Enabling the Lunch-able

My kid would give one of his Wii games to bring a ‘Lunchable’ to school.  He’s offered to pay for one with his own money!!

How did this happen?  Is it purely rebellion against the ‘healthwhack’ Mom?  He actually has fairly refined taste: eats a lot of things other kids won’t even try and when he eats junk food he is satisfied fairly quickly and does not overdo it.  He has been fairly well trained.  For now.  But there is something about the little box in a box with a little of this and a little of that.  You can put stuff together from the different pockets!  You can eat them in any order you want!  You will be the envy of all you survey!  Or at least of the pepperoni crowd.

I remember thinking TV dinners were about the coolest thing a person could eat for dinner.  We never had TV dinners.  They were too expensive.  I had one at a friend’s house.  Ahhh the pleasure of indulging in vices that are sanctioned by the parent of  a friend.  Adult sanctioned bad behavior is grand because you can’t get in trouble, right?

So what does this have to do with healthy, cheap lunches other than arguing with children?  Well perhaps the lesson to be learned from Lunchables is that they are kind of sexy.  Cool wrapper – cool separation of stuff – cool stuff to eat (if you like that sort of thing).  Never mind that there are enough chemicals listed on the side of the box to mummify one of your pets.  Part of the appeal of a Lunchable is that my son does not like different parts of a meal to touch each other.  Being able to see it all, sample from it all, but keep it in it’s proper place would be an inspiration to eat all sorts of lovely things!  There is something about this presentation that allows even an 11 year old to appreciate the sheer beauty of a strawberry, or some raisins, or red pepper, or sugar snap peas, or whatever healthy thing you can cram into the little space – I mean gently and lovingly lay in the box knowing it will nourish your most prized possession while he is being inculcated into the diet of most of his schoolmates at the local public school.  E-gad!  Better leave that and press on.

So I’m thinking I’m going to go the route of the Bento Box.  The Bento Box is a lovely Japanese lunchbox o’ food that has little compartments in it.  A little of this and a little of that!  Attractive, colorful, flavorful – we’re talking a sexy lunch people!  And it fits so well with the lunch ideas Little Sis and I have been sending your way over the last week like grabbing and packing a little of this and a little of that.  Faster to have it all in one convenient container!  I don’t have a container yet… but this could be lunch!

One section with some fresh fruit.  One section with some healthy crackers (like Triscuits), one section with some cheese or nuts or leftover roasted chicken or turkey, and maybe something for dipping.  Dipping is another attraction of the Lunchable.  But rather than have your child dip food into processed poo (as Little Sis calls it) how about dipping into artichoke dip or orange hummus or if you’re fighting a big repatriation case with a child who has been eating processed poo (it happens… we still love you and we’re here to help) something sweet like vanilla yogurt.

Some days you may have the energy, or your child may have the inclination to include a Bountiful Bowl of healthy leftovers / or a Grandwich in one section with a healthy snack that will ameliorate the lack of Doritos or candy in his lunch in another section.

One such snack is the Honey Milk Ball – Adapted from Ruth Yaron’s Super Baby Food:

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2/3 cup peanut butter (we prefer crunchy, but either will do)
  • 1 cup nonfat dry milk powder (I used powder, not instant)
  • 1 cup oat flour (or oats ground in your blender)

Mix honey and peanut butter.  Mix milk powder and oats.  Mix mix the 2 mixes.
Form balls or snakes or letters.  Do not cook.

Here is a recipe Little Sis sent me – excellent little apple/oat muffins that can be baked in cupcake papers to make them more portable and they can be frozen to make the batch last longer.  They also happen to taste really good.  You can’t beat that – not even with a loaded Lunchables box : )

Apple Oat Muffins – Adapted from Average Betty’s Oatmeal Apple Muffins

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (that’s what I used – haven’t tried whole wheat)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup nuts
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup canola (or other oil you like)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I always go a little heavy on the vanilla)
  • 1 large apple, chopped and seeded (I always leave the skin on)

Mix dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients except apple.  Mix mix the 2 mixes then fold in the apples!
Pour into cupcake paper lined muffin pans and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.

