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Lunch Boxes Of The Teen And Quirky

Lunch Boxes Of The Teen And Quirky

By Mir Kamin

If you’ve spent more than five minutes on Pinterest, you’ve likely seen a dozen different ways to pack your wee special snowflake a lunch that’s almost too pretty to eat. Is your little one a grazer? No problem! Simply whip up a bento masterpiece with a smattering a star-shaped cheese cutouts, homemade wholegrain crackers in the shapes of her favorite cartoon characters, the world tiniest, twee-est bunch of grapes, and a hard-boiled egg pressed into the likeness of a whimsical manga hero! Arrange all components in brightly-colored little holders and top it off with a $50 drink thermos filled with organic milk and pixie dust.

In case I didn’t already give it away, those sorts of lunches make me giggle.

Listen, my rules for packed lunches are pretty simple:
1) It should be something the kid will eat.
2) It should contain necessary nutrition/calories.
3) It should never take longer to pack a lunch than it takes the kid to eat said lunch.

These have always been my rules, and my kids have always taken their lunches to school. (Between early food allergies, pickiness, and schools where purchasing lunch isn’t an option, we’ve just always packed.) So when the Creative People Of The Internets get together to show off their masterpieces of noon-time nutrition, I’m over in the corner muttering, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Not only don’t I have the time, with two quirky adolescents, no one involved here wants a lunch that’s pretty. And I don’t want teenagers who return home all grumpy because they’re suffering from low-blood-sugar-induced crankiness.

So come along, and I will let you (virtually) peer into some real lunch boxes… they may not look all that exciting, but so far, no one’s starved to death. (I should really write tag lines for a living, don’t you think?)

Lunch for the homeschooled, easily-distracted teen

On days when we do school at home, my younger teen is happy to make his own lunch and consume it without argument. On the days when he attends co-op and needs to bring a lunch, though, he’s likely to “forget to eat” if I don’t make sure his lunch is something he can eat while doing something else. There’s just a lot going on, there, and he doesn’t want to miss anything. He’s also not good at discerning what needs to be consumed that day and what will keep; give him a yogurt and a package of crackers, and he’ll eat the crackers and then express surprise (every. single. time) when I tell him we now have to throw the yogurt away. So now when I pack him a lunch, I give him a heads-up on any perishables, and tell him to eat those first.

My son will most often take a sandwich (lunchmeat and cheese, usually), some form of fruit, one “healthy” snacky thing and one “junky” snacky thing. And a thermos of water. That’s it. If I pack him any more food than that, odds are excellent that he won’t eat anything. (Don’t ask me why. I have no idea.) He will eat one of his snacky items mid-morning, and the rest of his food for lunch. If I give him something that won’t keep—the aforementioned yogurt, for example, or a cut-up apple—I tell him to eat that for his morning snack.

Lunch for the underweight, packing-every-day teen

My daughter takes her lunch every day, and has more self-imposed food rules than I could possibly list here without weeping. My job is to find the intersection between her rules and the highest-calorie concoctions possible. For the most part, I alternate between giving her a sunbutter-and-jelly sandwich on multigrain bread or strawberry cream cheese on a whole wheat bagel. These are the two lunch entrees I know she’ll eat, so I long ago abandoned the notion that there needed to be more variety. She also gets a thermos of water, and a juice pouch. (I never allowed my kids juice until I had a teenager who needs to gain weight. I buy the fruit-and-veggie kinds and remind myself that she needs the calories.) Then I fill in her bag with a variety of snacks and hope for the best.

Acceptable variations to Lunch when it comes to entrees

Both children will accept leftover pizza in their lunches. My daughter will accept dinner leftovers (provided that it’s something she ate in the first place), hot or cold, but my son will not. Basically my son will eat any kind of sandwich but balks at a hot food, even if it’s something he normally likes. (Is it the temperature? The need to use a fork? I may never know.) My daughter has eighty gazillion food rules about texture and temperature, but will happily eat cold rice or leftover cold pasta (blech). Neither child eats peanut butter, but if I put Nutella on multigrain bread and make them swear a blood oath to eat the banana I pack with it, they’ll eat that.

