car snack 5 (nut free!), and a reusable lunch giveaway


And like that, the conversation turns from popsicles to lunch boxes. It must be that moment of the summer when it instantly becomes clear that the end is near. Happy ides of August.

I took these pictures the other day. The girls put down their comic books and let go of being bored for a few minutes so they could pretend school had actually started. Rosie even put on clothes. And this–this scene of two peaceful girls and their dad happily packing lunches, sharing treats and homemade goodies? This is not actually what making lunch tends to look like in our kitchen. This is a set-up. Nice though, isn’t it?


There are a few truths about school lunch around here. And although I’m anything but a school lunch supermom, I’ll do my best to turn these truths into bits of helpful wisdom as we all move into the school year. Maybe I’ll even take my own advice.


On most mornings, I pack three lunches. And although I’ll tell you you should pack your lunch (es) the night before, I USUALLY DON’T. More likely, I’m at the counter with one eye open and a big mug of coffee while I turn out sandwiches and toss apples into lunch boxes like a one-woman assembly line. Joey’s frying, poaching, boiling, or cracking eggs into cute little shapes in toast to try to entice the girls to get out of bed. And as I mutter profanity and search through the drawer that once was organized so that every container actually had a lid, one child (but never two- they’re good about that) is upset about something we cannot possibly control or give help to, and there is at least one binder/ permission slip/ shoe/ hair elastic that we just can’t find. They all leave by 7:00, and I shoo them out the door before then sprinting after the car in my bathrobe  with the thermos of coffee/ wallet/ cell phone that Joey always forgets.

Helpful tip #1:   How about packing lunches the night before? It’s a good idea! 


My kids don’t like leftovers–they only have eyes for sandwiches. Joey eats the leftovers, but only if they’re easy to eat while sprinting after twenty 3-year-olds, which is how he spends his lunch time. And because my family never tires of sandwiches, I’m a slave to cold cuts. I should probably own shares in Applegate Farms, since I give them most of my grocery money every week. Sometimes I just buy the cheap nitrite-laden stuff when the money runs out, too. I tell myself I’m countering the bad meat/ chemicals situation with the fact that I’ve made or grown every other ingredient in the sandwich with my own hands. (Right? Right?)

Helpful tip #2: Don’t worry about repetition unless your kids actually request a change. Sometimes we get caught up in the need to be creative and Pinterest-worthy, but if your kid is happy with a sandwich and a piece of fruit every day, don’t stress it. 


There are times when my girls have gotten really into making their own lunches, and when this happens, everything is great. I have less to do and they’re more inspired about what they’re taking for lunch.  The key is to find the moment in the night when it makes sense, which in our house is during dinner clean up. Sadie has already decided I’m not making her lunch any more this year, and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep that going past the first few weeks of school.

Helpful tip #3: Have them make their own lunches! It will make life better for everyone.


Yogurt parfaits with homemade granola and yogurt are my secret weapon, especially when put into a mason jar or similarly cute container. Maple custard is an even more exciting option, and really anything creamy and in a jar is a good idea. If you’re the type to make things (and I’m guessing you might be), set aside just a bit of time in the week to make a few exciting lunchbox options. Fruit leathers? Crackers? Some thrilling dip that can go along with veggies? Fruit tapioca? Jello? All excellent contenders. And car snacks! 1, 2, 3 (that one’s only in the book), 4 and now… 5. And this one is nut free!

Helpful tip #4: Make a few simple homemade treats at one point in the week. There are lots of options that come together quickly, and then you have a store of convenient, pre-made goodies to throw into lunches. (Try Car Snack 5! The recipe is right here in this post.)


With all the craziness around the lunchbox, the balm that soothes me is the container and everything else that is not the food. I seek out lunch boxes. I’ve always gone all stutter-y at the sight of a well-crafted water bottle.  I love containers that fit perfectly in the lunchbox, the folded cloth napkin, and the cloth snack bags filled with chips. Water bottles, little utensils, glass containers with lids–these details turn chaos into order, and they make us all love lunch more.

Helpful tip #5: Invest in a good lunchbox, a few containers that work well, and any other little details that bring joy to the creator or the eater of the lunch. (Enter this giveaway!)

DSC_0092So there’s good news on all fronts here. Although the helpfulness of my helpful tips might be debatable, I’ve teamed up with Mighty Nest again, and this time, we’re giving away a lunch box jackpot: a freezable lunch bag (no more ice packs) and a bunch of beautiful reusable containers and snack bags to go inside it. Stainless steel, glass, cloth–it’s all there. And there’s more! Finally, I’ve got a nut-free-gluten-free-can-be-vegan-if-you-exchange-the butter-for-something-else CAR SNACK 5!

So here’s how it works: Either offer a helpful lunch hint or a lunch problem that needs solving. Your comment puts your name in the hat, and I’ll pick a winner on Monday, August 26. In the mean time, whip up a batch of car snack. I think you’ll like it.


Big thanks to Mighty Nest for sponsoring this giveaway. They’ve got a ton of wonderful reusable lunch gear for kids, big kids, and even bigger kids who take their lunch to work. So even if you’re a grownup, this giveaway is for you, too.

A few links to get you started on the path to lunch…

Get inspired by Mighty Nest’s lunch gear. (I think they’re pioneering the field of lunch box porn. If cloth snack bags make you weak in the knees, make sure you’re sitting down.)
Follow Mighty Nest on Pinterest (they have a whole board dedicated to lunch!)
Sign up for the Mighty Nest newsletter.

Thanks, friends. Here’s to a year ahead of delicious lunches, peaceful mornings, and beautiful containers that always have matching lids right when you need them.




p.s. Big congrats to Kate, the Berkshire Four Poster Winner! I’ll be in touch, and then the summer poster is on its way…




  1. rachel says

    Yay! I usually don’t find most giveaways appealing, but this one sure is! And I already regularly make Carsnack 4!