Another favorite snack in the lunch box is a combo of dried fruit and nuts and maybe a little healthy cereal thrown in for good measure.  We often do Kashi Heart to Heart, raisins and peanuts.  Dried apricots purchased on sale were a big hit for awhile as well.

As far as the actual box, here are a few container options I found:

Lots of choices in the plastic category:
Plastic with 3 sections: Stay-Fit Lunch 2 Go Container, EZ Freeze

Plastic with 3 sections: EasyLunchboxes 3-compartment Bento Lunch Box Containers “CLASSIC” (Set of 4). BPA-Free. Easy-Open Lids (Not Leakproof)

Plastic with 3 sections: MICROWAVE DIVIDED PLATES WITH VENTED LIDS – (SET OF 4 IN ASSORTED COLORS) (Don’t use these in the microwave.  Nuked plastic gives off hormone mimicing chemicals into the food.)

Freshvac LP3209 Professional Lunchpac and Container w/ 3 Removable Divider Inserts Nouveau Ooh, it matches.

And for a stainless steel version: LunchBots Stainless Steel Food Container, Quad with Green Lid.

And if you have a little extra money and want something actually called a Bento Box: Vivo Small Round Bento Box, Black, Red, Tan, Brown

Hope you find joy in all the little sections of your life!  Please share your own adventures is sending healthy lunches off to school or work!

34 responses

  1. Thanks for your great blog! I raised my son using the Super Baby Food book and lots of real homemade food, but the marketing magicians still get their hooks on him! He once begged me for one of those awful Lunchables. I decided to buy it for him so we could dispel its mystique, taste it and talk about why it was not good for our bodies or the planet. After tasting, and reading the ingredients, we both agreed this would be the last! We also made a craft project out of the packaging and talked about how wasteful it would be to eat these everyday and keep throwing away all that plastic. Thanks for your ideas for better alternatives!

  2. You are so welcome. And thanks for sharing how you dealt with this with your son. Perhaps we will allow the one box, or even reading the label in the store together. Hitting on waste is a great idea as well. We have been watching Frozen Planet on the Discovery channel lately and trash / climate change / waste can be so easily tied to all of the wonderful animals we see on that show. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I love your make-your-own-lunchable! My veg friend Amanda has the set of tupperware type bento boxes. I was totally envying hers when we went to have lunch at a farm a couple of weeks ago! She packed her kids cute little PB&J sandwiches, apples and carrots. I guess it doesn’t matter as much that they probably aren’t BPA free because it’s not like you will be heating foods in them!

    I need to make those apple muffins, I keep planning on making banana ones, but never have bananas around long enough for them to go a bit brown thanks to our gnarly green smoothie habit 😉

    • We can’t keep bananas around here anymore either. Funny what changes. I used to have a freezer full! I love the apple muffins, and am thinking if I put some coconut butter on one it just might be a party in my mouth…

    • We are all having the same banana problem I see… I finally got it through my head to buy a whole bunch last time I went to the grocery store. Better go freeze some of those bad boys right now so they’ll be ready for tomorrow : )

  4. My dd had a similar desire to try the lunchables…it’s funny how much kids who are brought up on real food yearn for those gimmicky things, but they do….and we don’t even have TV. After reading the ingredients list w/ her, SHE decided that they probably were not very yummy after all. Some days she has a tray of california roll, or a tempura roll that she takes as a special.
    I remember those tv dinners too! One year when I was about 11 my parents hosted a New Years eve party. Us kids each got to pick one tv dinner to buy as our special ‘treat’ 😉 I just remember it tasted like metal. blech.

    • LOL. I got one for a “special” occasion one time as well (after your time I think Big Sis, or you were out somewheres), and I also remember the metal taste – although it didn’t interfere with the desert as I recall. Sounds like your daughter is doing great. Amazing the decisions they can come to if we share the info, huh? Good on ya, Mom!

    • I guess some people LIKE the taste of metal : ) Gimmicky does catch the attention, doesn’t it? I think the gimmicky thing that I most longed for was snack pack pudding in the lunch box. Back in those days we could trade items from our lunch with other kids and I’m telling you my Mom’s homemade brownies could get you any nasty processed food that my dear Mother was trying to avoid feeding us. Sheesh! Apparently I was an ungrateful wretch!

