Making School Lunch Easier: The Sandwich-Plus Plan

You can freeze sandwiches. Why didn’t I realize this about 3 years ago?

I have a school-age daughter, and naturally I want her to have nutritious, healthy lunches. My attempts to send my daughter in with various kinds of frugal, left-over based meals have met with mixed success, and all too often my kid would come home with a barely eaten lunch.

I hit my limit when, early one Monday, I retrieved from my daughter’s backpack a forgotten lunch from the previous Friday. The containers were full of untouched (and now disgustingly moldy) wild salmon and sesame-edamame salad.

Have I mentioned I really hate food waste? I really, really do. Particularly expensive, wild-salmon food waste.

Then and there I decided I was being ridiculous. Clearly, my daughter needed more kid-friendly food and I needed to stop pretending she had the same tastes and lunch food preferences as the adults of the family.

Sandwich-Plus Plan

I have friends who make it easy to throw school lunch together with pre-packaged food. They go for the Sandwich-Plus route. Lunch is a sandwich, homemade – or maybe not (Uncrustables? WTF?) – plus some combination of commercially made snacks: granola bars (candy), fruit snacks (candy), pudding cups (candy), various flavored crispy (starch) things like potato chips and cheesy crackers, etc.

I am of the belief that almost all moms are just basically trying to do their best, but I can tell you that, for me personally in my rather more sugar-sensitive family, a lunch like that would make my job as mom way harder. My kids tend to become totally energy-less human slugs (daughter) and totally fucking crazy whirlwinds of hyperness (son) when they have too much sugar or simple starch.

So a more DIY approach to the kid-friendly lunch would be necessary for my household, I knew that. But the goal was not just to provide my kids with a decent lunch, it was also to make my life a bit easier. Basically I wanted a more whole foods Sandwich-Plus plan.

I started with a sandwich. I went to Costco and loaded up on the least processed looking ham and turkey I could find, sliced cheddar and provolone cheese and four loaves of organic 100% whole grain bread.

And then I assembly-lined basic sandwiches. Mayo went on both slices of the bread, meat and cheese in the middle. No veggies, nothing fancy. Each sandwich got wrapped in plastic wrap and put in the freezer. I ended up with 30 of them.

Freeze Sandwiches

Then I got busy on the “Plus” portion of the Sandwich-Plus plan. I spent half of a Sunday turning the random bits of things hanging out in my fridge and freezer into kid-friendly foods I knew my children would eat and that I could feel moderately okay about.

  • Sun-nut butter and chocolate chip granola bars (based off this recipe.)
  • Low sugar pumpkin-chocolate chip-cranberry bread (based loosely off a combination of this recipe and this recipe.)
  • Cranberry orange mini muffins
  • Cornbread buttermilk muffins

Cranberry Bread

These items were all cooked, cooled, appropriately portioned and then wrapped in plastic wrap. They got stacked in metal baskets and popped in the freezer with the sandwiches.

Homemade Frozen Treats

Now we have our own, homemade version of the Sandwich-Plus plan and I have to say, it’s simplified things mightily.

Often, my daughter makes her own lunch. This is as simple as grabbing one sandwich and one treat from the freezer, and adding in whatever veg or fruit we have in the fridge or on the counter.

Is this all ideal? No, not really. In an ideal scenario all the meat and cheese would be from a local artisan. The bread would be homemade, long-soaked sourdough. There wouldn’t be so much dammed plastic wrap. There wouldn’t be a trace of sugar anywhere and my kid would thrive on being the weirdo with the hippie lunch.

But for now, for where we are now, I’ll take this solution gratefully. Lunches are being eaten. My irritation over the food waste is gone. The pre-made sandwiches and treats have saved a ton of time and frustration, and have made it easy for my daughter to take ownership of her own lunches. I think she is at that age where she prefers not to be quite so “unique” at the lunch room table, too.

It is what it is, and for now it’s far better. No more rotten food. No more resentful mom. Simplified mornings. Empowered, lunch-making kid.

PS: The sandwiches thaw fine in a few hours at refrigerator or room temp. Once thawed, they taste totally normal. There’ve been no complaints. However, if you try to quick-thaw them in a microwave, the bread gets a bit soggy.

Do you batch-make food for work or school lunches? What has worked best for you?


  1. says

    When I was six, I complained to my mom that I didn’t like PB&J, and she (having to deal with my two-year-old brother) said, “Fine, then you make your own lunch from now on.”

    So I did. Every school day, for the rest of my school career. Made my own sandwiches, packed my own leftover burritos, made soup in the microwave, whatever I needed to do.

    I give huge amounts of credit to my mom. That was one of the wisest things she could have done. It taught me plenty of responsibility, and it meant that I packed food I would eat.

    • Jennifer says

      I am so glad to read your post, Leanne. I told my sons this several years ago and there are days when I do feel guilty that I am not doing it for them. But our way, there is no argument & that makes for a much better morning.