  2. says

    I find that the extra two minutes it takes to cut certain sandwiches, veggies, or fruits into fun shapes (round sandwiches with a biscuit cutter, carrot flowers or hearts, etc.) make them more enticing for my kid; he’s more likely to eat something fun-looking, than carrot sticks because they’re in his lunch, or boring sandwich rectangles and squares.

  3. Kate says

    I try and prep as many things as I can on Sunday nights – carrots and celery cut up, a big batch of steel cut oats soaking for a week of breakfasts, leftovers organized to be thrown in lunch bags in the morning. I don’t think I could get through Mondays without the prep.

  4. Meg says

    My family has a few weeks left before school starts but this summer I started making jam. So far I’ve made 48 jars (it’s addictive!), hopefully enough for all the pb&j’s for this school year and a little extra to flavor yogurt. Thanks for the school lunch suggestions!

  5. Tracy Barr says

    Mine is a lunch problem solution, more than a problem itself: I find that I rummage for my day’s lunch the day-of, while trying to rush out the door, and rarely take time to make breakfast…then I raid my lunch for a midmorning snack, and am STARVING before I get home because my lunch wasn’t big enough. My solution: freeze berries in regular-mouth pint jars when you have a surplus/they are on sale/you won’t eat them in time. Fill the jar half-full or so. When you are in a rush in the morning, grab a berry jar from the freezer, add a glob of yogurt, milk, and maybe a banana and put the blender blade on the jar (regular mouth jars and blender bottoms have the same thread!). Pulse several times, and in a matter of 1 minute or so you have a fruit smoothy for breakfast, your lunch is safe from your rummaging, and you are out the door!

    • melissa says just described my morning/lunch/not hungry for dinner routine to a T…I have been doing that every morning…starving at 10:30am and again at 3..dinner? no thanks. Must stop the madness. I like the frozen berry idea!

  6. Amarah Bailey says

    -My guys like a couple of hard boiled eggs with a salt shaker, some cheese chunks, some baby carrots, and a piece of bread and butter. It shakes up the sandwich monotony and is easy :)
    -Also, leftover roast/rotisserie/crockpot chicken make great and cheap(er) sandwich meat.

  7. Stephanie Mc. says

    With school in NC starting next week, I think I will try these bars this week! They sound so good!

    My two little lunch discoveries/tips:

    1) insulated soup containers will keep mac ‘n cheese warm until lunch!

    Tip #2: to keep the waterbottle cold (which we need in the South!) fill the waterbottle halfway the night before and lay it on its side in the freezer. The next morning, take it out of the freezer, fill it up with cold water and put it into the lunchbox. The kids tell me the ice stays until lunch!

  8. Sharee says

    I don’t pack too much for my son’s lunch. Usually there is more talking than eating and he doesn’t eat much. Whatever he doesn’t eat is his after school snack. I pack veggies, a fruit (which is usually a “treat” like mash ups, cliff twists or fruit leathers), some sort of whole grain (usually a homemade leftover like muffins, pancakes, crackers…) and a protein (always sunflower seeds and maybe some cheese).

    • alana says

      Yup, we’ve got the social lunch time going too. Sometimes lunch will come back uneaten, and Sadie’s only explanation is that she was a having a really good conversation with someone!

  9. heather bragdon says

    the ice packs never seem to last until lunch! what are good icepacks/lunchboxes so we can send yogurt and other cold foods?? :)

  10. Jennifer Tarricone says

    Our daughter, Mia, is a vegetarian by nature…occasionally will eat some chicken or eggs but NO other meats or meat based protein. She is going off to a new school in about a week and they do not have a microwave for heating up anything. Any ideas on some protein packed easy lunches? She does love to eat fruit and steamed veggies; not so keen on raw veggies. Thanks!

    • Joëlle says

      Maybe Alana could give better advice on that one, but I find that quinoa salads are the best things for lunch. You can put EVERYTHING with quinoa and it tastes good. It also makes a great leftover-tosser, in a way. You cook 1 cup of quinoa (be sure to follow the instructions carefully, you need to rinse it first or else it will be awful) and then you can add curried chicken with grapes, or feta cheese with watermelon cubes and parsley, or chickpeas with lemon zest and coriander (sorry Alana, I know you would hate that). I’m a big fan of fruits with cheese because I’m a sweet tooth, but normal people can enjoy their veggies too 😉
      Have nice lunches this fall!! xx

    • Lori says

      Try hummus with whole-wheat crackers or toss some beans or cooked grains in a salad. You could use steamed or roasted veggies in the salad if she doesn’t like raw. Good luck!

    • says

      I think anything with cooked chick peas would be great for lunch. Maybe a mix of chick peas and some steamed veg with a little soft cheese? Also, over the summer my son has started eating room temp black beans and rice, sometimes mixed with a little salsa or cheese sometimes with just a little tamari, which is his preference. Depending on the length of time before packing and lunch eating I think this would be safe? I’m having the same struggle with a mostly non-meat-eating-kid and thinking about lunches. . .good luck!

    • alana says

      Have you tried seitan? It’s really yummy cold. Or cold smoked tofu? If either of those appeal to her, they’d be good options. Also- chickpeas! You could fry them up so they’re crispy, and then she can crunch them. SO GOOD.

  11. Kate says

    We split lunch duties. My husband makes the main course (usually a sandwich) the night before. I fill in the rest of the lunch (fruit, pretzels, a treat) in the morning. Also, freeze the yogurt. It defrosts by lunch time but is still cold and it will help everything else stay cold too.

  12. Kristina says

    My dad works 2nd shift, but still likes his big meal in the evening, which means carting it into work and making it in the toaster oven/ microwave during a 45 minute “lunch” break. During a visit we did some experiments and the new favorite in his rotation is making individual serving lasagna in a glass storage container with the “no-cook” pasta. Leave it uncooked. add a few tbls. of water and cook in the microwave. Cooking time is highly dependent on microwave power (Dad says his break room microwave does it in about 7 minutes). Absolutely an idea for adult lunches, but hey, we have to eat away from home too!