Fruits, veggies, and snacky things

I used to be one of those moms who was all “I only pack fresh fruits and veggies!” and “I never buy snack-sized foods, what a waste!” Hahahahahaaaaaaaaa. (Hubris! It’s what’s for lunch!) I love to give my kids fresh fruits and veggies in their lunches, but I also know that bananas have a small window of ripeness acceptability, apples and pears need to be cut up (thanks, orthodontia!) and then might not get eaten, and some children won’t eat raw veggies without dip (and those same children may “forget” to eat said veggies and dip and then they get thrown away and I sigh a lot). So, yes, I pack carrots and bell peppers and dips, sometimes, and perfect bananas or sliced apples, sometimes, but I also buy applesauce pouches when they’re on sale, little cups of shelf-stable fruits in juice, dried cranberries and raisins, and yeah, sometimes I count those Snap Pea Crisps or Sun Chips as a vegetable.

I do hereby humbly confess that I consider single-serve cups of yogurt a necessity. Yes, I used to buy the larger containers and portion it out for lunches. They didn’t eat it. Now I can buy exactly the kinds they like (that’s a whole ‘nother list; Greek, but only certain brands, or Trader Joe’s, but only certain flavors) and they almost always eat it.

You know that I do a fair amount of baking my own sneaky-protein treats, but I also buy cereal bars and protein bars and those horrible cheese-and-cracker packets because I know they’ll get eaten. They may be nearly grown, but I can still score huge points by bringing home mini Babybel cheeses. And on any day when my daughter has marching band, she gets either a Snickers bar or almond M&Ms to eat before practice. (Desperate times, etc.)

There. Now don’t you feel better about the lunches that get packed at your house?

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About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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Nancy
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Nancy

My 4 year old refuses to eat meat and demands a sandwich for lunch because that is what everyone else is eating. We are on the 2nd year straight of her eating a peanutbutter sandwich for lunch. every single day. not even pb & J- just PB. i’m tired of looking at it already.

Diana
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Diana

Thank you. Needed this Pinterest antidote today!

Gail
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Gail

I know exactly where you are coming from ! My daughter has little to no appetite at lunch due to meds she is taking, so its a real challenge to pack a lunch she will actually eat! She has decided she likes protein shakes, though, so I figure that is better than nothing all day.  Sometimes she will eat a little fruit as well or a handful of almonds, but not much more. I just try to make sure she eats a big breakfast on school days, before her appetite is gone.

MR
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MR

I’m kind of the opposite, I guess. People keep telling me my kids’ lunches are so cute and pretty. That’s great, but that’s not why I make them that way. I bought these little flower shaped cutters to cut up cheddar. They ARE cute. But I only use them because my kids will literally not eat cheese and crackers at lunch if I don’t. I tried cutting up cheddar into regular squares like I do when they eat it at home, and neither ate it. At all. But, holy smokes, take a couple minutes to cut up the stupid cheese… Read more »

Hi, I'm Natalie.
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Hi, I'm Natalie.

Huh. I started packing my own lunches when I was in grade-3… I was a sandwich/fruit/nuts-packer at that point. Starting in grade-7, I think I started packing more leftovers with my fruit, with the occasional can of smoked oysters or soup in a thermos packed in for good measure. It didn’t occur to me that I shouldn’t take responsibility for packing lunches myself. (My husband’s parents packed his lunches until he moved out of their home in second-year-university… Maybe I was just a weird kid. 😉 For my 4yo, I have a lot of fun putting together the goofy bento… Read more »

My Kids Mom
Guest

I was told by my Pack-His-Own-Lunch 12 yo that it doesn’t really matter if I buy things he likes. What matters is that his FRIENDS like the choices. Because he trades it away and can get “good trades” for things they like. Is he eating a reasonably balanced meal at lunch? Who knows. I’ll assume yes because he eats well when I’m watching and because it seems easiest to assume that.