      • says

        Oh, good for you! No, you shouldn’t feel guilty at all. You are doing a *great* thing, in my opinion. Everyone should know how to cook and take responsibility for their food, and the only way to learn it is to do it. Your sons are getting practice all the time!

        • says

          Yes! The goal is to raise independent adults. Kids are far more capable than we often give them credit for, as long as they are given appropriate building blocks for their own success. Way to go, both of you.

    • Jennie says

      My son’s been packing his own lunch since he was about 6, too. I made up a card with the basic food groups and some ideas for each. He’s not a huge sandwich fan, so he often ended up taking crackers, string cheese, yogurt, baby carrots, and applesauce.

      It has worked out GREAT. He not only gets food that he wants, but the amount he thinks he’ll eat (I used to pack HUGE lunches in kindergarten, only to have them come home only half eaten). At 13, I periodically have to remind him to include fruit and veg, but overall, it works great.

    • G. says

      We make our own mayo. I wouldn’t freeze it, either, but the reality is as long is there is no harm you should do what you want to do.

      Lunches for our six kids was a royal pain. The problem was never really resolved, even when they decided to pack their own. Hubs wants a hot lunch. I am always cooking for our meal and the lunch box. At the age of 12, and in retrospect I would have done it around 8, they were introduced to the washing machine. They were required to wash and hang dry their own clothes. They are grown now. It didn’t bother them. They liked it. I asked.

      Can mayonnaise be frozen?

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      By Ethel Tiersky
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      Freezing mayonnaise is not recommended. It may become grainy, and the various ingredients will separate and curdle. When thawed, it will not return to its normal consistency. Therefore, don’t freeze any sandwiches or any dishes made with mayonnaise.

      USD Food Safety and Inspection Service: “Mayonnaise”

  2. says

    What a fantastic idea. My eldest won’t have to bring lunch for another year (her kindy is half day starting in the fall), but I really like the idea of not having to fuss every day about a healthy lunch.

    My mother sent me leftovers when I was in high school. I never knew what would be in the bag, but I ate it. My brother, OTOH, demanded a PB&J sandwich each and every day of his school career, gummy white bread and all…

  3. toni says

    I wouldnt thaw the sandwiches at all. One problem we have is food getting warm in her lunch bag, even with the ice thingy. The whole lunch being an ice thingy is brilliant! All of the plastic wrap makes me cringe too. I could totally see doing a month worth of main dishes (sandwiches), and the add-ons all at once. I could make lunch for the rest of the school year TODAY!!

  4. Jennifer says

    My farm friends froze sandwiches when we were in school — and they keep like a dream in the lunch bag & are thawed by lunch. I know everyone makes a sandwich differently, but in our experience, butter worked better for the glue because it didn’t separate or get watery. Just my 2.

  5. Anna says

    This is awesome. Any chance you would post the recipe for the sun nut butter and chocolate chip granola bars? Those sound fantastic.

  6. Genevieve says

    You put *baskets* in your *freezer*! Brilliant! The rest is cool too, but we homeschool so not as useful to us. But baskets in the freezer… Love it.

  7. says

    I did similar things back in the day. One sandwich you might not think to freeze is grilled cheese. My kids loved leftover frozen grilled cheese sandwiches! My kids packed their own lunches (with my make-ahead help) for years. Then my youngest spent a year at a very small high school which offered a microwave and refrigerator for the kids, which changed the options a bit. We played around with bento boxes, which can make the lunch a lot of fun. Everyone at the school brought lunch, often leftovers. It was a very multi-cultural school so everyone was intrigued by everyone else’s leftovers and sometimes they organized sharing days, where each person brought lots of one thing to share.

  8. Gretchen says

    If your kid is mostly veggie (like one of mine), another easy lunch “entree” is a half avocado. Her typical lunch looks like this: half avocado sprinkled with adobo, lemon pepper, or other seasoning, a piece of fruit or a handful of veggies, yogurt, some crackers or chips of some sort, and water.

  9. Kim says

    Great post — picking battles and living with better but not-quite-perfect. Here’s an idea for the plastic wrap problem: Could the treats be frozen on trays and then grouped together in larger plastic bags? We use bento box lunchboxes here, and I could see my kid popping a frozen muffin or granola square into a bento. I suppose they could get freezer burn with all the opening and closing of the ziplocks…maybe grouping into four or five and re-using them? Thinking out loud…

  10. Shannon Wilson says

    Oh yeah, this time of year there seems to be an “I’m done with this school routine already and getting up before 8am” attitude from both parent and children in our house. Instead of our usual good mornings with meet each other with an “ugh, I can’t believe it’s morning already”. I am lucky enough to have one child who happily takes a leftover based lunch and is not treated like a wierdo because she goes to a Waldorf school full of weirdos. BUT… we still can always use helpful tips like this. When we are organized, we precut veggie sticks and store them in water in the fridge for the week (sometimes they need refreshing) and during school breaks have cookie baking days where we freeze batches of homemade baked goods. We are regualar homemade soup makers, some of every soup that moves through our kitchen gets put in the freezer in lunch sized portions for a quick thaw and into the thermos (especially nice to have a hot lunch mid-winter). I too have labelled metal baskets in the freezer to be it confusion free as to what they are grabbing. And I am most ecstatic to say that my youngest, who is now 12, is becoming as much of a foodie as I am, wants her own garden plot every year now and is happy to make not only her own lunches and baking, but breakfast in bed for mom. Sweet!