    • alana says

      Oh, this is great. And I want to speak just as much to adult lunches- I think we get so in the habit of eating out, and strategies for bringing a good lunch from home are so useful.

  13. Neena says

    My problem involves a lack of imagination when packing lunches. My kids are terribly bored with the sandwich/fruit/crunchy thing lunch they get daily. Already I’ve seen some great solutions in the comments – a thermos of hot Mac and cheese, hard boiled eggs and a sadly shaker. Car snacks for lunchbox treats! Love these ideas!!

  14. says

    I ask my son and daughter to create their own lunch menu. When we shop for the week, they let me know which foods are on their wish lists (fruits & veggies, a protein, a dairy treat, like yogurt or cheese, and one fun snack – like graham crackers or goldfish). By allowing them to make their food choices, the kids usually devour their lunch. I also let them choose one hot school lunch a week, which is a welcome break for all of us.

  15. Kelly Bancroft says

    I know you said your family doesn’t like leftovers, but I often plan dinners around having leftovers for lunch… Some old standby that always are a hit: nori rolls with a little container of soy sauce to dip with edamames on side, quesadillas, pasta, burritos and chicken sausages with a container of ketchup.

  16. Kara Walls says

    Since we started school this year I have been having my children make their own lunches. My youngest is picky and hardly eats anything at school. I have to continually mix things up for him or he will be really crabby after school.

  17. Mo says

    Love your car snacks. Our new thing to try this fall is make your own sushi with the seaweed mini-sheets that are all the rage (even Costco) right now with a thermos full of warm rice.

  18. says

    I use a crinkle cutter for carrots/apples/celery/etc. It makes things look SLIGHTLY more attractive to eat…which isn’t saying that they don’t catch on after awhile..

  19. sarah g. says

    The morning routine, aka, scramble! has always been a stress-inducing time for me. Even with our best laid plans, it is easy to let the energy of the morning set the tone for the rest of the day.
    This year, it is my sincere intention to start the day differently. I plan to wake before my children (which means actually putting myself to bed at a decent hour!) so that I may have some quiet time to enjoy a tea, or go outside, or at least look at what lies ahead with a sense of purpose and calm. I believe the kids can sense if you are in a good place, and that translates into them having a good start to their day.
    I know this won’t happen every morning, but I am sure going to try hard to make it happen as often as possible!

  20. says

    I love using silicone baking cups to make my own version of a bento box–that’s the hint–but struggle with things moving around if my daughter doesn’t keep the lunchbox perfectly flat (which isn’t going to happen if she puts it in her backpack. Ideas?

  21. A. States says

    Our biggest issue with lunches is getting into a rut. We get creative for a little while but then something happens and we end up with the same old thing day in a day out.

  22. Krista says

    My goal this school year is to pack lunches the night before. I always think I’ll have time in the morning, and always find myself running around like crazy with no time to spare! My helpful hint is to make-ahead lunch friendly dishes (often casserole’y or cold grain salads) on the weekend when I have more time, then I have something healthy to pack for lunch vs weird combinations of food that do not quite resemble a well-balanced meal. Now, if I can just go ahead and portion them out ahead of time, I should be better off in the mornings! :o)

    Thanks for the tips!

  23. Joëlle says

    I don’t have kids (yet!), but since I went back to school last fall to study Translating, I have had the pleasure to welcome back the lunchbox into my daily routine (I don’t own one actually. Mighty Nest really is the women lunch porn)” Like I said in my answer ( little higher up there, you’ll see it) , I’m in love with quinoa salads. And I do think that dessert can ALWAYS make you want to eat your lunch. I have a warm spot in my heart for «pouding chômeur» I’m french canadian and from Québec city, so it is perfectly normal if you don’t know what that is. But you should. It’s a gooey dessert with a lot of maple syrup that melts in your mouth while having a really cake-y feeling to it. If that post was not so long already I would give you the recipe for it. So, please, mothers, if you put desserts in your kids lunchboxes, please make it a real one. And just the tiniest littlest piece of dessert will make lunch hour seem like a holiday lunch. Is the «holiday lunch» a thing? It should be.

    • alana says

      Yes! We’re not allowed to send sweets, but I sneak little treats in- maple custard and pudding, or a little muffin. And thank you for the reminder to make your amazing sounding dessert. I’ve had it tucked into my recipe file every since you sent it, now’s the time!

  24. Hannah M. says

    My lunch-packing strategy tends to revolve around making a weekly pot of some sort of bean and cooking up a green vegetable or two in quantity, in advance. With those staple parts sitting in the fridge, I can chop and combine them with things like cheese and raw veggies (cucumbers, carrots) and dress them however I like for slight variations on the same theme. I’m on the lookout for a new lunch container, though-my trusty plastic container (that I’ve been using for, what, 5 years?) isn’t doing a great job holding in liquids anymore :(

  25. Meghann says

    My kid is not old enough for school yet, but we pack a lot of food when we’re on the road. I need to invest in more reusable containers and cloth bags. I hate going through a million plastic bags. And I think making lunches out of as many homemade goodies as possible makes it so much more special. And yummy. This is a great giveaway!

  26. Brenda says

    I saw a tip somewhere to let the thermos sit full of hot water a few minutes before putting the lunch item in, it pre-warms the thermos and keeps the food warm until lunch. My sons feedback confirms it too. That expanded the options he enjoys in his lunch, able to include more of his favorites like spaghetti or chicken noodle soup (which ends up being chicken noodle chunk because I remove most of the liquid to keep lunch messes to a minimum.)
    I am wondering how the stainless steel lunch boxes work on moist/wet items? For example, when I cut up cucumbers in his lunch I like toss them in a little dressing, will that leak into the other compartments?

    • alana says

      The stainless steel container with compartments is pretty secure. I feel like the dressing wouldn’t leak, although I haven’t gotten to put them into action yet. Sometimes I send salads in little mason jars, too, and that seems to work well.

