The Lunch-Packing Manifesto

If you want to hold on to a shred of belief that you’re a decent mother, don’t Google “healthy school lunch ideas.”

The first hit will take you to some obviously child-free assholes at bonappetit.com who think that Asparagus and Gruyere Panini and Curried Egg Salad Pinwheels qualify as two of “25 Quick and Easy School Lunches To Pack For Your Kids.” According to them, I’m to roast the asparagus the night before—or shave it raw into thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler—then add the gruyere cheese and drizzle the lemon juice the next morning before cooking the whole thing in a panini press. Or hard-boil the eggs and prepare the curried egg salad the night before, then use my ample lunch-preparation time the next morning to cut the crust off bread and fashion “pinwheels,” which I’m to secure with toothpicks. The “pinwheels” in the picture—I can’t even write the word pinwheels without putting it derisively in quotation marks—are lying upon a bed of lettuce. A bed of lettuce. And not iceberg lettuce—hipster lettuce.

I love my child. And I believe in his eating healthy. Since I’ve been packing his lunches for preschool, I’ve rolled up slices of nitrate-free turkey. I’ve sliced raw vegetables. I’ve washed grapes and then halved them, lest he choke on a large one. I’ve placed dollops of hummus and yogurt in adorably small containers labeled with his name. I’ll admit that when he was going through his shapes phase, I even cut his cheese into circles and squares and sadly irregular pentagons.

I’m all for prepping and cooking on the weekends—cold salads or casseroles, for example—to make my life easier during the week. But I will not press a panini (hypothetically—I don’t own a panini press) while trying to wrangle a naked preschooler at 6AM. on a work day. I will not drizzle. I will not pinwheel. That I’m even using “pinwheel” as a verb right now runs totally contrary to my philosophy of parenting. I need to save my energy for the necessities.

Even if I weren’t a working mom, I’m not sure I’d use my time to pinwheel. My mom stayed at home, and the lunch I always remember her packing for me was a baloney sandwich on white bread and a thermos of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup with a handwritten note. I distinctly remember that there were no shallots in my soup. I never saw her whipping up homemade pesto and grilling vegetables for my Lunchbox Pesto Shrimp Skewers. She was busy reading me a book.

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Besides, as one voice of reason pointed out in the comments section of “25 Quick and Easy School Lunches,” Really I don’t think you should send your kids to school with skewers.

Amen.

Related post: I’m A Pinterest Mom And Proud Of It

About the writer

@AbbyBWriter

Abby Byrd writes humor, satire, and cultural criticism. She is in disbelief that she has yet to receive any financial compensation for being so clever and hilarious. Follow her on Twitter @AbbyBWriter and at her blog, Little Miss Perfect.

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Sara t 8 months ago

I just packed my first lunches last week! I googled healthy lunch box lunches for toddlers. The results were rediculous! Goat cheese strawberry sandwiches? Pear avocado sandwich? Seriously? I gave her a turkey cheese wrap with grapes and a Motts for Tots juice box.

Bethany 8 months ago

Love this! I did google healthy school lunches and found those same ridiculous suggestions, and thought WTF, while stocking up on pb and j.

Alexis 1 year ago

As I am reading this, there is an ad beckoning me to a website that promises to provide me with 85 school lunch ideas AND a printable planner. Can we say overkill??

Beth 1 year ago

Huh. My kid’s preschool doesn’t allow outside food and drink except for special occasions and the babies who are nursing (infant through pre-K with more formal learning as they progress). I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about this yet.

alleah 1 year ago

My eldest is in kindergarten. I tried to be the pinterest lunch mom. I made it until Christmas break. Now it’s baby carrots and hummus, a fruit (or applesauce if its been a while since I could drag myself to the grocery store) and some kind of protein. Maybe that’s a tuna sammich. Or maybe its so.e garlic sausage cut up with some veggie thin crackers. Once upon a time I halved an orange pepper and cut a jackolatern face in it. Now she’s lucky if u can muster up the giveashit for ants on a log. No judgsies anymore.