    • Shannon Wilson says

      Also, (excuse me for my terrible spelling errors above) a not- perfect- but- better solution to the plastic wrap problem:
      I have not purchased plastic wrap in years. Instead when it is necessary, I use unbleached waxed paper bags and stack them in a ziploc bag for the freezer. Here (Westcoast Canada) we have a brand of ziplocs called Natural Value that are PVC free and available in most natural food stores. That way you are still using plastic (but slightly less toxic) and using less of it. The ziplocs can be reused many times.

      • Tammy says

        Great solution for the plastic- I’ve already added the waxed bags to my Amazon cart! I’m definitely going to do this sandwich-plus thing now!

  11. lisa says

    Never underestimate the power of peer pressure at lunchtime. A friend told me about how her mom made bread and my friend was embarrassed/envious of the cool kids with Wonder Bread- how would she ever be cool with homemade wheat bread?! That scene in Breakfast Club when Claire unpacks her sushi board and chopsticks- that was some cohones by the girl who worked so hard to be popular.

    Does your daughter prefer her daily lunch ‘shopping’?

    • says

      Actually Bella came home one day and told me her everyday-school lunch-buying peer was VERY jealous of the homemade bread in her lunch that day. The peer said she wished HER mom would make bread and I think B felt really proud of her weirdo family lifestyle. :) But every kid has their limits….and salmon and edamame salad were apparently past the limit.

      • says

        I bet the salmon and edamame salad was probably too smelly to her buddies. If she ate it for dinner, why not lunch?

        I appreciate the eco-friendliness of leftovers, but I know in my office, fish causes a fuss. Especially when people heat it in a microwave!

        My kids refused to take tuna sandwiches in elementary because they were embarrased by the odor.

      • Janet says

        We use zip-lock type bags in most cases instead of plastic wrap, then we wash them and reuse. That’s a lot better for the environment than all that plastic “sealing meals” in. If the bags are rolled or folded to get rid of most of the air before sealing, and then double bagged, I’ve not had any problems with freezer burn either.

      • Janet says

        Made me laugh because my dad would go salmon fishing once a month with colleagues and we’d invariably get “salmon salad sandwiches” in our lunch bags that next week. We got a lot of strange looks from friends, but we were smart (all that brain food!) and no one ever made us feel belittled. We learned early we were “different” (like most everyone else, in different ways) and that’s a very good thing to be OK with.

  12. Shannon says

    My daughter has a peanut allergy, so uncrustables are out of the question for us – and still would be if she weren’t allergic (too expensive, preservatives, etc, etc…). She and my son have a soy butter sandwich for lunch everyday. I found a pin online where a woman found a special cutter (Wonder bread actually makes it – yeah, I know…) to make her own. I found it for about $2 or $3 in the jelly section of the grocery store and I make my own and freeze them for her out of natural whole grain bread. It is a square instead of round and it almost covers the whole slice of bread without a lot of waste (which you could use to make breadcrumbs) – just a little tip. It makes it so easy to just throw the frozen sandwich in the bag in the morning instead of making it, and the kids think it’s fun.

  13. says

    Brilliant! This year H was participating in a homeschool enrichment program where he went to school one day per week for things like art, foreign language and music. I had to pack lunches. I totally packed him hippie lunches. Which he did not eat, even though it’s what we would have eaten at home. After a few weeks in, the moms that volunteered to help during lunch would always say to me, “Oh I knew H was your son when I saw his lunch.” I didn’t know if I should feel pride (I did, a little) or embarrassment (I did, a lot).
    This is a great solution.

  14. says

    AMEN! I make lunches ahead for the week, but a month at a time would be even better.

    Thankfully, Jackjack doesn’t care that he gets a “weird hippie lunch” because I put a joke in there every day. He and his friends are bummed when I forget!

    Today’s joke: What does a triceratops sit on? Its tricera-bottom.
    [wocka wocka wocka!]

  15. says

    You inspired me to go into the kitchen and make up 5 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because that’s how many days are left in the preschool year (3 days/wk). Then I realized how close it is to the end of the school year. O_O

  16. Donna says

    Was reading… and you popped the “F” bomb “.
    (My kids tend to become totally energy-less human slugs (daughter) and totally fucking)

    I know this will slip out verbally at times.. and words are just that.. Words.. but I still don’t prefer to read or listen to them. And definitely won’t share them.. and I so wanted to.. As I know many mom’s and dad’s out there trying to get a healthy, fast lunch to their kids at school.

