Packing Lunches for Daycare, Times Two

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[Ed: It must be organization week at HDYDI; I planned this post before I knew that RaJen was going to post on how to get out the door in the morning. I love accidental themes!]
Some of my friends’ kids go to daycares that provide lunch. What a dream! Maddie and Riley’s daycare is wonderful and amazing and near-perfect: the provision of lunch would push it to the realm of nirvana. Alas, we remain a step away from enlightenment, so every Sunday night, my thoughts turn to what I will pack the twins’ to eat for the week.
I’ve had almost two years’ of daycare Sundays to think about this, and, if I do say so myself, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. When the twins first got to an age that I needed to send food rather than bottles, I would spend time every evening thinking about what to pack for the next day; it didn’t take me long to realize that my time would be more efficiently spent if I would pack a few days’ worth of food at a time. For a while, I packed lunches twice a week. Now I’m down to once. I do it all on Sundays so for the whole week, I just have to grab and go in the morning. Sweet.
I figured I’d break my system down and share it with you, because only spending an hour a week thinking about this is truly one of my major sanity savers.
Here’s how it works. Every day, the twins get:
  • yogurt
  • applesauce
  • a “main course”
  • a crunchy snack
  • fresh fruit
I buy yogurt and applesauce in big containers and parcel out the individual servings; I’m cheap, and it doesn’t take that long. 
For main courses, I have a menu of items from which I choose each week. I plan two different main courses/week, one for M-W-F, one for Tu-Th. My staples are:
  • hummus on mini whole-wheat pita (two pitas per kid)
  • pasta with red sauce and “meat”balls
  • spanikopita (I buy frozen trays at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods; the trays contain twelve triangles, which makes three lunches of two triangles per kid)
  • quesadillas with cheddar and black beans (I cut one each quesadilla into four wedges, which is one lunch)
  • mac’n’cheese with peas
  • grilled cheese (half sandwich per twin)
  • spinach/rice balls (recipe from one of my Moosewood cookbooks; recipe available on request)
  • corn casserole 
  • spinach/rice casserole
I’ll mix it up sometimes with leftovers from the weekend, and I’m constantly adding/revising the main course list, but those are favorites. 
I also have a running list of snacks that I choose from. Again, I do two different snacks for the week, one for M-W-F, one for Tu-Th. Some favorites:
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • dried fruit (raisins, apricots, blueberries, cherries, etc.)
  • plantain chips
  • fruit leather
  • popcorn (regular or kettle corn)
  • crackers (M&R like Annie’s whole-wheat bunnies)
  • rice cakes (sometimes with sunflower-seed butter)
  • carrot sticks
  • Veggie Booty
  • Pirate’s Booty (or the Trader Joe’s equivalent)
  • tortilla chips
  • pretzels
  • Snapea Crisps
  • crunchy green beans
  • edamame
  • graham crackers
On Sunday during the twins’ nap, I cook any of the main courses that need cooking. Then, after the kids go to bed at night, I pack everything for the week. I set out fifteen of these Snapware containers; five of them get filled to the brim with yogurt, five with applesauce, and five hold the main course. (I pack one yogurt, one applesauce, and one main dish each for the twins to share rather than an individual portion for each kid.) Snacks go in Ziplock bags, and fresh fruit is washed as needed and ready to pull out of the fridge or fruit bowl each morning. And that’s it. 
I hope this is helpful to some of you and not just boring. Share your packed lunch tricks and tips in the comments.
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26 thoughts on “Packing Lunches for Daycare, Times Two”

  1. the main courses don’t get gross over the week sitting in the fridge? otherwise it sounds like a fabu plan-one I will implement for my 6 year olds this year…

  2. I am super duper impressed! No tips to share since our day care provides food, but I will be bookmarking this to come back to… love the variety and all the vegetarian options.

  3. Sara–

    No, the main courses do OK. If there’s something I’m particularly worried about lasting until late in the week, I might pop the tupperware into the freezer and pull it out the night before it needs to be packed. Even hummus sandwiches do fine all week, much to my surprise.


  4. Just wondering if your day care heats things up for them or if they have to eat it all cold? Blah if so. : )

    Great list of things. I hadn’t thought to try spanikopita! Great idea.

    I do think you have a GREAT advantage of being able to pack their lunches and snacks despite the inconvenience — healthful eating options. I’m sure I will NOT be thrilled with what my girls are eating in day care.

    But, as I said in PM, I don’t care — I don’t have to make lunches anymore!!! : )

  5. This is a great post, but I have to admit it was heavenly when my girls graduated from purees and could eat daycare-provided lunches. Not having to plan their meals-away-from-Mama opened up huge chunks of time in my schedule. It was like weaning without the “I’m depriving my children of the greatest gift I’ll ever give them” guilt. I’m fortunate that the girls now attend a daycare which takes healthy foods seriously.

  6. You all are blowing me away with your organization this week. I’m grateful that our daycare provides lunch, but Shawn is right, your kids are eating way more healthily than mine are!

  7. Snick,

    Great post. What a great bunch of ideas. I may steal a few myself. My dau. is (gasp) heading off for High School, but I still make her lunch a lot of days. (Note, I know I don’t have to, but I want to. I screw up on a lot of things, but I can get the lunch thing right).

