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The stages of packing a lunch

Remember how exciting it was to buy a new lunch box or bag when you were a kid? Maybe it had your favorite Disney character on it, or it matched your backpack or came with a cool water bottle that was yours and yours alone.

I witnessed this enthusiasm just this week, but it wasn’t a kid. It was a co-worker friend of mine. She had just snagged for a great deal one of those bento-style lunch boxes with partitions inside for various foods (other versions have lift-out containers.)

One partition is the perfect size for grapes. Another for a sandwich, etc.

“Portion control!” my friend said, giddy with the possibilities of what foods she could pack in each partition.

(If you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, visit, where you’ll see bento boxes and even a menu library of lunch ideas. By season!)

I will be curious to see what my friend packs. As a parent, packing lunches is a topic that may begin when your child enters kindergarten – sometimes sooner. Even when she is old enough to pack her own, you still have to get the food in the house. Healthy food, preferably, packed in totes and containers that are eco-friendly and safe (free of BPA, lead, etc.).

Then there’s the matter of keeping cold things cold and hot things hot.

Containers come home every day – that’s the plan, anyway – and need to be washed, dried and filled again the next day. Unless the kids get their food at school, this task does not go away, no matter who is on lunch-packing duty.

Wash, dry, pack, empty, wash, dry, repeat.

Early in the school year, much effort may go into lunch-packing. Homemade applesauce sprinkled with a pinch of cinnamon. Fun little notes dropped into the spanking new insulated bag for a lunchtime surprise, possibly “penned” by the family dog.

As the year goes on, the lunch packer may be scouring the refrigerator for packable leftovers. Or the menu ideas simply disappear.

Parent: “What do you want to pack for lunches this week?”

Child: “I don’t know.”

I know parents who say that their child eats the same bagged lunch most days. Two of them told me that when their children were graduating high school seniors, they even tallied up the number of peanut butter sandwiches made through the years.

Only once did our daughter get on a kick. Hummus and pita bread. That was a year or so ago. Only recently did her hunger for hummus return.

Something else I have learned: Like my friend who is all crazy for her new bento box, preferences for styles vary among kids. Some couldn’t care less what they carry their lunches in. Some will only carry a brown paper bag. Others may save up their baby-sitting money for a stylish lunch tote.

Only (lunch)time will tell what my friend packs in her new lunch box. There’s pressure in filling those partitions, I told her.

Me? I’ll be heading up to the office cafeteria.


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