Jelourai
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Jelourai

Just wanted to comment that I really enjoyed this (to quote Diana) Pinterest antidote.  My kid is two so I can still pretend that this will never be a problem.

susan
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susan

would they do smoothies? vitamins, hidden veggies, calories, can be consumed with one hand, can be made from those forgotten, slightly browned leftover fruit bits. 

i will admit that i bought sandwich cutters for my daughter recently and am so glad i did because now she actually EATS her sandwich rather than nibbling a bite or two before abandoning it. and i tried cutting it by hand into all sorts of shapes.  yeah, hubris. 

Liz
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Liz

To each her own.  My kids and I enjoy the Bento-style lunches, when I have the time/interest to pack them that way.  It definitely encourages them to eat a greater variety of things, and I find it is an easy, low-risk way to introduce new foods and/or textures into the regular rotation.  Low-risk because you are only including a small amount so if it’s not eaten there’s not too much wasted, and there is plenty of other “safe” food to eat that they won’t go hungry.   That said, I look forward to the day I can shift lunch-packing responsibility… Read more »

trackback

[…] This went up at Alpha Mom yesterday, and already a couple of commenters called it an excellent “Pinterest antidote,” which made me laugh. So, if you have any sort of packed-lunch-related guilt, allow me to show you what goes into a real-life, picky teen’s lunch box. […]

el-e-e
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el-e-e

I’m glad you posted this. My kids’ lunches are very old-school and I also have an underweight kid who needs the Nutella and the Doritos. (Or I tell myself that.) 😉 You’re right about having to give up the notion that they need variety, too. If the girl will eat bologna every day, then bologna she shall have!!

Diane
Guest

I started packing my own in about 5th grade. Mom would put on her perfume BEFORE packing our lunches – I got tired of Chanel-infused sandwiches.

Even as an adult, I’m fine with the same lunch every day. Takes the hassle out of shopping and packing. Sandwich or soup, pretzels, fruit, and a yogurt and nuts to have for snacks.

Patricia H
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Patricia H

I don’t get all bento fussy, but I will use a giant cookie cutter to cut the DAILY peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which is honestly less time consuming than cutting the crusts off (kindergarteners,,, what are ya gonna do?). I usually eat the crusts as part of my breakfast with a little extra PB. My biggest indulgence is the bag of already cut apples. The really large bag from our local big box giant lasts a full week for both kids, and always gets eaten. My challenge is that the little guys lunch time slot is at 10:35 in… Read more »

Rebecca
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Rebecca

My 8-yr old packs his own lunch now because all he ever did was complain about – and not eat – the ones I packed. Of course he packs *exactly* the same things I packed (I guess it tastes better when he does it?), and I have to remind him to put in *enough food*. Whatever, as long as he eats!!

I giggle at the fancy Bento lunch thingies too. Wouldn’t matter how pretty I made it (and yeah, ain’t nobody got time for that!), it wouldn’t get eaten. So not worth it, in my house!

RuthWells
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RuthWells

Oh, sister. My oldest (now 17+) has packed the VERY SAME lunch for himself for the last probably 8 years. PBJ on rice cakes (because if on bread, it gets unacceptably soggy) plus a tube of yoghurt (Stoneyfield, so at least it’s not a chemical soup) and a piece of fruit (apples are usually fine, but if it’s any thing other than an apple, it must be underripe).

We added protein bars a few years ago when he fainting in a mid-morning class due to low blood sugar.

S.B.
Guest

I had to pack lunches for my kids when they went to school, too… one because he thought the school food was too unhealthful (which it was) and the other because she has high cholesterol (and the unhealthful school food contributed). I did a lot of pasta salads and leftover stir-fry and sandwiches on whole wheat bread, and it was amazing to me how many of the TEACHERS wanted to know if I’d pack them a lunch the next day. None of this bento stuff… they wanted real food in a lunchbox. Can’t blame ’em.