Mommy Catharsis 2 years ago

Great post! Couldn’t agree more. I also remember my mom writing me a handwritten note everyday for my lunch. THAT is a tradition worth keeping. “Pinwheels” are ridiculous.

Kate 2 years ago

You know what sucks? Implying that people who spend more time on lunches are stealing that time away from their kids (myyyy mom read me a booook) to make you feel inadequate. Girl, do you. No need to compare/be snotty to others who choose to do things differently.

Sara Gainer 2 years ago

I must be the worst mom ever because I refuse to do any of this lol. I ate “hot lunch” growing up and I see nothing wrong with my kids doing the same. My 6 year old is picky enough already. So, instead of encouraging his pickiness by packing him a lunch with the same crap he eats all the time anyway, I’d rather him try the foods the school has to offer. Even if he doesn’t eat it, school lunch is still cheaper than the stuff he would want in a cold lunch.

Deb Barker 2 years ago

Why not get a school lunch…..

Amanda Merrell 2 years ago

This made me laugh

Courtney Shafer 2 years ago

I packed my first school lunch ever tonight (big moment here). It was exhausting and I’m not sure how I’m going to survive the next 12 years!

Scott Gaterell 2 years ago

Every time I work hard try something different, cool or extra healthy for kid lunches it just comes back home at the end of the day untouched (my kids famished & angry) & the next day it’s back to a sandwich or one of the other 3 things they will actually eat. At first I feel guilty, then I realize I’m too tired, the kids are healthy & it really isn’t worth stressing about…

SaeMi Kim 2 years ago

My kids constantly stresses me out! I made homemade quesadillas….my son was like, mom this us embarassing. I’m like what?! Shit I’d wish someone made me something this good! The next day I made spaghetti with meatmalls, chef salad & garlic bread. My other son goes, I can’t eat this in front of them!! Someone shoot me! He whispers…lunchables please. Mind you, at home they eat like 2 servings…so what gives you little turds?! So I just make them buy school lunch and hear them gripe about how it wasn’t good or there wasn’t enough. Like I didn’t know!! Shut up! Lol

Evin 2 years ago

I’m a pin wheeler. I think it’s super fun. I have zero artistic talent but I can whip up a bad ass lunch at 6 am no sweat. Of course, I don’t work outside the home and I barely work inside the home, so whatevs. My kid gives zero shits what his lunch looks like, but it’s really fun for me :)

Brittany Maddox 2 years ago

PB&J, bag of chips, Star Crunch or whatever sweet item I have in my cupboard and $0.40 for milk. Every. Single. Time.

Rachel 2 years ago

I ate the school lunches my whole childhood, and it never hurt me. So my kids do too; I figure they couldn’t have gotten any worse, right? And when you’re on a strict budget and qualify for free lunch, it just makes sense not to buy extra groceries. I still have to send a snack everyday, but I can usually get away with some grapes or Goldfish in a zip-lock bag or a banana.

Paloma Maciel 2 years ago

Amen!

Erica Maust Boyle 2 years ago

My 2 yo loves lunchables…… They seem to be healthier than when I was a kid. Why make things harder on myself? You better believe lunches will not be super involved when he’s in school.

La Familia Ortiz 2 years ago

Let kids be kids geez

Kristi Rhoan Perales 2 years ago

I despise packing my kids a cold lunch! And the online ideas for lunch are ridiculous! How can they have “100 ideas for packing your kid’s lunch” and not a single one is even remotely realistic!

MrsWelton 2 years ago

Haha, I Google’d “25 Quick and Easy School Lunches To Pack For Your Kids” for shits and giggles…it really exists, lol. Upon looking through these “easy” recipes, in my mind, I’m picking them apart, thinking, “Well, he won’t eat lettuce – or zucchini – or tomatoes – he definitely won’t like the Greek yogurt dip.” How old are the kids this is meant for, college-aged?