  27. says

    I buy a bunch of healthy bulk snacks at our co-op and keep them in quart jars in the pantry. When I’m packing lunches I ask the kids to pick out their snack and they can go into the pantry and easily see what’s in the jars. I find they are more likely to eat what I packed if they get to choose what goes in their lunchbox for the day.

  28. Michelle says

    I make a big pot of soup on Sunday and we eat it for lunch for a few days. In an insulated thermos it is perfect. Add some crackers and cheese and fruit and you are all set. Much cheaper than lunch meat!

  29. says

    The pumpkin bars sound delicious! My goal this year is to at least have all of the sides — cut up fruits, veggies, cups of yogurt — packed the night before to cut down on the assembly time in the morning. I have high hopes for fixing up some tasty lunches this year, and hopefully breaking my youngest of her Lunchable habit. (I’m totally at the root of that issue, but I don’t feel good about it. )

    • alana says

      Ah lunchables! I totally understand the draw. I have to say, the few times I had lunchables as a kid, I thought they were the most amazing thing. I think if you want to work on making your own lunchables, the stainless steel container with compartments might stand in as a substitute. Little crustless sandwiches? Baby carrots?

  30. says

    Love your cookbook and your blog!
    Our biggest issue is sending things for the pickiest boy ever who won’t eat anything that is supposed to be cold if it’s not freezing cold!

    • alana says

      Thank you!
      I feel like there are some good comments here on prefreezing things and then letting them defrost as the day goes on. That might just be the ticket for you.

  31. says

    Love this post- we just started school last week, and over the summer we’ve gone gluten-free. I’m realizing school lunches are going to be a bit more tricky for me to put together. I just made my first-ever batch of successful beef jerky (after the first batch turned into expensive dog treats after I added too much onion powder…) and it’s the perfect thing for my boys’ lunches- they LOVE it! I used this recipe-
    I also like having baked goods prepared ahead of time, I’m looking forward to trying the new car snack!

  32. Jamie says

    Your new car snack sounds great-plus I love that I can freeze them. This will be my first year packing lunch for my kids-I need some fun containers-thanks for the give away!

  33. Sarah M says

    I don’t pack lunches beyond myself yet but my hint for leftovers for lunch is to divvy the leftovers into small containers during dinner cleanup rather than shoving one big bowl in the fridge to deal with in the morning.

  34. Katie L says

    I second your tip to make lunches the night before. The three times I’ve done it in my life, I had the three easiest mornings before work (I probably twiddled my thumbs because I didn’t know what else to do with myself). Every other morning I’m the same chicken-with-my-head-cut-off dashing from one side of the kitchen to the other cursing the cats and cursing my boyfriend and cursing my mom who always made her lunch the night before and passed down every trait to me but that.

    Anyway, since I do tend to make my lunch in the morning, the best tip I have (which gets me out of the door by 8:06 instead of 8:12) is my fridge set-up. I’m type A when it comes to the arrangement of my fridge (type Z when it comes to the arrangement of any other part of my apt.), so I know exactly where everything is AND I know that just about everything I’m going to want for lunch is on the middle shelf (leftovers from last night’s dinner go there in individual containers, my yogurts are there, etc). Bigger items that generally go into making dinner are on the door, in the crisper, and on the top/bottom shelf– lunches tend to be more simple than dinners since I’m making dinner for more than just me. Hope it helps! (and hope I am a winner!)

  35. Adrienne says

    Fortunately I am not packing lunch for my son yet, just for myself. I absolutely rely on leftovers and I am in HUGE TROUBLE if we don’t have enough of them because we usually don’t have enough other food that I can throw together quickly. I eat leftovers for lunch 90% of the time but wind up eating out the rest of the time. Not good.

    I’m not sure what problems we’ll have this fall, but I’m sure we’ll have some kinks to work out. My mom will be watching my son while his dad is in school (he’s been the at-home parent until now), and she’ll be providing his lunch. But we’ll be packing lunches for TWO adults now, not just one. My leftover strategy may need to change. We’ll either need to make even more for dinner or start making sandwiches.

    My other ongoing problem is not having enough to eat even when I think I’m leaving the house with enough. I think I really need a couple small meals instead of one, but it’s hard to shift my mindset and figure out how to make that work.

    Thanks for the ideas! The snack recipes and suggestions might be just what I need.

  36. Liz says

    We try to make lunches the night before, but it’s always a good day when it’s pizza day for hot lunch, I have to say! I think Henry will eat a cream cheese sandwich every day without complaint. Easy to make, but I do wish I could get him to eat more veggies.

    • alana says

      Liz, I think I ate cream cheese and jelly for my entire elementary school time. So I understand his love of cream cheese sandwiches. And look! I’m alive, and also a food writer who eats lots of weird things. :)

  37. Kim Brennan says

    I bought one of the Wonder sandwich sealer and decrusters and now I make our own “uncrustable PB&J sandwiches and the kids love them!
    I sometimes use the left over crust for bread crumbs or croutons.

  38. annette says

    The lunch routine gets old fast, doesn’t it? But I agree that the packaging can help so much. We found some clever handmade reusable sandwich wraps that open flat to a little placemat, in various fun fabrics. I also toss in cloth napkins. And real utensils! Better yet, the colorful reusable sporks (made for camping). Been using (and washing and reusing) ziplocs for the snacks and sides, and would love some new options from the giveaway! Thanks.

  39. --anu says

    I bought the planet lunchbox two years ago and I find that the fact that there are five small compartments to fill makes lunches easier for me. I don’t need to have one item but I can use random bits and bobs and since there are several, it always comes to a pretty well-rounded lunch (my daughter doesn’t like leftovers for lunch and she gets sandwitch fatigue quite easily). Last year we had a couple of weeks when she got your homemade poptarts into her lunchbox! Granted, making a few pastries in the morning 5 times a week is not the most sustainable lunch idea..
    Now that we have longer after school activities added to the mix, I have to find something smaller. As much as I love it, Planetbox doesn’t split into smaller containers.