Jean
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Jean

Those bentos are pretty but my son would have no appreciation for it. He’s a “basic” kid…doesn’t really like dips of any sort, or mustard, or mayo even (except in tuna fish). So he gets a plain meat/cheese sandwich – organic salamic, or turkey usually. Then some type of “healthy” lunch snack – yogurt or fruit – and a treat snack (cookies or chips). For school snack he always gets 100% juice and a string cheese, and then something else. He is a tall lean stick figure with a BMI of essentially nothing so I don’t worry about the calorie… Read more »

Cheryl S.
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Cheryl S.

I’m right there with you on the food issues. My 8 year old rarely eats lunch at school, no matter what I pack, so I’ll put damn near anything in there just to get some nutrition into her.
One of the teachers last year teasingly called her “cereal girl” because I would pack the individual little boxes of cereal alot. I know she was just joking, but I wanted to scream! Don’t judge until you have all the facts. Good luck to all of us dealing with this stuff!

js
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js

I just want to say-Aargh! I don’t think Mir is sending death rays to Mom’s who make organic, healthy lunches in biodegradable burlap or whatever. Get a freakin’ sense of humor, internet! Jeez. As the Mother of a kiddo with some food sensitivity ISSUES who will only eat five things, I’m here to tell you if she wants Doritos, apples cut up into Disney Princesses or a granola bar with high fructose corn syrup, she’s getting it. It’s better than the alternative where she will literally eat NOTHING. We all want the same thing- to keep our kids healthy and… Read more »

Katie K.
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Katie K.

My 12 year old also needs the calories and is picky.  He takes a sandwich, chips, juice with calcium (he is lactose intolerant) and/or water and a dessert (a couple cookies or something similar).  I used to make him take fruit but it got tossed and he hates veggies.  He gets a cereal bar or cheese and pretzels for snack.  Some of his classmates give him a hard time about his “unhealthy” lunches.  I struggle with what to say to him because 1- their lunches don’t sound any healthier and 2- these kids do NOT need the calories like my… Read more »

MR
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MR

He should simply shrug and say, “My doctor is ok with my lunches. Thanks for worrying about me!” and change the subject.

nicole
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nicole

I’ve given up on the variety thing too. We’re on year two of a solid two veggie, two fruit, three entree rotation. He’ll eat an abundance of snacky, carby things. I’m just happy I’m not filling the garbage can when he gets off the bus so I’ll take it. 

Rarely, if i have more time I try on of those creative Pinterest worthy ideas. For example, last week I drew a witch silhouette on his cut apple half with a food coloring marker. He wouldn’t eat it, said it was weird. That’ll teach me.

angel
Guest
angel

I was one of the kids that hated (still do) PB&J. My packed my own lunch starting in kindergarten b/c of this. My mom helped of course but I picked everything out. I usually had salami, cheese, and crackers, fruit, and a hostess treat. I bought milk at school. Also would take leftover pizza, fried chicken and anything that didn’t need to be heated up. My son will be taking whatever he likes within reason.

Barbara
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Barbara

Ah-men, sister!

If I buy Babybel cheeses, my kids will pester me every. two. minutes. for “just one pleeeeeeease” and with three kids, they almost never make it from the grocery bag to the fridge and then the lunch boxes. I believe that red wax coating is a) spiked with something crazy addictive, or 2) able to emit a sound only kids can hear, saying something along the lines of, “I’m sooooooo much yummier than those boring cheese sticks wrapped in (gasp!) plastic!”

Crickett
Guest
Crickett

PB&J. Greek yogurt w/oreos (and way too much sugar). Pita chips with sea salt. Every freaking day. Plain bowtie pasta and peas&cheese for dinner. Every Freaking Day! I use bento boxes because I don’t like throwing away plastic bags and stuff. I HAVE all the cute cutter/egg shaper/hot dog cutter accessories. Do I get to use them? NOT! As soon as I started doing cute things with what she was eating, she’d stop eating that thing! I just ordered an uncrustables maker. I read about a woman who makes a dozen at a time and freezes them. Maybe that will… Read more »

meghann @ midgetinvasion
Guest

Costco sells hummus in individual serving cups, which rocked my world and was a total game changer for us when it comes to packing lunches! I just ignore the irony about the fact that my kids use planetboxes, which are designed to cut down on waste, and I’m throwing in stuff in individual packages. A mom at our co-op has many children, all older than mine. Her youngest two are now teenagers. She gave me the best encouragement ever when it comes to teenagers. She said “All you have to do is keep them alive until they are in their… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

Ooooh! I want those for me!! And my kids will eat it too. Bonus! Except now I need to go to Costco.

