A Week of Vegetarian Lunchbox Lunches

Daniel is the lunchbox-packing parent in our family. He was in charge of grinding up leftovers for baby Nicholas to eat at childcare, and he has packed a lunch for Nicholas to take to school every day for the past three grades and to day camp every day for the past two summers. We love the Planetbox lunch kit and just recently replaced the carrying bag after three years–the box itself is still going strong, along with the Little Dipper and Big Dipper containers for holding moist foods.

When Daniel went camping for a week, I took charge of packing Nick’s lunch. I had noticed in the preceding few weeks that Daniel was grumbling about having trouble thinking of things to put into the lunchbox that Nicholas would eat. For a long time, I’ve been irked at Daniel’s tendency to ignore the lunchbox when it comes home and not clean it until the next morning, just before repacking it–and then complain that any uneaten food in it is no longer edible and therefore wasted, and that it is hard to clean because food has dried onto it. I also knew it was crucial to allow time for packing the lunchbox, since it’s not part of my normal routine and the public transit schedule this summer is such that leaving the house just a few minutes late means Nicholas and I have a long wait for the bus and get to camp 15 minutes late!

Therefore, I set myself up for success: Each night after getting Nicholas to bed, I poured the remaining water in his water bottle onto the garden and put the bottle in the dish drainer, then opened the lunchbox, ate any remaining food, cleaned out the box and Dippers with a soapy cloth, and set them to dry. While I was doing this, I thought about what I might pack for the next day’s lunch and maybe made a few notes. I listed what I packed each day at the side of my dinner menu page for the 4-week period, to help me remember what I’d already packed that week, to have some ideas to pass to Daniel when he got back, and to be able to write this post! I set my alarm clock 10 minutes earlier than normal so I’d have time to pack the lunch in the morning.

Why didn’t I just pack the lunch the night before? I’ve often seen this advice. But we were having refrigerator problems that caused unpredictable puddles of water; I didn’t want the lunch to get soggy. I wanted to pack some foods that are stored and eaten at room temperature; if I refrigerated them overnight, they might get wet with condensation when they came out into the hot, humid weather. In my experience with packing my own lunch, some foods change texture or just seem “less fresh” if cut up the night before.

Here’s what I packed in the five lunches:

  • Monday: Slices of mozzarella cheese. Handful of new tomato-basil flavor Triscuits crackers made with brown rice. (I bought them on sale with a coupon. The ingredients are pretty decent, except for the soybean oil which is probably GMO. I won’t buy them regularly, but they are tasty enough to be a Sometimes Food.) Slices of cucumber. Healthy onion dip which I mixed right in the Little Dipper. Vegetarian stuffed grape leaf–we had just bought a package of these at Costco the day before; they are all-natural and pretty healthy, but the cost works out to about 50c per grape leaf, so I only buy them once in a while. Nicholas loves them and had eaten two as soon as we got home from shopping, so I was surprised to find half a grape leaf in the lunchbox Monday night, but since he’d eaten everything else I figured he just got full.
  • Tuesday: Peanut butter and strawberry fruit-spread sandwich on white whole-wheat bread. Three dried apricots. Little Dipper full of chunks of fruit from a can of tropical fruit salad we’d opened for our evening snack the night before. White cheddar flavored rice cake, broken to fit into two of the Planetbox compartments. (Nicholas told me he would like to have a rice cake and that was how Daddy had been fitting them into the box.) He ate everything.
  • Wednesday: Sheet of nori seaweed, rolled up in a plastic bag and fitted into the longest compartment of the Planetbox. (Nicholas had expressed jealousy of someone who brought seaweed for lunch.) Soy sausage patty. Trail mix of raisins, dried cranberries, and pecans. Another rice cake. He ate everything except about half of the seaweed.
  • Thursday: Cheesy Nut Crumbles–leftovers resulting from the previous night’s Cheesy Walnut Burgers that wouldn’t stick together! Sliced apple from our farm share. Trail mix of raisins and oaty O’s cereal. Another grape leaf. Nicholas did not eat the grape leaf. When I asked about this the next day, he said he only likes to eat them warm. I hadn’t noticed that he’d microwaved the ones he ate at home. I later explained to Daniel that the grape leaves are not the good lunchbox food they appear to be.
  • Friday: I had thawed about 3/4 cup of instant hummus that I’d frozen when it was left over from our Easter receptions and we were tired of hummus. I filled the Little Dipper with hummus and took the rest of it in my lunch. I filled the Big Dipper with leftover Cucumber Salad. Handful of pita chips. Sliced apple. On this day I had the same lunch myself–it was delicious! Nicholas ate all of his.

Each lunch also included one chocolate-covered macadamia nut, in the appropriately tiny dessert compartment of the Planetbox. (I got two boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts for my birthday in May, from my uncle in Hawaii. I like them, but I just don’t eat sweets much, so I was happy to share.)

I kind of enjoyed packing the lunches, but I’m glad I don’t have to work that task into my morning routine every day!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

3 Responses to A Week of Vegetarian Lunchbox Lunches

  1. pmoppins says:

    I’m glad my kiddo isn’t the only one who takes less than normal lunches to school. :)

    • 'Becca says:

      We’re lucky that Nicholas has classmates who bring a wide variety of food, so the range of “normal” is pretty wide. The other thing I think is awesome is that it is normal in his school and camp to bring a water bottle with your lunch. When I was a kid everyone had juice, milk, or Koolaid, and then once Capri Sun came out everyone who was anyone had to drink that overpriced plasticky crap…. I never saw the appeal, and said so, which was one of the reasons I wasn’t popular!

  2. Pingback: No More Lunchbox Drama: Top 10 Picks | maple and grits

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