10 totally unrealistic lunchbox ideas to make your blood boil

I did warn you that I was by no means done, on the subject of school lunches.  Specifically, I need to finish my rant about the contents of this cheery-looking little yellow book, which set me off in the first place.

The Lunch Box

It’s not that I feel any real malice toward the authors –  I’m sure they are nice people, and that no-one was actually harmed in the making of this book.  Perhaps they live in an alternate universe, where time can be suspended indefinitely in order to make lunch, where children’s lunches are packed in wicker baskets, and set out at picnics under shady trees?…

Anyway, I’m working through my emotional issues around this book.  And to help me do so, I’ve selected the ten lunch ideas I found the most irritating and preposterous.

You be the judge.

1.  Celery, cream cheese and sultana tree.

Where do I start?  I mean, this is the first page of the book, and we can already see some pretty outrageous examples of food styling gone mad.

snack tree for lunch box

A carrot has been carved into a sun, which is shining down on a celery, cream cheese, peanut butter and sultana tree.  Oh, and I think the flowers have been fashioned from two different cheeses.

For now I’m going to ignore the fact that most schools don’t encourage nut items at school, and just ask the question: How does one assemble and transport such a tree in a lunch box?

When we tried a version of this in my daughter’s lunch box, the result was decidedly less ‘tree in under blazing carrot sun’ and more ‘glumpy smeary celery logs’.  They arrived home in much the same fashion, with a few nibbles around the edge.

2.  Hand sewn fabric sandwich and fruit bags in fresh, zesty colours

At risk of alienating readers, I going to come right out and just say F-A-R-K OFF at this point.

stylish sandwich

Now I don’t sew, but if I did, I still wouldn’t be caught dead making fabric sandwich pockets when I have a cupboard full of, sturdy, unsquishable, WASHABLE containers that are designed for the purpose of transporting sandwiches.  Simply preposterous.

3.  Glass of risoni and grilled vegetables

pasta salad for school lunch

The most pressing issue here, is that the food stylist does not appear to comprehend the simple physics of the harsh school bag environment.  A bright yellow napkin tied up with twine isn’t going to do much for you when you’re trying to clean mouldy fetta out of the darkest corners of a school bag.

I also don’t know of many parents who keep a stock of risoni and grilled vegetables in the fridge, in the off chance that their child may ‘order’ the risoni salad that day.

(Okay, so it looks pretty tasty – but I think that’s partly me, projecting my fantasy that it’s just been delivered to me while I sit alone in a cafe and read the paper).

4.  Pretty infuriating pita wraps

At a stretch, these infuriating wraps may be appropriate for cute Instagram opportunities at race-day picnics.  But let’s be serious for a minute here.  They have no place within spitting distance of a school ground.

pretty annoying pita wraps

I think we all agree that a pita wrap is a pita wrap, regardless of how many hours you may spend cutting pretty paper with serrated scissors and tying them up with matching twine.

But thanks to The Lunch Box for creating this visual, which my children can contrast against the austere (yet infinitely more practical) cling-wrapped version I make.

5.  Home made sushi handrolls

Okay my kids love sushi, and this looks great, but….

Home made sushi handrolls


Come Monday morning, you won’t find me rising an hour or two early to roll my own sushi for the kids lunch boxes (and I don’t know any of my friends who would beg to differ).  This one fits into both the ‘life is too short’ and the ‘don’t be ridiculous’ categories.

6.  ‘Fruitwiches’ (AKA silly ways of using fruit in a sandwich)

brown mush sandwiches

For a change here, I’ll stop picking on the food stylist, and take the author to task on these sure-fire candidates for the ultimate sandwich fail.

Firstly, I give you the pear and avocado open sandwich.  As the layperson will be aware – both pear and avocado have a tendency to turn a delightful shade of brown once they are opened and cut.  They are also very high in moisture content.  So it doesn’t take a masters in Nutrition and Dietetics to predict that by the time lunch rolls around, this creation will have morphed into a very sad, soggy brown object de mush.

Or perhaps your child is more of a ‘strawberries, strawberry jam and goat cheese on a toasted english muffin’ type?  OH PLEASE SPARE ME!!

7.  Devilishly devilled eggs.

Excuse me?  Have I unwittingly boarded a time machine and been transported back in time to a 1970’s cocktail party?

deliciously devilled eggs

I mean, sure this looks quite fetching for an alfresco lunch with a crisp glass of white, but I think we digress.

Next time I find I’ve been forward-thinking enough to have pre-boiled eggs at hand… they will be mashed up with mayonnaise and chucked between two slices of bread.  Quite simply, life is too short to make devilled egg salad for your child’s lunch box.

Okay, now bear with me – I can feel you flagging, but we’re almost there.  My last three candidates are sure to get your nostrils flaring with pure indignation.

8.  Oats with ‘toppings galore’

non-breakfast oats

This is not lunch!  This is quite clearly breakfast.  Why would I want to take a perfectly good breakfast option and try to turn it into a lunch?