Jenn
Guest
Jenn

This all sounds so familiar. Underweight daughter, check. Orthodontia, check. Limited options due to sensitivities and picky taste buds, check. There was a blissful period in second grade where my daughter ate school lunch every day for an entire semester; but then the food sensitivities were discovered and I’ve been packing ever since. I figure my job is to make sure my kid has enough calories she’ll eat to make it through the day. Variety, nutrition and trash-free come second, and Pinterest is never consulted.

Sheryl
Guest
Sheryl

I just wish my kids would eat any kind of vegetables in their lunch. It would make my morning and my conscience so much lighter.

Javamom
Guest

Packed lunches will be the end of me. Either the sandwich is “wet” but if I omit the sliced cucumber my 8yo specifically demanded, then he won’t eat it because he doesn’t like his sandwich ‘plain’. Also only sliced turkey. Or salami. But if I put salami on the menu he won’t eat it because today he felt like turkey. And now that Canadian Thanksgiving is over and we have REAL LEFTOVER TURKEY he won’t eat it because it’s not sliced.

SIGH.

Beth
Guest
Beth

My kids will eat the same food every day. Until I stock up on it and buy a ton. Then they will never, ever eat that food again.
I got sick of packing my daughter’s lunch in 8th grade, because she was fussy and picky and had perfectly good options at school. So she packed her own lunch…until I realized she would only pack MAYBE a piece of fruit and a packet of goldfish or something. Then guilt became overwhelming and so I threw myself back into the packing fray. Sigh.

Brigitte
Guest
Brigitte

My 8-year-old rarely eats anything healthier than the occasional chicken nugget or apple slice. Some days, all she eats are Cheetos and the like. But she’s healthy, active, still skinny, and in the 75th percentile for height (she did NOT inherit those from ME), so I refuse to fight food battles with her, I just go with it.

Mona
Guest
Mona

Love this post! Just finished packing the exact same bologna and bread only sandwich, baked lays, apple slices and v8 fusion juice box I pack every freaking night, because that is what my 5 yo (very healthy) little boy will eat.
Honestly, I can pack that lunch in two minutes flat now, so maybe there’s something to be said for that. And if I had the appropriate tools / time / kids, I could see getting into the bento box creativity, too. Whatever works and gets the occasional nutrient in there.

KSM
Guest
KSM

School lunches are apparently a LOT harder than they were in the 80s and 90s.  I had a PBJ every day cause that was what I liked, and maybe something else, and then a drink.  Good luck to you all!

Brigid
Guest

We use planet boxes (bento-y-ish) because FOOD THAT TOUCHES CAN NOT POSSIBLY BE CONSUMED! And I may or may not have recently said “If one more yogurt comes home uneaten, I will NEVER buy any more.”

Lara
Guest
Lara

Feel better? Nope. How do you get them to eat so much? My child with ADHD, sensory processing disorder and/or Aspergers was eating nothing but drinking his chocolate milk until recently. I have finally created an apple oat cookie recipe (with protein powder and chia seeds to up protein!) that he loves and he gets two of those in his lunch every day. I’ve given up packing anything else, it just comes home and gets pitched! Part of the problem is the balanced lunch day program (two nutrition breaks, 20 mins at 10:30 am – yes, they are expected to… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

The combo of sensory issues and dietary restrictions means my 4 year old son eats exactly the same lunch every day. He gets his muffins (made with quinoa flour so they’re actually a protein), frozen peas (or peas and carrots when I can find it), and some sort of fruit (the only part that varies regularly). It’s completely boring but it’s healthy and he eats it so that’s all I can make myself care about.

Courtney
Guest
Courtney

Bahahahahaha love it. This cracks me up!!! Wtg mom