  40. Meagan says

    Hooray for a nut-free car snack! My littlest will love this gingery treat! I totally agree with having the kids make lunch…a bit more mess but they usually eat it all. Many thanks!

  41. Jenny C says

    My advice is if you have a kid who is happy eating the same thing every day, don’t sweat it! We get a break during the summer, because the day camps are mostly nut free, so it’s cheese, pepperoni slices, crackers, plus fruit & crunchy veg. But during the last school year, my son had a PB & J (the J is homemade jam, and the “bread” is whole wheat defrosted waffles), plus fruit + veg, EVERY day.

  42. Jenny C says

    Oh, and whatever part of the lunch doesn’t get eaten (usually the veg, although he loves veg in general, I think he runs out of time at his 20 min lunch period) becomes part of your dinner.

  43. Andy Tanner says

    I am always in a panic this time of year – not about school itself, but about the lunch box fare! My son is perfectly happy eating the same thing day after day after day – the problem is finding something that he likes to eat. He won’t eat a sandwich because he hates bread. He once loved nuts and now refuses them as well as cheese sticks. And bars with nuts, fruits, seeds, freak him out. Help! and thanks!!

    • alana says

      Yup- I second the homemade lunchables- mostly a bunch of little snacks all in their own compartments? Little slices of lunch meat with crackers and cheese? Fried chickpeas? Hummus? Pita bread or chips? How does he feel about hard boiled eggs?

  44. Heather says

    Our child is still too young for school, so it’s the adult lunches that confound me. I’m usually content with leftovers, but my husband is a sandwich addict. We too typically revert to the lunchmeat purchase, but I so, so wish there was a healthier alternative. I know that we could do hearty veggie sandwiches with hummus or something, but they always feel so labor-intensive compared to slapping some lunchmeat and lettuce on bread. Perhaps we need to get better at cooking up a turkey breast or two over the weekend?

    Also…SO excited about this giveaway!

    • alana says

      I feel you on this one. Meat, cheese, lettuce- it’s all so easy! So yes to turkey breast, and maybe ham or roast beef. The few times I’ve done that, it’s been great. I just have to cut it thin enough!

  45. Tera says

    When I pack lunch for my husband I always try to pack enough snacks so that he’s not hungry in the afternoon. One if my favorites is to stick a frozen smoothy in his bag so it’s ready in the afternoon and too frozen for him to eat in the morning.

    • Jennifer Tarricone says

      My husband has been getting into eating healthier wraps at lunch. What I do is bake up some skinless chicken breast just for his lunch and buy him red onion, spring mix salad, tomatoes, cucumber and avocado . We then will cut up a bunch of the ingrediants ahead of time and when he goes to make his wrap he tosses what he wants in a bowl along with some italian dressing and then wraps it up! A lot healthier than eating out and cheaper!

  46. Nancy says

    Without fail my water bottles leak. Soggy papers at the end of the day have caused some tears around here! Looking for the perfect water bottle.

  47. says

    This is certainly not and original tip, and its probably more for us working folk than our kiddos. Recently I’ve been trying to get better about bringing lunch to wor,k instead of buying every day, so I’ve been trying to make big batches of food (lasagna, chili, etc.), portioning it out and freezing, so in the morning all I have to do is grab and go on my way out the door.

  48. Kate S says

    getting ready for public school kindergarten and a little intimidated about the potential peer pressure / social influence of packaged, processed foods. looking for ideas to make good food look really cool, five days a week.

    • alana says

      Someone mentioned the little tool from the supermarket that takes the crusts of the sandwich and gives it a cool shape- that’s a good one. And you might be surprised by what the other kids are eating at lunch! My sister is in public school, and when she takes my car snacks, she takes extra for her friends because they always want them. But as a kid who always hated having the “healthy” lunch at school, I understand your worry! But once you get the lay of the land, it might become clear that there’s one special thing you could send along that would help them feel good at lunch.

  49. Caroline says

    I make my husband’s lunch everyday. While I itch to be more creative, he is happy with the same sandwich, fruit, carrot, chips everyday, which really turns out to be much easier for me anyway. He actually came up with the idea of making lunches two days at a time and sticking one in the fridge. It means only making lunch 2 or 3 mornings a week rather than everyday.

  50. Kristen says

    First off, I am super impressed with car snack 5. Wholesome and pumpkin! Thanks so much.
    Second, I often only make lunches for my husband (the kids are still too little) and he requires a hefty lunch. Lots of components and lots of calories. Leftovers are great when we have them. Any other high calorie ideas that fit into a little lunchbox so that he doesnt have to carry his usual 24 can sized cooler to work?

    • alana says

      I have a similar challenge with Joey’s lunch, and here are a few things that have worked: An avocado with a knife, so he can just cut it in half and eat the whole thing with a spoon (also a little salt or dressing is good with this), grain salads that can be made ahead of time, cold French lentils with bacon and arugula or spinach, greek yogurt in a jar with honey and granola…

  51. Rachel says

    Leftovers are perfect for me. And it seems like a sack lunch always requires a peanut butter and honey sandwich.

  52. Margo says

    I love leftovers for lunch! I also advocate the packing of lunch the night before. Makes the morning soooo much easier. It took me awhile to get into that routine, but I’m so happy I did. When I can, I also like to portion my individual servings of yogurt and granola out on Sunday night. Then they are ready to go for the entire week.

  53. Joy says

    I usually pick an evening on Saturday or Sunday and make several snacks for the week, we are big granola bar fans here- and I definitely make the nutty car snack bar. I also usually make yogurt and granola at some point in the week to include a parfait with granola and a little honey. I also find that prepping my melons or big fruits like pineapples when I get home from shopping makes it much easier to throw cubes into a container to bring with us. Lest us not forget trail mix. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love trail mix in their lunch box.

  54. says

    I’ve finally realized (accepted?) that my preschooler is fine eating the same lunch everyday. I don’t have to impress anyone with variety or cute cut outs of vegetables, and the process is now fairly automated. This is a huge relief and now I can focus on cute containters, instead!