    • cptacek says

      :( It is sad that you are so judgmental of someone who just provided you with a good tip.

      Get over yourself.

      • lindsey says

        I don’t think Donna was being judgmental, I think she was stating her preference. I don’t happen to care, but she does so good for her for standing up for her beliefs. (p.s., don’t ever read Mr. Money Mustache, Donna, if you dislike swearing!)

        • STH says

          The problem is that you don’t get to go to someone else’s blog and tell her what words to use. It’s like going into someone else’s house and telling her how to decorate it. And “I know this will slip out verbally at times” is pretty condescending, as if she’s forgiving the writer for doing something shameful.

          • Trish says

            and ‘moms and dads’ are plural!!! not mom’s and dad’s. bothers me far more than an f-bomb.

    • Krisy says

      I say good for you, Donna. By the grace of God I’ve been able to cut cursing from my vocabulary and now find it truly offensive when I hear it as a part of common speech from my friends, neighbors, etc. You’ve stood up for your beliefs and I have total respect for that.
      I do also understand that the rest of the world still swears, and one slip is not enough to keep me from sharing this post with others… : )
      And Erica – good idea, I have a mommy-of-4 friend who is going to get this article in her mailbox!

    • MQ says

      My Grandma used to say that people who were so easily offended by cuss words probably thought their shit didn’t stink. Just sayin’…

  17. Homebrew Husband says

    For folks who homeschool, work from home, etc, I’ll add the note that this has proved tremendously handy even on weekends, for our 2 1/2 year old, on sick days, etc. Even if you aren’t packing it out, having that freezer full of instant meals is incredibly handy.
    There’s a reason that convenience foods, of various kinds, are a zillion-dollar business, and even if you are out of (or trying to get out of) the corporate-style “busy” world, grab-and-go can be worth its weight in gold!

    • Tanya says

      That’s a really good point. I would save myself a lot of scrambling when we have an unexpected outing and our leftovers are not in the easily-transported category (or the kids just want to seem normal!)

      And it’s funny that I needed Erica’s reminder about freezing sandwiches. All throughout middle school and high school, I’d help my dad make 2 weeks’ worth of assembly-line style sandwiches that he put in the freezer for his own lunches!

  18. Jaimee says

    We make Avalon’s lunch every night. I usually give her left overs of dinner or foods used in dinner (such as cooked beans, left over fruit salad, etc.). But if that won’t work, I make PB&J or PB tortilla, cheese tortilla, tofu cubes, or hard boiled egg. I do include a starchy snack like pretzels and she does get a little treat, guilty there! We use a Laptop Lunch box so no extra garbage is produced. Have you considered something like that? You could take the plastic wrap off, put the food in the lunch box, and reuse the plastic wrap for the next batch of frozen lunch goodies. We also have wrap ‘n mats and beeswax wraps for sandwiches if you already use a fabric lunch bag.

  19. Jen says

    Awesome. My second is starting next year and I’ve been dreading the onslaught. I love the idea of reorganizing the freezer for ready to go lunches! Thanks.

  20. cptacek says

    I made up about 30 Chicken Pot Pie pockets for my husband and I to eat for lunch. It really helps to have something in the freezer for a quick lunch.

    It did take me all day, though. Making all that pie crust by hand was a chore, but buying it in the store would have been crazy, at like $3.50 for two 9″ crusts.

  21. says

    The sogginess issue is why I’ve never tried making sandwiches ahead. Does it really thaw completely in the morning? Will have to experiment with my kids.
    My problem is the opposite… that I should be giving my girls ‘weird hippie lunches’ for our small home tutoring group and I tend to just go with sandwiches (home-made bread but still frowned on!) cos it’s so much easier.

    • Homebrew Husband says

      It seems to thaw pretty reliably. If we don’t pre-stage into the fridge at night just putting the sandwich into a soft-side cooler (without any extra ice) seems to let it thaw slowly enough to stay fresh but thoroughly enough to be edible.

  22. noreen says

    I made my (multiple food allergy) kid lunches for years. As he got older, more and more of it came home at the end of the day and went into the trash. Frustrating! Then, a few years ago, he was able to start eating more foods (the only exceptions now being eggs & nuts/peanuts) and I gave in completely – I funded his lunch account through the public school for the entire year and he now eats whatever slop they are serving in the cafeteria that day. The point, though, is that he is EATING. I force him to eat my hippie-healthy-homemade food at dinner. ;-)

  23. says

    I grew up doing this with my sisters. And I did this happily with my daughter — but watch out for cream cheese! My daughter loved cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, but cream cheese TOTALLY melts into a disgusting mess if you freeze and thaw it.

    Aside from this, it’s a total win!

  24. Gene says

    My mom did this when I was a kid. There were seven of us so you can imagine attempting to make lunch for the “army” in the morning was out of the question. She’d do 1-2 weeks at a time. It was fine, didn’t bother me. Sometimes a sandwich would end up looking a little less “fresh” because it was frozen, but the taste was just fine, so I didn’t care. I also didn’t want school lunch after seeing what the other kids were served. I was rather happy to have a school lunch. In high school I did occasionally want to go check out the ice cream machine though.