Nadine Jones 2 years ago

My kids are lucky if they receive some sort of food as we rush out the door. I am so grateful for school breakfast and school lunch provided in the cafeteria. Summers suck because I have to make their lunch Every Day. I think I manage to make it healthy. I also think my kids sneak a lot of cookies into their lunch boxes. Whatever.

Wendy Schillinger 2 years ago

We are not allowed to send our kids to lunch with a peanut butter sandwich, in NSW Australia, makes it hard but we need to look after the kids at school who maybe allergic to it.. Fair call I think if u had a child with anaphylaxis

Kerrin Kilmartin 2 years ago

A half-size can of baked beans, a small (store bought) bag of air-popped popcorn, a piece of fresh fruit, a little box of sultanas and voila! one healthy lunch (in 2 seconds flat) and one happy 7 yr old!

Jacey 2 years ago

I can agree that the lunches you mentioned are over the top. But I work, I have an internship, my 6 (almost 7) year old, a new baby, house work, etc etc etc… just like everyone else. I literally use twenty minutes (usually less) a night, right after the kiddos go to bed to throw together a nice lunch for the next day. My daughter eats it all and is really excited to see what I’m packing her. Yes, I make shaped sandwiches, skewers (not pointy), pinwheels, wraps, salads, and so on. None of it takes long and none of it is really all that much effort. I get people are busy and I know you (the author) didn’t put anyone down, but it’s common practice to give moms that put any effort into lunch packing a very hard time. It’s really disheartening that me taking that twenty minutes of my day upsets or offends so many other people. Those healthy fun lunches with shapes, and cutouts, and skewers….really don’t take as long as you imagine they do. I promise you.

Glimmer 2 years ago

I have packed my share of lunches but they are simple PB&J (with a reminder to wash his hands, mouth and eating area), Apple slices, water, chips and a sweet treat. Severe allergies of the non peanut kind keep us very nonadventurous…
I admit to being jealous of those parents with kids that will happily try new foods!

Jeannine Bruner 2 years ago

I cook healthy, organic, non GMO, dairy free, mostly gluten free dinners every night. My kids are fine with PB& J, chicken nuggets (we can have warmups at our school), frozen pizza, and packaged snacks for lunch. It’s still healthier than what our school offers. #hatepackinglunches

Gail 2 years ago

Hipster lettuce…. LMAO!!!!!!!!!!!

Amanda Aswegan 2 years ago

I will never forget volunteering at my son’s school one day and watching one little boy look at all these cut up veggies his mom packed him and then throwing them all in the garbage!

Kimberly Krug Alvarez 2 years ago

One of those bento box websites once showed half of a steamed artichoke! Really?? Aren’t you just setting your kid up for a lifetime of ridicule and therapy if you send them to school with that in their lunchbox?

Kimberly Kavanagh 2 years ago

Lemme tell you something, ladies. I packed the most elaborate lunches for my now-21 yr old daughter (grilled frickin’ chicken caesar salads?!) complete with little love notes….and it didn’t make a bit of difference. My two subsequent children got Lunchables and a juice box and they’re all healthy and well-adjusted!

Michelle Walker 2 years ago

Oh and he eats Turkey and cheese sandwiches. W cheese and ranch.

Michelle Walker 2 years ago

I only have 1 child. He will be 5 in Oct. I pack him turkey wraps, nutella sandwiches, pb&j, spaghetti, Mac n cheese, and lunch ables. He will eat apples, cheese, and yogurt. And cookies and crackers. I’d rather me pack something I know hell eat than him not eat the school lunches.