  55. Kat K. says

    Fantastic looking bars! I pack my boys lunch daily and the reusable containers wouldn’t go to waste in this home.

  56. Karen says

    Homemade bread can be more interesting made into different shapes for lunch. I like to divide a loaf’s worth of dough into 16 pieces and shape into cloverleafs, bread sticks, pretzels, bunnies, knots – whatever strikes my fancy. Sometimes I’ll use a little food coloring and egg yolk to paint unbaked buns and make little pumpkins. Or I will use a sharpie marker on clementines to make jack-o-lanterns or funny faces. Nothing too complicated, just fun.

  57. Kelly H. says

    I’ve found that ebay is a great resource online for cute little lunchbox containers. Bento boxes came from Japan and the cute cute stuff they’ve come up with to fill them are awesome! Affordable, too!

  58. Jill says

    No lunch solutions here, sadly, but two challenges: what if your kid doesn’t like to eat in the morning? My 13yo boy’s by-nature schedule is to be up for a few hours before eating. He likes carnation instant breakfast drink but ewww. It looks like sugar to me. I could try smoothies, but the mornings are usually too nuts for that, and while I like the blender-pint jar idea I don’t understand it. The blade goes upside down in the jar? I’ll try some of the car snacks, tho.

    Second question, there’s no time to eat a real lunch and my kids come home hungry and headachy. Any suggestions for fast-to-eat food?
    Thanks for the giveaway!

    • alana says

      Hi Jill, I’d definitely try making smoothies ahead of time- with a good shake-up, they’re great in the morning. Or you can do your own version of carnation instant breakfast- milk, banana, cocoa powder, a little maple syrup or honey, and even a few almonds?

    • alana says

      How about letting them start packing their own? They might have some new inspiration with the choice is in their hands.

  59. Allysa says

    Lots of great comments! I needed all the wonderful tips! I teach and my girls go to school with me. Together, we pack lunches the night before. We always include a protien, a carb, a fruit, a veggie, and something sweet like homemade cookies or squares. I write notes to slip in their lunch boxes on scraps of paper or napkins! I hope it encourages reading and they know Mommy is thinking of them!

  60. Sarah says

    My son is just starting school and I envision the peanut-free environment to be challenging. I like to bake cookies and muffins, but am worried when I see that one of the ingredients (e.g., something seemingly innocuous like flax seed) may contain traces of nuts. Yikes! Any advice on where or which brands don’t have traces of nuts. All this is kinda making me nuts!

    • Susan says

      Me too! While my 12 year old son’s school isn’t nut free (yet!) I’m waiting for the day it becomes so and then we will be up a tree because all he’ll eat for lunch is pb and j!
      And I can’t “sneak” a nut-free substitute in at his age…

    • alana says

      Joey and the girls’ school is nut-free, and it’s not so bad! Each school has its own guidelines, but if you’re allowed to send homemade snacks (and some schools don’t allow it), it tends to be okay to use the ingredients in your kitchen. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but more and more brands are nut free now, and I find we don’t have to think about it much.

  61. Michelle says

    My kids are teenagers now, but they still like the lunches that I make for them. My son especially loves my lunches. My kids like variety, which is good, otherwise I’d get bored of making the same thing everyday. I’ve spent this past weekend cooking lunch type foods that I can store in the freezer for them. School starts next week, and I’m trying to be prepared.

  62. Heather says

    I eat pumpkin once a week at least so lovin ‘ car snack 5! I use to pack left overs for hubby but all he wants now is a yogurt and banana. I use ice packs that came free from the hospital/dr.’s office when I had kids. He puts two in his bag and they’re still cold when he gets home. My kids are little and home with me but when we go out I always take lunch. I pack in Tupperware and have no soggy sandwiches. I also use the lid as a plate for cutting.

  63. Carla says

    My creativity tends to dwindle as the school year really gets underway. My son likes new things, and tires quickly of sandwiches. He also won’t eat anything cold that we usually eat hot– save pizza.

    • alana says

      Yup- we’ve got the cold/ hot food issue here, too. They actually have a microwave at school that the kids can use, and that opens up the options a bit. But maybe a good thermos that fits in the lunchbox would help? Then you can have a few more warm options.

  64. penny m roberts hyde says

    After years of not having to think about packing lunches, my great nephew has decided this year to take his lunch several days each week. This in itself is a huge task; he doesn’t eat much more than meat and buttered noodles with fruit sparingly mixed in… I remember my mom frying chicken in the morning before school and packing it in a large mouth thermos. Come lunchtime it was always warm and steamy good. He is not much on trying new items and I just discovered they cannot take liquids in their original containers. this makes for something else for him to have to carry daily. this giveaway seems to be the ticket. thanks so much for the opportunity

  65. Denae says

    The hardest part of the packed lunch process is trying to track down the dirty Tupperware from whatever dark hole the used lunch box gets thrown into at the end of the day.

    • alana says

      Amen to that. I try to get the girls to empty their lunch boxes and put containers in the dishwasher right when they get home, but I don’t always win.

  66. Dana says

    I pack a lunch for my husband and myself every day (son eats at preschool). I make it the night before, and like cooked food for lunch, not sandwiches, but I don’t like eating the same food for dinner and the following day’s lunch. My solution is to prep lunch as I am making dinner, but just mix up the configurations so the food seems new, even though the building blocks are the same. Some examples: veggies cut up for a stir-fry for dinner will go into the boxes with some yogurt-tahini dip. Roast chicken pieces will be mixed with some grain, lemon juice and olive oil for a salad (bonus points if I can also use the grain for a hot cereal breakfast). Potatoes from dinner will tossed with some vinaigrette (the same used for dinner’s salad). Etc. etc. If I keep it simple, it doesn’t feel like a lot of extra work. And I am a lunch-box accessories junkie, these look terrific.

    • alana says

      I love this, Dana. Instead of sending leftovers for lunch, it’s more like you’re just making dinner and lunch at the same time. Great way of thinking about it.

