She Says… Ladies Who Lunch

After I posted Owen’s cutesy Valentine’s Day lunch I got a comment asking me for more info about what I usually send for him for lunch at school. In fact, I posted the same picture on my personal Facebook page and it started a long conversation about the same sort of topic (“what is that?” “how do you make it?” “where did you get that cute lunchbox?”). Apparently this is a hot topic!

It’s a hot topic that I don’t touch very often because I know talking about food can bring out strong emotions in some people. Yes, many mamas out there would simply like to see what others are sending for toddler/kid lunches to get ideas for themselves (I fall into this camp!), but I have noticed that when I have posted about food in the past it either elicits criticism of my own choices, or criticism that it seems like I am judging other peoples’ food choices if they don’t eat just like me (ahem, this post).

So before I even broach the subject of food, I’d like to say: I think a lot about what I feed my family and what I eat. We have some dietary restrictions (with Benjamin and Owen both eating strictly gluten free, which means not even using products that say “processed in a facility with wheat”). I have a philosophy that I do my best to follow, which includes eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods. We eat snacks out of bags and frozen chicken nuggets once in a while, and I don’t consider this to be “cheating” or “bad” or detrimental to our overall health. That said, I am NOT judging you for how you eat, or how you feed your kids. We all make choices for different reasons. Please don’t hate on mine, and I won’t hate on yours.

So for those of you who want to hear how feeding Owen is going these days WITHOUT judging, here it is! On a normal day, he eats breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks. He has milk before breakfast and at lunch and dinner. Now that he’s using an open cup at lunch and dinner, he drinks FAR less milk than he used to, and water in between meals. I am very blessed to have a good eater. Sure, he’s gone through picky phases and throwing food on the floor phases and food strike stages, but overall he is an adventurous and open-minded little foodie. We have established that if there’s something he doesn’t want to eat, he has to take one “no thank you bite” before he can refuse it. Recently we’ve started introducing treats after dinner like “special cereal” (Honey Nut Chex), animal crackers, fruit, cookies or a few mini marshmallows.

Breakfast consists of generally the same 3 buckets. Grains (something bread-y like waffles or pancakes, which we make ahead of time and freeze, Rice or Corn Chex cereal, zucchini/banana bread, etc.), protein (eggs, yogurt, cheese), and fruit.

Lunch is usually a protein (generally leftover dinner protein, gluten free lunch meat, cheese, beans, tofu, etc.), a veggie, and “something else” (which could be another veggie, a fruit, a grain-y side like rice or quinoa, nuts/seeds/dried fruit, etc.).


Leftover roast chicken, cheese stick and red/green peppers.


Edamame, tofu & rice noodles with a sesame/soy sauce from the previous night’s dinner, and steamed sugar snap peas.


Cheese, tomatoes, broccoli/cauliflower, lemon quinoa with parsley & feta.

I love seeing the notes his teachers write about how much of everything he ate. Recently he’s been not eating the veggies that he eats without issue at home, but in the past it was the complete opposite (he would eat everything at school and nothing at home). I don’t sweat it. This is what I offer him. Whatever he eats, he eats. Whatever he doesn’t, he doesn’t.

Dinner is usually a protein (beef, poultry, fish, tofu, beans — since the celiac diagnosis, we have been eating more meat than we did before), a veggie and “something else” (usually a starchy veggie like sweet potatoes or grain like rice, quinoa, pasta or toasted bread).

Snacks are usually a fruit/veggie and something crunchy (pretzels, popcorn, cereal, granola bar). At home I also include nuts/seeds here, but his school is nut free, so we save those snacks for home.

So far this method has been working out really well for us. Owen will even ask me sometimes, “What has protein in it?”. Whenever  possible I give him choices like, “For protein for breakfast, do you want cheese or eggs?”. I’m hoping it gives him an idea of how to balance his own meals when that day comes.

What do you send your kids for lunch? I would love to hear your ideas! I love to check out sites like Weelicious and 100 Days of Real Food for tips as well.

P.S. Those cute bento box containers that I use for his lunch are called LunchBots and are sold on Amazon. They are the perfect size for portioned breakfasts and lunches!


9 responses to “She Says… Ladies Who Lunch

  1. No judgment here on the diet. I am reassured that the ups and downs of a toddler’s eating preferences do even out. As for me, I like the idea of thinking of a protein versus a meat. When I plan meals I think meat, veggie and a starch (we don’t have food restrictions in our house, but totally want to instill making healthy choices and portions.) Thinking protein, veggies and grain will widen my menu planning and include healthier options. Thanks for the ideas!!

  2. Whoa. I’d write out what I’ve been feeding my toddler, but it would look almost like what you wrote. Almost exactly like it. Including the parts about discussing what is protein, what is fiber, and what is just sugar or “junk”. And offering choices. And giving her stuff and she eats what she eats and not sweating it (though I’ll talk to her if there is a trend of skipping something enough it is affecting overall nutritional balance).

    We have less leftovers than you do, so more lunch meat. Her school is not nut free, so once a week she can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch if she wants. I let her choose which day since I make her lunch while she eats breakfast and we chat a lot during that time. She doesn’t drink as much milk as Owen, but eats more yogurt.