Jennifer Miller Drayton 2 years ago

If your kids are picky eaters it’s your own fault. Give them a variety of foods to try and most likely they will eat it.
I’m so tired of hearing…” My kids only eat chicken nuggets , Mac and cheese and peanut butter”.
They only eat those foods because that’s the only foods you serve them !
While school lunches are not a good time to introduce a new food , the weekend is.
You will never know if they like gruyere or not if you never let them try it.
I try to give them healthy meals. It doesn’t always work but just giving them crap because that’s all they will eat is sad.

Alexandra Lukas 2 years ago

Amen, sista.

Lori P 2 years ago

I live in Ontario, Canada and I don’t think any schools around here allow peanut butter or any type of anything that has nuts or produced anywhere near nuts. I would give anything to be able to send PB&J!

Marybeth Ann Taylor Simoneit 2 years ago

Hysterical!

Megan Turillo 2 years ago

Thank you! ! Tomorrow I’ll send my kids off with lunches packed with protein, veggies, and whole grains and a handwritten note. There will be no pinwheels or soups simmered for hours. But when they come home I’ll be doing to sit and listen to their day’s events because I’ll have time to do that instead of prepping lunches already for the next day.

LauraALord 2 years ago

I made the mistake of going to Google for ideas and I saw the pinwheels. I saw the panini. I’ve never even eaten a panini. I refuse to make food for my children that is of better quality than the Velveeta shells and cheese I’m eating for lunch.

And no one who knows my son would ever suggest skewers. For anything. I don’t trust him with a Q-tip.

RM Winn 2 years ago

Am I the only one with a picky first grader? My son would gag if I put hummus or egg salad in his lunch. Lol

Chantal Lecompte 2 years ago

I’m mean. Everyone gets leftovers and if you don’t like that you get a banana. I pack all of ours at the same time. Mine too so they know I’m not treating myself any different.

DaenerysIRL 2 years ago

OMFG I haven’t gone near reading any of those stupid articles b/c I’m not changing a thing about how I feed my kids, but I can’t believe there are idiots out there suggesting the absurd shit you mentioned above. WHO does that?!

In my house, you ate what mom/dad cooked or you don’t eat. And you know what?:I sure as hell did. There was no chance to be a picky eater unless you wanted to starve, and my parents didn’t budge on this a BIT. I think it was a good thing. I have always love trying new stuff, I’m versatile, and enjoy ethnic foods and pretty much anything exotic.

We’ve lived by the same rule w/ our kids & it seems to be working for DS8 and DD5 too. Took them to a sushi restaurant for the 1st time- they weren’t about to try the “raw fishy stuff” but they liked California rolls w/ the fake crab & cucumber! :)

Amy Snipes Jennings 2 years ago

This is why I love my kid’s daycare/PreK. We have a chef on premises who makes everything she can from scratch. It’s good, kid-friendly, and she uses the healthiest ingredients she can get with the budget she’s given. I don’t know what I am going to do when I am faced with cafeteria food in elementary school.

Kristin Divi White Kvastad 2 years ago

This might work if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow or one of her fans/wannabes. I don’t have kids, but my friends who do- their kids wouldn’t touch these lunches. Turkey sandwiches, cheese. crackers, and fruit. Lunchables on a good day (for kids) and bad day (for Mom or Dad). Just keep it simple, why convolute something as simple as a kid’s lunch?

Sandra Kreiner 2 years ago

I’m in school to be a chef, ya know what my kid eats for lunch? Lunchables :) mommy cooked for a bunch of other people all day and cooks a healthy dinner, so I’m tired lol I’m not ashamed at all, plus she loves them

Jon Bowser 2 years ago

what child would want to eat those anyway? no child eats asparagus, and i don’t even know what Gruyere is.

Jennie Reis 2 years ago

Whatever happened to a sandwich, bag of chips, and if I was lucky, some sort of cookie? LOL

Mary Revesz 2 years ago

and the ne area that drives me crazy is when the lunch room supervisors take it upon themselves to tell me child in what order to eat their lunch..if they want to eat my homemade cupcake with frosting first they have that right!, when I was a kid, most families could only afford PB & J…and guess what..I survived and lived to have (2) healthy children.

feefifofum 2 years ago

We have leftovers from dinner. I pack everyone’s lunch while cleaning up dinner. End of story.