    In one of my elementary schools, I remember quite clearly one day when the school cafeteria was serving hamburgers. Not to many of the kids were eating that day, and one of my friends pulled the top off of his burger to show me there were worms in the thing… I really valued my “home” lunch.

    In high school, I got pretty ticked when as part of a fund raiser for a trip I was selling candy and got chewed out because I sold some of it in the school cafeteria. It was then I discovered the school had a contract with a food services group and was making money off of what was sold in the cafeteria. This explained the vending machines and whatnot around school as well. As part of this contract, no one else was allowed to sell food in the cafeteria. This revelation opened my eyes and I started to figure out how school fundraisers, crap like “Channel 1″, etc. were all ways the school could push advertising and products at the students to make a buck – and we were a captive audience. It’s always nice to discover your school is not only exploiting you, but also thinks your an idiot. Perhaps they’re a bit confused about the taxes that fund them and where they come from?

  25. Sara Mason says

    Loving this! We also homeschool so I wouldn’t do it for the kids but it would be great for my husband! This fixes a real problem for my family, thank you! Also, I like that you drop the f bomb. It makes you seem more human, less holier than thou. I enjoy your writing style anyway. My two cents.

  26. says

    Again, a good idea. I tried something like it some time ago and fell off the wagon. You might want to read the post about my child weeping about her hippie lunches. Makes me laugh now. . .

  27. says

    Hi Erica,

    I used to do this same thing with my girls when they were growing up. It was such a timesaver! I would also make up a couple batches of english muffins, toast ‘em, add cheese and sausage/canadian bacon/ham, wrap in foil. A couple minutes in the toaster oven before heading out the door and we had a fairly mess-free breakfast they could eat on the way if we were running late.
    Thanks for the many ways in which you inspire!

  28. Reaver says

    I will avoid adding the links that I found (being unsure of your blog’s protocol). I wanted to share a product that I found here in NY once. It’s a sandwich container. Just Google Search “Trudeau-Fuel-III”. I have 3 of them and they are awesome. I can put a thick bagel with spread in there, or a super thick sandwich. Or Daughter can have a small sandwich and a side of some kind. The problem is that they are very limited production and cost $4 a piece!!! Be warned when you search for them they show all 4 colors but you only get one! I’m sharing becuase I’ld like to see some more products like this on the market. Good Old Tupperware styled, reusable, safe, functional products for food. (I’ve used various containers and they don’t work nearly as well). I think if more people request products like this it will help.

  29. says

    He gets PB&J on whole wheat (sometimes homemade, more often from the store), and either a banana, an apple, a pear, a bag of raisins, a bag of trail mix, or etc. We make the night before when we’re getting the baby’s milk and our lunches ready for the next day.

  30. IC says

    We homeschool as well but are out all day a few times a week at the public school homeschool center. I realized pretty quickly that leftover dinners for lunch weren’t a big hit. I think the key is presentation – the leftovers don’t look very appealing most of the time. I ended up getting a bunch of tiffins, each with the same sized bowls. I stick fruit in one of the bowls (sometimes on skewers), another bowl gets cubed or sliced meat and cheese or pepperoni sticks or boiled eggs and some sliced bread. The last bowl has lettuce or sliced peppers or tomatoes or sliced cukes or small carrots – whatever is in season – and a smaller container of oil and vinegar. That way they can have a salad, or make a sandwich or dip the bread in the oil and vinegar if they feel like it. I got very small glass and stainless containers at Daiso that fit inside the tiffin bowls. I give them chopsticks or little bamboo appetizer forks. The visual appeal makes it inviting and even my 11 year old daughter who is sensitive to what her friends think is good with it, it helps that her friends are interested in what she has to eat. The best part is when we get home, all the tiffin parts and containers go into the dishwasher.
    Next year I will definitely freeze muffins for when fresh vegetables are out of season and freeze homemade pizzas. I should have thought of this sooner because there is something about being at home that makes my kids want to eat all the time. They will be just as handy for days we’re home.
    I suspect that you have a lot of better ideas about visual appeal being a chef . . . I’d love to see more of your creations! (But maybe not until late summer when we’ve all recovered from lunch packing burnout!)

  31. says

    This post is great. I don’t have school-aged kids with me, but this would work for me and my husband! We’re always scavenging the fridge every morning trying to piece together lunches (as if food magically appears in there overnight).

  32. says

    I do a lot of frozen mini muffins and extra bits like that. I make the sandwiches fresh though and use a sandwich cutter (I have way too many) to make shapes like whale and octopus or a train or something. They make them to use most of the bread, so you’re not wasting (much) food. It’s amazing how quickly it gets eaten when it’s in a cool shape. I have a few too many bento boxes, so we tend to pack in those. I found cutting up veg for the week like someone mentioned above meant the whole family ate more veg, so that’s great. If you poke around some of the bento blogs, they often have good ideas for pre-made sides to freeze.