  67. says

    My biggest tip is to get the child to make it themselves. They actually can do it. My daughter has been making her own lunch since she was 8. My job is to make sure that everything she needs is in the fridge or freezer. I will buy or make her pretty much whatever she wants to go into the lunch, but she puts it together. I know lots of her friends throw out their lunches cause they hate what their parents have made. She always eats hers because she put in the effort to make it.

  68. Erin says

    I’m a teacher so I eat breakfast ridiculously early and sometimes have to wait far too long for my much period (this happens to my students, as well). I used to get to lunch only to find that I had eaten most of it already between classes or during down time so that I didn’t gnaw off my arm. Now, I pack a snack specific item separately from my lunch – cut carrots and peanut butter, smoothie in mason jar I can grab from the fridge, something with a bit of protein – so that I can keep my blood sugar a little more even. It also keeps me from extended snacking and I can give the students a chance to grab a little boost, too.

  69. Emily M says

    Our biggest problem is variety. My husband refuses to pack anything with even the slightest chance of a mess (leftovers are right out), so it’s pretty much just peanut butter every day!

  70. Theresa Murphy says

    Since I leave the house at 6am for work, it is a must that the lunches be made the night before! Cold stuff is stashed in the fridge and the other items are put in the lunchboxes so all I have to do in the morning is put in the ice packs and cold stuff. We freeze the juice pouches overnight and they are thawed by lunchtime, but still cold and ready to drink. My kids like leftovers and often take soup, stew, pasta or chili in an insulated thermos.

  71. says

    My tip is basically what you say in your post… have containers that make things easier for lunch packing so it’s not as much as a hassle! And prep things at least the night before so there’s no scramble to get it done in the morning!

  72. SarahT says

    I have no helpful hints to offer – but am looking for a helpful hint. My toddler has celiac disease and I am totally at a loss as to what to bring for her lunch when we’re out for the day. I think that GF bread is icky in sandwiches, and while she loves cheese, I’d like something else, too. An assortment of snacky items? (Car Snack 5 is on the baking list for this week) Any hints are supremely appreciated!

    • Sara says

      My toddler recently got a gluten allergy diagnosis. He eats a lot of rice cake sandwiches, hot dogs sliced with no bun (ketchup on the side), ham or turkey rollups, hummus & GF crackers, GF pasta/meat sauce. I always pack a fruit & veggie too, and he loves to have yogurt or green smoothies in a reusable squeeze pouch. I also started making his bread from the Pamela’s bread mix and it tastes good, even for a sandwich. Hope this helps!

      • SarahT says

        Thanks for the hints – I think I’ll try a rice cake sandwich while we’re out-and-about this week. I haven’t been able to get my daughter to eat hummus yet – although she loves the GF bagel crackers we got to go with it. I’ll also look into the bread mix – thanks again.

    • alana says

      I think snacky items will be good- corn tortillas or chips with dips?
      Also, have you seen Sami’s bread? I don’t know if it’s available where you are, but of all the gf breads I’ve tried, this is by far the best and most sandwich worthy

      Also, this pasta is great- maybe little pasta salads?

      (No one paid me to recommend these! But they’re the gf faves in our house)

  73. Claire says

    It is mostly leftovers for me! But I have been meaning to invest in a good lunch box and re-usable cloth/wax bags instead of all the plastic ones. Does anyone have a recommendation for small snack bags? Preferably something that can hold moist or slightly wet items (like cut up fruit) not just dry snacks. Thanks!

  74. Mary says

    Thank you, thank you! I’ve been looking for a “can be” vegan tea time snack for me. No kids, just me and the cat as I work away here in my space. So my tip is for the adults left in the house after the kids leave. Have a snack at elevensies or at tea time. This is something I rarely miss and good vegan snacks are hard to find.


  75. says

    First, I’ll just come out and say I would love to win this. My son will start “real” school in 2 weeks and we are still casting around for lunch gear. What I notice is that it’s all so BIG. I want something small and cheerful and easy for him. Second, can I confess that I am terrified of school lunch? He is a (young) six. Up to now he was in home based pre-K programs where they made a hot lunch every day and sat down together at a table and ate it like a family. Beans and rice on Monday. Lentils on Tuesday. Pizza on Friday. You get the picture. At his new school the teachers don’t have time to eat with them, the kids are all on their own. . .this gives me great anxiety. What if he doesn’t know what to do? What if he is scared? What if he is lonely? What if he doesn’t eat and is hungry? I get that these transitions are all necessary, and all kids figure it out and he will too, but, really, sheesh. Not to sound too crazy but what to pack is the least of my worries.

  76. stephanie zeck says

    my favorite lunch solution is making sure that the lunch bag & the containers are a great match so we can fill ’em up with good stuff. and i love using the grappling hooks from the hardware store to attach the waterbottle to the lunch bag!

  77. Rebecca Jean says

    Several people took my best comments, including using a crinkle cutter for veggies and preheating your thermos for hot drinks/soups. One thing that I’ve found particularly helpful in packing my own lunches is to include a cloth napkin or cloth dishtowel with my lunch if I have something that needs to be microwaved. I often put soup in wide-mouthed jars to be heated later, and the napkin or towel is invaluable as a hot pad for getting things out of the microwave!

    • Rebecca Jean says

      Oh, and as someone who can’t eat oats, but still loves the idea of granola bars, do you think this recipe could be adapted for cooked quinoa or millet or something like that?

  78. Suzannah says

    Yes! Another Car snack! My husband loves the puffed rice one and often requests for them :) I follow the ‘make the same thing until they say something’ rule. If you want something else speak up or make it yourself. And I mean that in the nicest way 😉

  79. Kim Wheeler says

    My oldest is starting preschool for the first time this year. So I am new to the lunch packing extravaganza! I have a lot to learn! How do you pack things that need to be warmed up if they don’t have a way to warm it up at school? The lunch gear looks so great!!