Meleney Plantillas 2 years ago

hahahahaha…
My spawn just get leftovers from the night before or Sushi-nori (California rolls),
2 fruits, a veggie, a cosmic Brownie and a bottle of water.
well so far this year. Next month they will get a snack size cheese-it or something added to it.

Amanda Brady 2 years ago

Cutting sandwiches with cookie cutters is stupid, waste of time and money,

Tiffany V Withrow 2 years ago

I’m not the only one who feels like this????

Tasha Goy Pope 2 years ago

Oh well….. When I was a kid I had a cheese sandwich and a thermos of milk and an occasional cookie!! Guess what!!?? I grew up fine and healthy :) no wonder moms never feel like they’re good enough with expectations like this!

Amanda Taylor 2 years ago

This is what a bento lunch looks like when I make it. LoL

Lissette Salgado 2 years ago

Im a stay at home mom and I dont “pinwheel”! Isnt it enough that I have to wake up at 5 am to prepare breakfast and lunches and get them packed. Then by 630 I have to give a wake up call, give her breakfast, put her in the shower, comb her hair, iron clothes, get her in her uniform, double check that everything is in her backpack and have her out of the house by 750 to catch the bus (all while she nags constantly about one thing or another)?

SaeMi Kim 2 years ago

I’m not too fond of school lunches. I’m sure it’s healthy but it taste bland. So on days my kids like their lunches ex: pizza or taco, they buy. Other days I reheat left over spaghetti, mac n cheese, ham n cheese, pb&j, quesadillas etc. I’ll include stick veggies, fruits, string cheese and drink. I would love to do like curry or korean food but my kids voiced their opinions. I think schools should include other ethnic foods to encourage children. Like they do in NY or CA. 😉

Erin Flores Ritter 2 years ago

Love Love Love this. I often want to shove a bento box down a perfect mom’s throat.

Inga Collins 2 years ago

I tend to focus more on the items I buy. It may be organic or nitrate free, but its still a sandwich an apple and a yogurt. I don’t have time for frills. And I’m sure my kids wouldn’t eat that crap anyway.

Jennifer Brown 2 years ago

If my child goes to school with a skewer, it’s considered a deadly weapon which would result in out of school suspension! Look what hastened to the kid who bit his poptart into a gun shape.. seems those easy lunches will get you a child at home for a week!

Michelle Thomas 2 years ago

Haha! Love this. Mine are picky. I’m only sweating that they actually eat any of what I pack. Go Go Squeeze you’re my BFF

Tonia 2 years ago

They are throwing away your grape tomatoes and fruit cups..it looks great in the trash can. They want Doritos and pudding :)~mother of three now grown and almost all out of the house

Megan 2 years ago

My kids love lunchables! Some fruit and some yogurt and we’re good to go! I am a stay at home mom and I have neither the time, energy, or inclination to make fancy lunches. I’ll stick with lunchables and French toast sticks!

Kristy Honeycutt Brennan 2 years ago

I refuse to pinwheel and drizzle!

Kera Marie Reidy 2 years ago

I’m lucky if my kids even eat anything. Today my daughter took strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, and goldfish for her lunch. Seriously, if you can get your kid to eat that healthy stuff then fantastic! But if I can get my daughter to at least eat a yogurt and some fruit, then it was a damn good day! Haha

Shanel Gahagen 2 years ago

Hipster lettuce had me dying. :-) My two year old starts preschool this week, and her teachers gave us a list of, like, 15 choices to pack for her lunch. And even if they didn’t, she doesn’t get fancy lunch at home so I’m certainly not going to send her to school with one, she probably wouldn’t eat it anyway!

Kera Marie Reidy 2 years ago

Like like like like x100

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