  33. says

    When you do preserves of things like apple sauce or those spirally peaches, do you ever do them in half-cup jars to be used as single-servings for lunches?

  34. Skip says

    I have been doing mason jar lunches. A big mess of casserole or oatmeal one week at a time. Haven’t tried freezing a quantity of lunch stuff in jars. Not sure if it would thaw in the jar by lunch time. Will have to give it a shot. Plastic wrap work around maybe.

  35. Nicole says

    Before even reading the comments, I said to myself I’m glad she expresses herself realistically, as if we were friends sitting in the kitchen together. I teach my own kids (9, 10, and 12) to speak honestly and save those expletives for when they suit the situation or when they want attention drawn to a particular issue. This is a great example–sugar response going largely ignored by most parents. It might not be for everyone, but it’s honest and real and I appreciate your style.

    Related to the post: for us, switching to a bento style box (Laptop Lunches) streamlined lunch-making into a 10 minute affair (for 5 lunches). My fuzzy morning brain seems effectively prompted by the instruction to “put fruit in this box, veg in that one.” I make box-shaped cookies ahead and freeze.

  36. says

    This is such a great plan. I may actually have to do something like it for my own lunch! It would definitely make it a lot easier to just sit down and eat instead of 1. succumbing to buying a bagel or what have you or 2. taking 45 minutes to cook something in the middle of the day.

  37. Erin says

    So for those of you who have done this…one of my kiddos loves lunchmeat and cheese dry (no mayo), so I guess that would work. What about PB&J? Works? Also one of my kids likes peanut butter with Justin’s cocoa hazelnut butter (she hates jelly). Do you think it would work too? starting next month, I will be making FOUR lunches a day, so I am loving this idea!! Thanks for sharing!

  38. Mary Ellen says

    Hi. This looks like a handy idea. I’m all for freezing ahead whenever possible. I worry about your plastic wrap in the freezer though. I don’t think plastic wrap is a freezer safe plastic, meaning it breaks down more quickly in the cold, and leaches into the food. I usually do an inner wrap of wax paper, and then put multiple items in a gallon plastic bag to keep out freezer burn.

  39. says

    What a great idea Erica! I have been making homemade freezer burritos and snacks, but sandwiches do happen a lot around my house, so yea, for this one. Four kids and the Hubbs needing lunches, my freezer will be crammed full. I do have my older kids make their lunches, but making them once a week and stashing them, will certainly make them happier.

  40. Lisa W. says

    I was so grateful that you posted this. It is the lunch solution I needed!! One of those “why didn’t I think of that”. Oh, and I totally agree with everything STH says – no blog snob here! I LOVE that you are always real, and yourself.

  41. Jennifer G. says

    What a great idea, I never thought about freezing sandwiches. Just a tip from someone who has made tons of restaurant sandwiches…put the meat first then mayo on the meat. If the mayo doesn’t come in contact with the bread then the sandwich won’t get soggy or gummy.

  42. Abbie says

    I love this idea. My son won’t eat sandwiches in his school lunches, but I find if I have cheese and deli meats in the fridge, my daughter will mow through them much faster than I had planned. If I make all the sandwiches ahead of time, it should hopefully discourage the snacking/grazing of the cheese/meat.

  43. ms says

    WOW – I SO wish my mom had read the prep-process procedures about 40 years ago. Mom used to buy old bread at the outlet in bulk and then freeze entire loaves. She also very much bought into the do-it-yourself philosophy. When you’re the youngest of 4, you learn early that that’s mom’s prerogative.

    However, I also learned (from experience) that timing really is a key component in a successful lunch-building process. I have vivid memories of trying to chip a couple pieces of bread off the Butternut brick, adding generic mayo and Velvetta (also from a brick, of sorts) and tossing the freaky frozen combo in the lunch box before the bus arrived. Fortunately, we eventually learned that with a bit of finesse and any luck at all those pre-cut slices would pop right off with a good whack on the side of the counter.

    Fast-forward to lunch… the stale bread has thawed and the Velvetta is tepid. Let’s add, at this point, the second key ingredient – using fresh wholesome ingredients in the first place. Your daughter is SO lucky you’re putting the two key ingredients together so she doesn’t have to!

    Ah, well – lived to tell about it. As a friend used to say – what trauma that doesn’t kill you has the potential to make the funniest stories.

    • ms says

      I sent this childhood memory to my brother and he wrote back:
      “Yes, quite…
      Velveeta alleged cheese, bologna, one slice, white bread, rumpled, mustard. Reminds one of a hot dog, of sorts. Of sorts meaning a hot dog run over by a car…”

  44. TrevLove says

    I just stumbled upon your fantastic blog! This is a great post…it gives me some more ideas to freshen up our existing routine. One thing that scares my daughter to death is when I threaten her with “You are going to buy lunch at school if you don’t eat what I pack.”

