This school year, Ayva joined the ranks of legions of preschoolers before her. In addition to moving up to the afternoon class at her school, she’ll also be eligible to participate in Lunch Bunch! She had a sneak peek during summer camp, where she was able to stay for an extra hour at the camp and eat lunch with her friends. During the school year, she’ll have lunch before class starts, twice per week. As I discovered during our Lunch Bunch trial run, coming up with lunches day after day is not easy. Yeah, I know Pinterest has a ton of ideas, but who has time to make a sandwich that looks like a blooming flower in a garden when I can barely remember to make the lunch in the first place?
I learned a lot about lunches this summer, though, and feel totally prepared to amaze Ayva with my packed lunch skills. It’s really simple, even if you’re not one of those super crafty, “how in the world did you come up with that???” type of Mamas.
Think Outside the Sandwich
Sandwiches are cool, but our school doesn’t allow peanut butter. I’ve heard there are other kinds of sandwiches besides PB&J and turkey, but I have no idea what they are. Not wanting to bore Ayva with a turkey sandwich every day during our Lunch Bunch test drive, I thought about what else she likes to eat. The answer was simple. Snacks. Fortunately, every preschooler I know loves snacks, so I packed a healthy lunch with bite sized nibbles. Whole grain crackers with cheddar cheese and turkey pepperoni was one of Ayva’s favorite lunches. I added a Stonyfield yogurt tube, a few apple slices, and her water bottle. “Snack lunch” completely satisfied her, and held her until her afternoon snack of raisins or applesauce. Other non-sandwich ideas you might consider include boiled eggs, kid-friendly salad, and pasta with pesto. Just make sure you get a lunch box with an ice pack, and you’ll be good to go!
Take the Easy Way to Creative
Okay, so one of my life goals is to master a few bento box lunches so that I can surprise Ayva when she goes to kindergarten next year. Until then, I’ll just have to stick with my creative hacks to make her lunch special. One of the things that I did this summer was purchase a sandwich cutter and cut her sandwiches into fun shapes. The sandwich cutter only cost $1 at Target, but cookie cutters work just as well. The day that I sent a star shaped sandwich for Ayva’s lunch was her favorite lunch. When I picked her up after Lunch Bunch was over, she couldn’t wait to talk about how cool her lunch was! She was super excited, and it only took me an extra minute. Seriously, anybody can cut a sandwich! Ayva also loved the little notes that I’d put in her lunchbox. She’d ask her teachers to read them to her, and they reported to me that she would beam after they were finished. You know, children are so easy to please sometimes, it’s definitely worth a few extra minutes to make their lunch special.
It’s All About the Bag
Alright. I get it. You don’t have time (or desire) to cut a sandwich into a twee little shape. You’re right. Our kids should appreciate the fact that they have lunch at all, am I right? Yeah. I still want Ayva to have a cool lunch. Even if the inside of the bag is your basic protein/dairy/fruit & veggie, a cute lunch bag can make the middle meal memorable. You definitely want to let your little one participate in choosing the bag that they like. I’ll admit, I didn’t do that this summer, and while Ayva totally appreciated her Minnie Mouse lunch bag, she never let me forget that she would have LOVED a Hello Kitty bag. Having a couple of different lunch bags that your child can switch out as they please is such an easy way to get them excited about lunchtime.
Listen, Mamas. I know that we’re busy and all, but school is hard, even for preschoolers. Between being challenged to learn new things, to social pressures (that I TOTALLY had no idea started so early! Aaah!), children are being pushed to their limits every day they go to school. Why not take a few minutes to do something to remind them that no matter what, Mama loves them and they are special and worth the effort? The good thing is, you don’t even have to be a craftynista or a foodie to do that!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brandi Jeter-Riley lives in Northern California with her daughter and husband (both of whom she shamelessly posts pictures all over the internet!). She is the co-founder of the Pushing Lovely writing group, and blogs at http://www.mamaknowsitall.com. Tweet her @BrandiJeter
1. GAP Kids
Who doesn't love this mid-priced retailer? The gap is a staple for all things basic, and this extends to kids wear as well. Colorful onesies, baby's first denim; you'll find it all here. Their sales are frequent and can be paired with discount codes for even more savings. http://www.gap.com
Hipster kids have a place to call their very own at chic retailer Zara. Miniature versions of this cult brands motorcycle jackets and studded sneakers are too cute to pass up. The prices are mid-level and a few times a year they have a mega blowout sale where you can find things for 50-75% off! http://www.zara.com
3. Old Navy
Brother brand to The Gap, Old Navy is the place you want to go for your basics. There’s Onesies, T-shirts, shorts, and leggings for your little one all for around $5-$10. Discount codes can be used on top of already reduced prices for an even deeper discount. http://www.oldnavy.com
Zulily is a daily deals website for kids and moms. How it works is you sign up online and receive daily emails of what's on sale. This is perfect if you’re looking for something special, or looking to score a designer item for less. http://www.zulily.com
5. Freshly Picked
Adorable doesn’t begin to describe these handmade moccasins designed by Susan Petersen and coveted by celebrities. Freshly Picked offers and array of colorful styles, and you may even catch a sale if you’re lucky. http://www.freshly-picked.myshopify.com
Carter’s takes the some of the guesswork out of dressing your tot with their affordably priced perfectly matched top and bottom sets. Also they have a rewards program for frequent shoppers. http://www.carters.com
7. Macy’s Kids
This retail giant is a great place to find discounted designer items for your little one. With a sale almost every week, and the ability to sometimes combine coupons you can’t help but score a deal. http://www.macys.com
8. The Children’s Place
Pay full price? Not at The Children’s Place. Trendy styles meet everyday basics all priced for the mom on a budget. Give them your email and receive coupons for up to 50% off! http://www.childrensplace.com
9. Hatch For Kids
ODB, Biggie? If you’re a music lover or are just looking for adorable T-shirts to add to your child’s wardrobe then you must check out Hatch For Kids. They have the coolest collection of tees and onesies. http://www.hatchforkids.com
Burberry and Ralph Lauren for less? Yes! “Bloomies” offers fantastic online sales and a loyalty program that gives you points for every dollar spent. http://www.bloomingdales.com
11. Gilt Groupe
Not just for mommies anymore, Gilt Groupe offers flash sales not just on baby and kids clothing, but you can also find furniture, strollers, and toys for less. http://www.gilt.com
12. J Crew
J Crew’s Crewcuts line for kids offers an adorable variation on their adult clothing with mini pea coats and ballet flats that will melt your heart. Their sales are great, and they are one of a few retailers who have an online factory store that has amazing discounts. http://www.jcrew.com
13. Stride Rite
We can’t forget about shoes and Stride Rite has the shoe for all your little ones needs. Whether it’s rain, sleet, snow, or ballet you’ll find it, buy it, and love it. http://www.striderite.com
14. Crazy 8
You’ll go mad for these adorable kids fashions from online retailer Crazy 8. Boy or girl, you’ll find something you love for a steal, and there’s nothing crazy about that. http://www.crazy8.com
If you love them for yourself, then you’ll absolutely adore them for your kids. H&M has the cutest clothing selections from infant to big kids. All at the affordable prices that we’ve grown to love, plus now you can shop online. http://www.hm.com