Hey friends, it’s been a minute, eh? Lana’s had the month of August off from school, and we’ve spent the last week road-tripping through Northern California and the Nevada desert, visiting all six of her grandparents and her three great-grandparents. We logged almost 1k miles, just the two of us, and I’m delighted (and a little shocked, honestly) to say the tablet didn’t come out once. Three cheers for well-researched lunch and playground pit stops to keep the bellies full and the wiggles at bay!
And now, like so many of you, we’re back and using this last week of summer to gear up for school prep, which means, as I mentioned in my last post on bento-style lunchboxes: my first foray into true blue lunch-packing.
I went down a bit of a rabbit hole today bookmarking recipes for Lana’s first month of school lunches and figured that, if they made it onto my pretty tightly-curated list, they might just be worth sharing with you guys, too.
Speaking of tightly curated, I had a few requirements for these recipes.
First: I wanted items that weren’t in the genre of sandwiches/wraps/rollups. We all know how to make a sandwich, and really, Lana is pretty hit-or-miss when it comes to them, even when they feature some of her favorite foods (read: salami + cheese). And personally, I’ve never really been into the whole cream-cheese-smeared-on-a-tortilla-and-tiled-with-lunchmeat kinda thing. Hell, maybe she’d love ’em, but frankly, I think we can do better.
Second: I wanted items that were familiar but still novel. As much as I’d like to think I’ll be cutting little stars into her Babybel cheese on a daily basis, it’s just not gonna happen. So she’s going to have to be won over by the actual food itself. These are all foods and flavors that she’s had before, but we eat them infrequently enough that she’s not burned out on them. At least not yet.
And last of all: They have to be relatively simple to make in advance — duh. I wish I could say I’ll be prepping all her lunches on Sunday night (if only!), but at the very least, I’ll be prepping them the night before, so they’ve gotta hold up somewhat well. For the couple of items that are served hot (here’s where a thermos-style lunchbox, like the OmieBox, which is pictured above, comes in really handy), I’ll make the item in advance and heat her portion the morning of before adding it to her lunch.
10 Kid-Friendly Lunch Box Recipes (That Aren’t Sandwiches!)
We made these today as a snack, and as soon as Lana heard we’d be making “ramen eggs,” she was all-in. We followed this recipe exactly using our favorite method to medium-boil eggs: Eggs into the Instant Pot set on the steamer rack with 1 cup of water; cook on Manual/High for 4 minutes followed by an ice bath. Quick and painless, and hands down results in the easiest peeling eggs ever. (We use this model of Instant Pot, and it’s on sale for Labor Day! Bonus!) I added two star anise to the marinating mixture, and they are perfectly savory and aromatic. They’ll be an easy (and frequent) lunchbox add, for sure.
We all know what a big hit beans are in this house. This recipe looks an awful lot like a canned version of gigante beans in tomato sauce Trader Joe’s sells around the holidays — which Lana happens to gobble up whenever we get our hands on them. (She can polish off a whole tin in a sitting.) I’d probably send these to school hot in the OmieBox, though I imagine they would taste just dandy at room temp, too. And as much as I prefer the texture of beans cooked from dry, I might try them with canned butter beans to make them even simpler.
This is one of our favorite soups to make in the fall, and I think Lana would be super-stoked if it made its first appearance this season in her lunch. (It’s also the soup pictured in the first lunchbox image, above.) It’s super-flavorful, packed with greens and holds up well when reheated time and again. You can leave out the bacon for a veggie option — just give the veggies a start in a glug of olive oil (and obviously swap the stock for veggie, too) — but it does lend some clutch smokiness and depth. Another option that I would serve in the OmieBox.
I sampled a Perfect Bar for the first time on our recent road trip, and as a peanut butter lover through and through, I was straight up hooked. If you haven’t had one, they’re fudgy-textured bars of (mostly) peanut butter, packed with protein and — if you go about the chocolate PB version — studded with chocolate chips. Clearly these aren’t the best option if your kiddo’s school is nut-free (in which case they’d make a great after-school snack), but I’d feel good about sneaking one of these into Lana’s lunchbox as an entree that masquerades as dessert.