  45. Kristine Keeney says

    I learned this little trick back in the 1990s when I worked full-time and Darling Adorable was at the Orlando Naval Training Center in his B-side for Nuclear Power. Neither of us had time for silly stuff like making lunches, but we both had to eat or things would get bad….. I did the same thing, though I used ultra-cheap food from the commissary or Sam’s Club. We would both get a mystery sandwich (there was never any way to identify what kind of meat or cheese might have been involved, it could be ham and swiss. It could be turkey and cheddar. It could be some unholy combination of meat and cheese from who-knows-where) and a piece of fresh fruit. We also would take a canned drink of some sort – caffeine made the days pass better back then – and off we’d go!
    Over the years, I got a bit more “enlightened” and would focus on better quality food stuffs, but the concept remained the same. And it *was* easy. No thought and I could do as many lunches as we had room in the freezer. Plus the made and bagged sandwiches fit back into the bread wrapper. No worry about “rotating stock” or what might be the oldest stuff and needed eaten NOW.
    Thanks for the pleasant reminder of simpler days. Hope it continues to work well for you and all those who have commented/read your blog.

  46. Jennifer F says

    I didn’t know you could do this. I’m totally doing it just for myself and my husband. Even just the sandwich part will save us lots of money.
    PS. I was the kid whose mom sent me to school with fresh tomatoes from the garden to eat like an apple, which I loved at home. However, pulling them out at school was met with a chorus of “Ew, gross!” from my classmates. I never wanted to take them home, and didn’t have to because I had brown paper bag lunches…..but we weren’t allowed to throw food away at school either. My solution? Leave the tomatoe in the brown bag in the back of the classroom….but as you can imagine….I was found out. Mom was smart enough to skip the tomatoes from then on.

  47. Lorri says

    Hi Erica,

    My friend has a blog called ( I believe) The Once A Month Chef…check it out. Though she is not into organic…it might give you some inspiration!

  48. Aldeine says

    Wow. I can’t believe what a judgmental bitch you’re being. Who are you to judge what other mothers feed their children. As long as they’re not feeding it to your children, what difference does it matter?

    • says

      You probably wouldn’t like my posts when I’m actually expressing a real opinion, then. Perhaps this isn’t the site for you. Better luck elsewhere.

      • cptacek says

        “I am of the belief that almost all moms are just basically trying to do their best, but I can tell you that, for me personally in my rather more sugar-sensitive family, a lunch like that would make my job as mom way harder.”

        I mean, really. How can you make such a statement and live with yourself?


    • Lillian says

      Wow get a hobby! Why are you getting agro? This is an important topic. Ever heard of childhood obesity or diabetes?

  49. says

    Wow, I don’t know who shared one of your latest posts on facebook, but I am sure glad they did! I love this. We are new to the NW (via too hot/cold Utah) and love the out look of life most people tend to have up here (we have had the same outlook, but Utahans mostly tend to frown upon it where we were from). I might just have to give this a go, my son loves to eat school lunch, but he also loves me to make him sandwiches. I am sure he would love it if I could make him ham and cheese ones, and I would love to have them all premade!

  50. Els says

    I love this idea. I’ve made ham/cheese/broccoli scones and frozen them as well. To make them extra kid friendly I’ve made them round with smiley faces using peas and carrots. They also work great to take on hikes and picnics.

  51. Debbie says

    I made on a monthly basis, teriyaki chicken drummettes, and they were frozen in little packages of four for my son’s pre-school lunch. Every morning, I would take out a pack of drummettes, add a small apple and a piece of string cheese and this was his lunch. One day I ran out of drummettes and substituted something else. When I showed up to pick up my son at pre-school, I was told he had a time out because he had a tantrum as he had no drummettes for lunch! Another trick I had was a drawer full of granola bars and gummy fruit treats for early AM riser on the weekends… I got to sleep in!

  52. says

    This is such a fantastic ides. My 11 year old makes his lunch too and I have fallen into the processed sugar trap for ease which probably isn’t smart for a child who has adhd. Our family has food allergies: me – corn, my husband and youngest son – gluten, and my daughter – dairy. I told the eldest just yesterday that he is going to have to start eating well like the rest off us. His main concern was: but what shall I eat for breakfast? And what shall I eat for lunch? I guess I know what I’m doing all day today.

  53. Marcia says

    I love this post! my first will start daycare this fall, and lunch-packing is in my future!
    how far ahead do you pull sandwiches and treats out of freezer? night before? or early morning?
    any suggestions for dairy-allergic 2 year old kid who is going to a no-meat daycare?

    • says

      Pulling them in the morning has them thawed by lunch. Have you looked at hummus and other bean-type dips? You could make a big batch on Sunday, portion it into little tupperware cups, and keep it in the fridge. Toss in some veg and fruit and off you go. The other option is nut butters, and PB&J and other nut variations all freeze pretty well. My local grocery store has a grinder that grinds hazelnuts and chocolate chips together, so it’s like homemade Nutella basically. That’s fantastic stuff and very kid friendly.