    Anyway, I’ve been packing her lunches since she went to a babysitter, then daycare, then school, and even a lot of camps. She never much liked sandwiches so we’ve been very creative. The godsend for us is the thermos bottle that can keep food hot ( She gets all the leftovers, and when there aren’t any mini-pasta shells cook quickly and with Trader Joe’s pesto or a jarred red sauce makes a main dish. Of course by now she also is game for a good salad with lots of toppings. I always prepare extras knowing she’ll eat them in her lunch.

  8. I myself love a good hummus sandwich! Great ideas! Even thought I am home with my two, it would be a nice sanity saver to do a bit of this prep work rather than trying to cobble together lunch minutes before they wake up from their nap!

  9. Wow! I’m totally impressed by your organization and healthy food. I’ve been known to throw frozen chocolate chip waffles and a coke into my daughters backpack as she runs out the door, and then congratulate myself for her “healthier than yesterday lunch”. I will print out your food list and put it on the fridge for inspiration.

  10. I found this post fascinating. (Maybe “fascinating” is too strong a word for a post on feeding toddlers, but…I could relate.) Even after hearing about and even watching your system in action, I liked seeing it in black and white.

    I keep meaning to share my own secrets/no-fail toddler food ideas with you, but there aren’t too many, except for that Moosewood. green bean dip. The boys are turning up their noses at everything else I’ve been making lately. I keep trying, though.

  11. Our girls are 11 months. Daycare provides their lunchs, whew! We’re so busy trying to figure out how/what to feed them for supper (they’re our first/only kids) that we either don’t manage to feed ourselves, or we fall back on jar food for them. We just can’t seem to find the time to cook anything (much less clean the house, but I’m not going there). Thanks so much for your list!!! I’ve emailed it to the hubby and told him to print and laminate it. If nothing else, we’ll have food ideas for ourselves. And maybe I can find time on weekends to get the week’s worth of food together.

  12. Great ideas! Our daycare provides lunches but next year my oldest will be in 1st grade and I’ll definitely refer to this when it’s time to start packing lunches. I grew up with school lunches (my mom hated to pack our lunches) and I always missed that home made touch. Of course, I would never have thought to tell my mom that. 😉 You’re an awesome mom for being so organized!

  13. I also want the spinach rice ball recipe, lol! I’m home with my kiddos but lunch is the toughest meal for me to get together for some reason AND my oldest (singleton) DD is starting preschool again next week so back to packing her lunch as well. She despises sandwiches which is okay since she is allergic to wheat/gluten and the alternative breads aren’t too appetizing. Anywhoo, thanks for the ideas and inspiration to get more orgnaized!

  14. Snick,
    These are really good ideas. The kids daycare provides lunch & snack (!) from June thru Aug (thank you Phila Archdioses), but Maggie starts Kindergarten (WHAT??!) in September and I will be packing lunches again soon. I like the variety of foods. My kids think that “lunch” is synonymous with PB & J. Hopefully I can surprise them with something different every now and again.

    I’d like a copy of the spinach-rice balls also.

  15. I only have one child I have to pack a lunch for but sometimes it seems like such a chore to get her it together. I love the idea of just pre-packaging everything for the week and then I can just pick and choose different combinations.

    I think my life just got a little bit easier…thanks!!!

  16. How did I not know about this site until today, when my twins are 17 months old and starting daycare in less than a week? Sheesh! Regardless, I’m glad I stumbled across it today when I googled “daycare lunches”, as I’m stressing about what to pack for them next week. Thank you for the wonderful options…I am a vegetarian, so these ideas are perfect! It’s a bummer that my daycare doesn’t provide lunch, although if the daycare lunch looks anything like the “healthy lunch” at my elementary school, then maybe it’s a blessing!

  17. Great ideas – I might try this method! So far, we’ve been using a different method – when I make B’s dinner each night I make double portions and give him the second half for his lunch the next day. So if I make meatballs, carrots and tater tots, I just give him half the quantity for dinner and pack up the other half right then for lunch the next day. That way, nothing sits in the fridge longer than a night. The downside is he has the same meal for dinner then lunch, but he doesn’t seem to mind! Oh, and he also doesn’ t mind eating things cold it seems!

  18. Oh, that’s so helpful! I’m always looking for good daycare lunch ideas for my two girls — 3 y.o. & 13 mo.
    One favourite of ours is the Bertolli brand tortellini — I can cook up a batch and dole it out over the week. And also the Morningstar veggie burgers or dogs.

    I’m also a huge Bento fan… which makes packing the lunches a lot of fun!

  19. Wow! Are you ever organized, but you have to be don’t you.
    Anyway, great ideas that I can pass along to my clients. I operate a family home daycare, and I am always looking for new and interesting ways of doing things. Thank you again for the great ideas………………

  20. These are great tips. When my twins turned 1, I was packing their lunch too, until I found out that the daycare does not heat food up. Finding snacks & meals to send the girls to daycare ith that didn’t require heating was hard. Then when they moved to the tot room that provides lunch and snacks, I was pleased that I would not have to worry about them having a hot, health meal.

    However, the meals at their daycare have been less than healthy or even appetizing lately. I have to start packing their lunches again, because the idea of my kids only having mini corn dogs, frosted flakes, and pretzles as their meal and snack options does not sit well with me.

    I’ll use these ideas, but was wondering what to do about lunches that don’t require heating? Any tips?

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