A handy little hint states ‘No-one likes cold oats, so be sure to use a well-insulated container’.  

Well I’d like to tell them where to shove their well insulated container, because I stand by my original statement that this is BREAKFAST, and therefore I will feed it to my child first thing in the morning, eliminating the need for the INSULATED CONTAINER.

9.  Swirly layered yoghurt and fruit compotes

On the sweet side

As you will have identified without my help, there are a number of issues here. These include (but are not limited to) the idea that any parent has the time or inclination to create such a dish for a school lunch, and the fact that, quite clearly, THIS IS A DESSERT.  It’s a lovely idea for a brunch party, but I think I’ll stick with my conventional option of yoghurt in squeezie tube, frozen so that it doubles as a cool pack.  Sheesh.

And finally, I bring you the last, but by no means least annoying lunch box idea:

10.  Cheesy steak roll (or if you prefer, hipster child burger)

Mini brioche steak roll

I saved this one for last as it got up my nose the most of all.  It involves making a ‘special sauce’ (which you whip up with 4 different ingredients), and requires both cooking in a pan (of the onion and peppers) and then heating under a grill to melt the provolone cheese. And although it is not implicitly stated, that bun just reeks of the brioche variety.

‘just wrap in foil and slide into an insulated bag to help keep the roll warm’.

Quite simply, this is NOT IN ANY WAY a valid school lunch suggestion – I would be both a fool and a masochist if I thought otherwise.  It is perhaps acceptable for a swanky Saturday night burger at home with a glass of cider.

And that brings me to the end of this rather cross little post.  I hope you’ve been fuming alongside me all the way, and will forgive me for today’s rather shouty demeanour.  You see, us nice dietitian folk can get just as cross as the next person when provoked.

I mean, take another look at the hipster lunch burger.  Tell it doesn’t make you want to stab someone.

Stick This in your Sanctimonious Lunch Box

I have a bone to pick with the people at Scholastic Books – they recently tricked me into ordering one of the most irritating books of all time.

The Lunch BoxIt’s pages are filled with perfectly styled, perky images of food that has clearly never been in sniffing distance of a battered old lunch box.  But I’ll save my ranty-pants exposé for another time, and another post.

Right now, I’ll just want to get on my school lunch soapbox for a bit, and explain why the whole process is such a momentous brain drain (and why I’ve never had the inclination to tie up a pita wrap in coloured paper and string).

You might imagine that after five years of nutrition training, I’d be able to come up with some pretty awesome school lunch ideas without the help of a book.  But being a dietitian hasn’t equipped me with any superpowers in creative lunch box planning, or the patience of a saint.

There are three main issues I have with the whole Lunch Conundrum:

1.  There are just far too many variables involved, and too many points at which the whole process can fall down.

As is clear from the flow chart I’ve created (see Figure 1), the execution of a successful school lunch is dependent on a number of consecutive variables all being met.  These encompass the pre-planning stage, the actual assembly and transit, and the oft-neglected stages of disassembly, sanitizing, and debriefing.

The middle spheres shown in Figure 1 (below) depict the integral role of various containers and temperature regulating devices in the school lunch box.  This paraphernalia must first be procured, and then clearly labelled and stored (in the perpetually chaotic ‘Tuppaware cupboard’).  And as losses are inevitable, stock-take and replenishment must occur on an ongoing basis.

The orange markers draw your attention to some of the danger points in the school lunch cycle, and key stumbling blocks where the whole process can come undone.

School Lunch - Stages of Readiness

2.  Most children I know are as fickle as all f*&%.

I’m sorry for swearing, but the school lunch process brings out the potty mouth in the best of us.

This week they love orange segments, next week they’ll make the ‘why don’t you just make me eat vomit?’ face if you suggest orange.  They beg you to buy salami because their best friend is allowed to have it every day, but within a few days it’s old news, and coming home all greasy and gross in the bottom of the lunch box (or worse still, just loose in the school bag).  Now what are you supposed to do with the large salami stockpile, which you bought in bulk because it was on special?

This is the reason that Stage 4 – the debriefing (see Figure 1) – is such a key point in the cycle.  If you unwittingly skip this step, there’s a high likelihood of ending up with a kitchen stand-off and a rejected lunch box the next morning.

3.  School lunches will never end.

The fact is, that only a number of hours after you’ve engineered and assembled the lunch(es), you need to be locating and washing the containers, and planning for the next day.  This is where I frequently come undone.  I generally feel so relieved that one set of lunches is done and dusted, that I neglect the fact that it all needs to happen again the very next day.  It’s quite frankly exhausting – and one of the reasons that weekends and school holidays are such things of joy.

And I just calculated that I’ve got another 12 years of this ahead of me.

I’ll leave you with this meme I created.  With any luck it will go viral and I’ll be commissioned to write my own smug 101 fast fun and fabulous school lunches book by this time next week 🙂

Death and taxes (and school lunches)

Meme by Marnie (a meme and a flow chart in the one post – how’s that for value?!)