      • Marcia says

        awesomeness – thanx for the suggestions! she does like hummus. we haven’t tried peanuts for her yet (I thought kids under 2 shouldn’t have nuts?), but we will soon.

  54. Tina Stacy says

    This website is as if I had written it myself. I have struggled with the same thoughts and problems and I NEVER had thought of this approach at all. This August, my husband and I are going to spend a day planning for a month of lunches. It feels so great to know that there are people out there with the same thinking. Here in rural Indiana I think my kids are the only 2nd and 3rd graders who know what organic means. This post is going to make my life so much easier.

  55. Mary Frances says

    Erica, this is a GREAT IDEA! My kids have been making their own lunches for years (son – 10th Grade, daughter – 6th Grade), and just last week I made up 20 bean burritos (brown rice, veggie chili and grated cheese) to serve as after-school snacks/lunches for the kids. Wrapped ‘em in heavy-duty (reusable) foil, and froze them. I transfer them (4 at a time) to the fridge, and the kids either take them to school for lunch or unwrap and heat them in the microwave at home for a couple of minutes per side to have as a snack when they’re ravenous after school!

    It has worked so well, that we’re going to be doing another “assembly line” idea – I’m thinking calzones, Jamaican patties, Cornish pasties, sandwiches, burritos. The possibilities are many and various! Time to clear out the freezer to make more room for lunch fixin’s!

  56. Heidi says

    I stumbled across this post in search of school lunch box ideas. My children are 16, 14, 11 and 9, two girls two boys, respectively. I was a single parent for many years. When my eldest was in grade one I used to spend the Sunday evening making her sandwiches for the week… a total of ten sandwiches :) the next year it went to 20 sandwiches …then a couple of years later it was 40 when both boys were in school… because my eldest went to high school and stopped taking lunch, but I had another mouth at school … but then I stopped freezing sandwiches when I met my partner he also had two sandwiches for lunch… I ran out of room in the freezer so I had to go back to making sandwiches daily… every morning…ten sandwiches! Should have bought a deep freezer lol. Great blog too :) I enjoyed the visit and will bookmark :)

  57. Tish says

    I have the pickiest 11 year old on the planet. He’ll eat nearly anything for dinner but for lunch it absolutely MUST be a peanut butter (hold the jelly please mom!) sandwich WITH crusts. Besides the fact that I want him to have the healthiest “icky” PB sandwich possible, that obviously cuts out Uncrustables as an option, but that’s what I’ve based my “model” off of since he’s been in Kindergarten. Every Sunday night I make 5 natural peanut butter sandwiches on homemade honey wheat bread, pop them into Ziploc sandwich bags and into the freezer. I do the same with my 6 year old daughter, when her stash of turkey/swiss runs low(she actually likes taking a variety of things in her lunch!) We try to reuse the bags, but I don’t always make it to Friday’s bags before Monday morning!

  58. says

    ~sigh~ Thanks for being real, and for reassuring those of us who are wanting to be content with “good enough”. This is the inspiration I needed to get motivated for school lunches. Heading to Sam’s Club tomorrow!

  59. Linnea says

    In my house, I invented the “bunwich”. Left to make a lunch, my kids wouldn’t leave time to do so and would just grab side junk. No protein was going in to help them get through thinking and sports. So, made bread dough in the machine, cut into 12 – 14 pieces and rolled each flat. Rolled into them slices of lunchmeat and cheese, or Lil’ Smokies and cheese, PB&J or whatever. Sealed them up, brushed with egg or cream and sprinkled parm, garlic and/or sea salt on the top before baking. Kept bags of them in the fridge, which they would grab for breakfast, lunch or snack. Froze some. They love them and it solved the protein prolem!

  60. indigo says

    We lived in Japan when my kids were very little. Kids’ lunches are a very big deal there (google kids bento ideas). I enjoyed making those bento boxes a lot. Totally creative with cute rice balls with seaweed faces, sandwich cutters (amazing), hard-boiled egg presses that turn eggs into rabbit faces, carrots flower cutters, little fish-shaped containers for soya sauce, tiny skewers for grapes… it was normal there.

    When we came back home and the kids went to school they asked me to stop it with the bento boxes. Only now that they are in high school is it okay to bring them again. Probably the same for your daughter – she’ll hit another stage about grade 10 where hippy weird turns into cool.

    I make the kids lunches still because I like doing it and it is easy because I work from home and bake stuff in the morning. One of the things we do is keep bread dough in the fridge for calzones/pizza, freeze muffins and freeze cookie dough to cut and bake too. Add some fruit and vegetables, yoghurt, and good to go.

    We live close enough that they can come home for lunch a couple of the days too when they have a spare – highly recommend living a couple blocks from the school. Makes a forgotten lunch a non-issue and I like giving them a hot lunch when I can.

    Thanks for the tip on the sandwiches and the recipes – some good ideas for us to try. Plus your blog is inspiring and I don’t give a crap about the language. :)


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