Have you guys had the sous vide egg bites at Starbucks? SO FREAKING GOOD. They’re savory, creamy and totally addictive. Hands down Lana’s favorite item to order when we’re on the road, too. So when I got home, I scoured the internet for a copycat recipe, and after reading literally thousands of comments (don’t worry, I was watching Bachelor in Paradise all the while *facepalm*), this is the recipe I intend to try first. If you don’t choose to read through the many, many comments, the takeaway seems to be to only fill the muffin cups 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full for best results. (Side note: apparently they’re keto, too!)
My friend Leigh Ann is a bit of a lunch-packing guru, so I trust this recipe completely. Anything pizza-themed in the lunchbox gives me major nostalgic, Lunchables vibes (like, in the best way), but the format of these feels a little more proper, even though they come together super-simply. Lana’s not a huge dunker, so I think we’d skip the side of marinara. (It’s one less thing to potentially spill, too.) I’d send them to school to be enjoyed at room temp.
Like any proper California kiddo, Lana poshly considers one of her favorite foods to be sushi. (The privilege oozing out of that statement is nothing if not embarrassing.) We make simple avocado maki at home pretty often, but this version that features crunchy cucumbers and sweet, silky mango feels a little more special and would add so much color to a bento situation.
Spam, friends. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Lana loves all things spam — spam sushi, spam musubi, spam, rice + eggs — so this handheld beauty will make the perfect little snack. In a perfect world, I’d make all of the components in advance and wrap the onigirazu right before packing her lunch to prevent the nori from getting too soggy, but honestly I don’t think she’d be too bothered either way. I’d happily make extra for me, too!
Are you sensing an Asian theme here? I can’t help it — the format and flavors of so many of our favorite foods lend themselves super-well to lunches. Lana loves these little buns, and we routinely order them whenever we go to dim sum. (They were a major favorite of mine when I was little, too!) Admittedly, the full recipe is a bit more of a project seeing as how the dough is made from scratch, but I’m feeling pretty inspired to see if I can’t reproduce them at home. If Chinese sausage is hard to come by (it’s available at all Asian grocers and even at our Costco, but I realize that might be an exception because #BayArea), you could make these with steamed hot dogs, too. Love that they freeze well, too.
Who doesn’t love a little plant-based protein in their lunch? We typically prepare tofu under the broiler (these tofu bowls and this crispy tofu-topped curry = major faves), but this deeply marinated and pan-fried tofu sounds like it’s so flavorful and would hold up crazy-well in a lunchbox at room temperature. Totally need to invest in a few cute bento picks that would be a fun alternative to standard lunch utensils for a food like this, too.
Our 3 Favorite Lunch Box (or After-School) Treats
Ugh, you know I can never keep these roundups to 10 items. These three little treats we make so often, I couldn’t not include them in our lunchbox-packing strategy.
We’ve been making these homemade graham crackers developed by my friend Christina since Lana was about 18 months old. Are they more work than popping open a box of Honey Maid? Yes. But they’re so totally crunchy and satisfying, made with real, easy-to-find ingredients and they keep forever on the shelf. (I used to ration Lana to maybe 1/4 of a cracker per day, so they’d sit on our counter for weeks, and they held up so well!) A solid lunchbox or post-school snack staple that’s not overly sweet. So, so good.
Full disclosure: there’s a ban on making these muffins in this house because I’ll eat a cool six or seven in two days’ time. But for good reason: they’re crisp and caramelized, with a toffee-like flavor and an addicting, chewy center. Gah. Made in a mini-muffin pan, they’d be perfect for lunches. If you have decent self-control, I couldn’t recommend them more.
Made with real pumpkin and my favorite junky kiddo cereal, these are another treat that I have very little self-control around. Fortunately, even the smallest square is pretty satisfying, so I don’t feel too guilty allowing Lana to indulge every now and then. And as a bonus, they’re an excellent last-minute item for fall bake sales, too. Don’t forget the sprinkle of salt!
Hope everyone has a great Labor Day weekend! Soak up the last of those summer vibes!
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This one’s for the Pinners!