  5. I love this! My kids are the same way. They are usually very happy with the lunches I pack but sometimes all they want is to eat crap like everyone else!

    • I guess there’s a reason that the marketing guys make a lot of money! And really heinous how they aim their marketing at kids. Thanks for stopping by!

    • I really struggle with talking to them about it, especially as mine are so young and would very likely happily tell their little friends that the food they’re eating is really bad for them. It’s a constant struggle and sometimes I just want to make a little real food bubble for them to live in… I guess I do, but you know what I mean. Guess I wish they could stay in the bubble. 😉

  6. Great post! I think a lot of people with kids have this situation. I like the way you figured out what the appeal of the Lunchable actually was! When my kids were in school, we used the plastic Japanese lunch boxes for just the same reason. I had one who didn’t want his foods touching each other too. Then the Japanese lunch box got to be a little too embarrassing for them and we put them into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle box.

    • Yes, the cute factor can become a problem as they grow older. Now if I could find a camouflage bento box…. So was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Box the shell with compartments in it? I hope so. And if so, I think I want one.

      • Yes, the TMNT lunchbox was a total cover up for the bento box inside! This lasted a while. Amazingly, I also made peanut butter, onion and sauerkraut sandwiches for all 3 boys and they like it so much they were willing to take whatever ridicule they got from other kids and continued eating that for some time. At one point they really outgrew lunch boxes altogether but they continued chosing their food fairly wisely. And I take credit for that.

      • Wow! Peanut butter, onion and sauerkraut?! Wow! I may have to make a VERY small one of those just to check it out, but I admit, I’m a little, well, uncomfortable. 😉

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  11. I just saw this post. Thanks for the recipes! We just picked a lot of apples that were going to waste in a nearby parking lot, but they’re very small…. Maybe I can guess at “1 large apple” and try the muffins.

    My 8-year-old is scornful of Lunchables; I’m not sure if he picked this up from me or it’s just another part of his disgust with the things some of the other kids have for lunch. (The school-provided lunch is what we hear the most horrified comments about!) However, he does like having things in little compartments. We’ve been very happy with the Planetbox lunch kit, which is a stainless steel scoopy tray with lid that keeps the different foods in their sections.

    • You are welcome Becca! I hope you liked the recipe – rescued apple muffins 😉
      Sounds like you are doing something right with your 8 year old! Gotta love the justifiably horrified comments. From the mouths of babes…

  12. My boys BEGGED for lunchables when they started first grade. Finally, I gave in and bought them each one to pack in their lunch. That day when I picked them up, one of my boys was literally in tears…he was starving. The lunchable was the “grossest” thing he’d ever eaten and he was so hungry.

    That was the first and last time they had lunchables. Their little brother asked for one, once, and both boys regaled him with stories of the “horrible, wretched punchable,” and that was that.

    If you’re feeding your kids good food, they know what good food tastes like…and it’s definitely not lunchables! 🙂

    • That’s hilarious, and must have been very gratifying. It’s true that when they get used to the real thing at least SOME of the yuck doesn’t appeal to them anymore – just wish the marketing for the yuck wasn’t so effective.

      • Agreed!! I absolutely hate the food industry / marketing. We’ve actually eliminated a lot of it, in weird ways.

        We don’t watch live TV. Netflix and videos are fine.

        We buy a lot of food from farmers! Meat in bulk from farmer friends in Wisconsin. A local CSA for fresh produce through the growing season. Dairy and eggs from another farmer.

        My kids think it’s normal to just go to a farm for food. I know that’s not an option for everyone, but I love it!

        I was actually at a big grocery store today buying water bottles for my youngest son’s birthday party (the laser tag place only gives out pop to drink…what’s that about???) I’m fine with a treat now and then — pizza and cupcakes are on the menu — but let’s couple that with water and some fruit! 🙂

        Anyway, while we were at the grocery store, I was shocked by how much of the “food” isn’t really food at all. It was kind of crazy.

  13. I’m totally in love with Bento boxes. Alas, we homeschool and my kids don’t need a packed lunch everyday. *sigh* I confess, sometimes I make them crazy lunches like that just for fun.

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