    I love your tiffins. I recently bought a couple of RubberMaid lunch sets ( which make it so much easier to do what I’d already been doing somewhat less elegantly. And they include ‘ice’ and fit as two squares in her existing lunch bag.

  3. Those are great ideas Kate, thanks so much for sharing! It is so cute that he asks what has protein! I am a dietitian and diabetic educator, and every day I am teaching grown ups what has protein in it!
    Our meals look pretty similar, except instead of dealing with avoiding gluten, Maya has a peanut allergy, so we avoid anything with nuts (or made on a facility). I make whole wheat pumpkin pie pancakes (just add a can of pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice to the mix), which we freeze and reheat for breakfast.
    For “healthy convenience” when we are pressed for time, I love the Dr Praeggers line of products–usually only 4-5 ingredients of real food! The spinach bites are her current fave. Anyway, I am definitely going to pin this if it is okay with you!

  4. Kate, I would just like to say well done! I am very impressed by what Owen eats (you are very lucky, as you know:)! What a fantastic eater and a lucky kid to have such good food prepared for him. I wish A. My kids would eat ANY of the things you posted (I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t touch a single thing:( ) And B. We had all of those fabulous choices and open minds in this country–true I haven’t really looked for it, but I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t find edamame in our local grocery store!

  5. Oh, food can be such a touchy subject for mommies. Honestly, for me included and only since having Miles. Ethan has always been a great eater, from day one with nursing, through his first solids and beyond. He has his picky moments, and he loves his mac and cheese and PB&J, but he loves his fruits and veggies, and he’s open to trying most anything. (I wish he would eat more meat — he just doesn’t like it!) Then I had Miles, my baby with reflux, and everything related to food has been a struggle with him. When we started solids, he hated anything with any kind of texture (he would gag and often throw up) and he refused to touch anything if it was mushy or wet (he would have a whole body shudder) — I was at a loss and felt like such a failure. Needless to say, I was incredibly defensive when someone would offer “suggestions” as to what I should be feeding him — I knew what he SHOULD be eating, but I could hardly shove it down his throat! Our pediatrician recommended us for early intervention and Miles qualified and our world has turned around. He has been in EI for 6 months now, for assistance in his adaptive (eating!) and gross motor skills. And what I have learned is that a lot of his food issues are related to his gross motor issues. His lack of strength in his upper body is part of what has made digestion difficult for him. Anyway, at 20 months now, he has improved hugely in his gross motor skills, and my hope is that feeding success is right around the corner! It’s baby steps, but I know things will get better — and I’ll be able to calm down and not be so defensive! 🙂 And I learned the valuable lesson many times over — each kid is different, even those from the same family! 🙂

  6. @Lily, I so feel so lucky with the way that Owen eats. I have no idea at this point if it is genetics, the way I had fed him so far, his personality or just plain luck, but whatever it is, I totally appreciate that others do not have it so easy. The good news is, they all turn out fine in the end, edamame or not 🙂

    @Carly, Oh, this is something I’m so not prepared for as Baby #2 comes along. I know seeing the intricate differences between kids is one of the joys of having more than one, but I imagine it is very hard not to compare them sometimes, or to have their paths diverge so much from each other. I am so glad to hear that EI is helping Miles! And I totally feel you on getting defensive about food, especially given what you have been dealing with.

    @Melissa, Thank you! I will have to try some of those!

  7. Great ideas. I love the way you think of food and organize it into protein, grains and veggies. I sort of do this, but I tend to be more reactive (yay! he had a good balance today!) rather than proactive and actually planning meals that way. Ryan is a picky eater, but in sort of an amusing way – the kid would live off of hummus and whole wheat crackers if we let him, yet he hates a lot of the typical toddler fare (like mac ‘n cheese or pizza). Smoothies work well for us when I feel like we’re in a rut and he needs more “color” in his diet.

    Ryan also drinks milk from an open cup at mealtime, and it has definitely cut down his milk consumption (which is good for us because he was really taking in too many of his calories from milk before we introduced the open cup at the table). Between meals, he can have as much water as he wants in a sippy cup that he can take from room to room. It’s been a good system for us.

    I also like your one “no thank you bite” rule. I am not one to try to force him to eat something, but I do encourage him to at least try it. If he tries it and doesn’t like it, I figure that’s fair enough for everyone. Your “rule” sort of formalizes that compromise. Thanks for posting!

  8. Those lunchboxes look delicious and so pin-able! I live in Hong Kong and toddler diets here consist of formula and white rice porridge mixed with chopped meat and veggies…every meal! My 2 year-old hated mush from the beginning so I always felt like I had to “find my own way” and get ideas from other parts of the world.

    We also practice the “no thank you bite” and sometimes she writhes in resistance to a new food on her plate. But after that bite, she looks at me with wides eyes like “give me more of that, lady!”

    I thought she was a picky eater as an baby, but it just turns out I had not introduced her unconventional favorites until much later–crunchy stems of veggies (needed teeth), slices of pan friend garlic (up to 15 slices a meal!), onions, sardines and guada cheese. I’m also expecting a second, 12 weeks along now, and it’ll be interesting to see the differences between them and how much of the eating habits are nurtured.

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