell pepper, green grapes, and strawberries may be all you need to get your kids to eat more fruits and veggies during the month of December.
  • For Halloween, think carrots, seaweed, black olives, orange bell peppers, a mini orange, black beans, blue corn tortilla chips, cantaloupe, beef jerky, cheddar cheese, black rice, or black rice crackers for an all orange and black lunch.


Size and Shape:

  • Mini cucumbers, bell peppers, baby carrots…  Cucumbers can be round, but they can also be sticks.  Mix it up for interest.  Variety is what makes food exciting.  Mozzarella cheese tastes different when it shows up in a wedge, or as a ball, than it does as string cheese or shredded for pizza.


Finally, make sure you have a way to keep cold foods cold, like small ice packs and an insulated lunch box.  If you are using a thermos for hot soup or beverages, remember to preheat it with some hot water first.

Now pack it up and get going.  No matter where you end up – at lunchtime and beyond – you, and your kids, have something healthy and home made.

Donna Ferguson

Donna Ferguson

I love to cook, garden, and write about all the things in Vancouver and the Northwest that make life so great.

Scroll to top