  80. Elizabeth says

    I’m a graduate student and have very little time during the school year, and often find myself packing both a lunch and a dinner to eat at school. On Sunday nights my husband and I both make a big pot/batch of some health food and pack it in containers for the week. That way we at least have one dish for lunch, and a different one for dinner.

  81. Lisa H says

    I make a big batch of freezer burritos for my husbands lunches. They’re defrosted by lunch time and are quick to heat up.

  82. Sarah M says

    My daughter is only 3 months – definitely doesn’t need a lunch packed anytime soon :) But, I do struggle with feeding myself lunch some days. I need something quick and easy to fix, and easy to eat. I wonder if preparing something the night before would help me, even if I’m not going anywhere during the day.
    I also want to get into the habit of packing a lunch for the husband the night before. He usually packs his own in the morning, but I think he would love it if I did it for him!

  83. Sara says

    My daughter loves string cheese in her lunch (and I like her to get the protein!) but hates when it gets lukewarm by lunchtime. So I freeze them overnight, and they stay cold enough for her with an ice pack in her lunchbag.

  84. Candy says

    My kids (13 & 10) have been packing their own lunches for several years now. They have a routine of get dressed, pack lunch, eat breakfast, go. My son usually goes for PB&J or PB& honey, while my daughter prefers lunch meat, or hummus & cheese. If we have leftover soup, pasta, or Chinese food, they love to pack that in a thermos for a change of pace.

  85. Susan says

    These snack bars look great…I can’t wait to try them! I love that they are nut-free, since it is such an allergy trigger for so many.

  86. Erin Anderson says

    I love reusable lunch items. I love the car snack recipes and will have to try them. I have found if I change the shape of food items it makes it more appealing to my kids even if it is the same old thing. Cheese into cubes instead of slices, sandwiches cut into 3rds or 4ths. I do struggle at the end of the week though. Easy to make bread and have great leftovers at the beginning of the week, but by Thursday or Friday, pickings get slim.

  87. Kathirynne says

    I need to know what to pack in a 16-year-old boys lunchbox so that he is not STARVING before he gets home from school at 3:30. (In other words, I need portable, filling lunch ideas.)

    • alana says

      How about also packing a snack for him to eat on the way home? That way by the time he gets to you, he’s tamed the hunger beast.

  88. Katherine says

    Even if sandwiches are a standby, you can mix them up a bit by trading in whole wheat pita for the bread, making a wrap with tortillas, or a quesadilla-style sandwich. We like to mix up the sandwich fillings by using the following (not all at once!): hummus, baba ganoush, thinly sliced marinated (teriyaki) firm tofu, cream cheese, shredded carrots, tuna, leftover dinner chicken or meat. Even pb and j is delicious sometimes if you have yummy jam (or honey)! Spreading Amy’s brand canned vegetarian refried beans on a tortilla and toasting with cheese makes a scrumptious quesadilla that some will even enjoy cold the next day.

  89. Cathy says

    I have a lunch hint….pack up snack sized containers sunday night so the front of the fridge is a one stop shop for at least the first few prep required and they can pick their own lunches.

  90. Jen says

    We’re big soup eaters around here. I frequently make a couple of different types of soup each week, freeze half, and send the remainder in thermos’ for lunch. When I menu plan during the week I also try to plan a couple of dinners each week which make good leftovers for lunch. Frittatas, pasta, etc.

  91. says

    I really am so excited to try these this fall sometime! I am a horrible breakfast eater (as in, I don’t generally enjoy eating breakfast) so every week I make a pan of my favorite breakfast bars to eat throughout the week. And I think these might be a great addition and a way to mix it up!

  92. Sarah says

    my favorite tip for lunches is to pack up dinner leftovers in small containers for ready-to-go, quick lunch options.

  93. Christa Reynolds says

    I am a mother, a nanny to 2 children & a preschool teacher to 2 year olds & a pedagogista at our school! I am gone at 5:20 am & home by 7pm. It is crazy and worth it. I am ALWAYS cooking/making food for little ones. Honestly, I can’t afford (nor do I want to eat crap AND I am gluten free too). I find it easier to make lunches WHILE you are cleaning up dinner. Even if you aren’t doing left-overs in your meal; it will make your life so much easier. REALLY. Just suck it up, place some pieces of bread on the counter, load’em up w/whatever your peeps eat! 2 fruits/veg, a carb & a drink. (Maybe a dessert…) When morning comes you look like a hero & no one is spending your hard earned cash on: We ndy’s, Mcdon…., burger K$$#… You get the idea!! Happy luching :)

  94. Katelyn says

    Hi Alana!
    I have found that the most helpful strategy for packing lunches in my kitchen is to prepare certain ingredients while I am already cooking for other meals. For example, if I’m making broccoli for dinner I cut extra into bite sized pieces and store them in the refrigerator for lunch. Cooking extra rice or pasta, bits of chicken, or veggies..or pizza :) while I’m preparing another meal gives me peace of mind so that if I don’t feel like having a sandwich I have other options to fall back on. Doing a little bit everyday works better for me rather than dedicating a specific time of the day or week to cook exclusively for lunch. Having options that are already prepared allows me to quickly combine different ingredients, which is a huge time saver in the morning.
    I also wanted to take this time to thank you. I bought your book in April 2012 soon after turning 19 and it has completely changed the way I think about food. You’re the best!!

  95. says

    Your tip about making a batch of homemade snacks once a week is working like a charm for my family. I have a gluten-free, dairy-free peanut butter granola bar recipe I’ve been using for a few months that looks similar to your Car Snack 5 here! (Here it is if you’re interested: It is perfect for snacks and breakfasts on the go, and you can cut them to size to fit perfectly in a little lunchbots container. :)

  96. Erin says

    My problem is that my daughter is very picky about lunch. She doesn’t like sandwiches (meet the kid who likes her hamburger bunless!) But even when I pack things she normally likes (pasta with sauce is a favorite) she very rarely eats it. I always make treats for their lunches (can’t wait to try car snack 5- 2 and 3 are favorites around here!) and she will eat those most of the time, but not always and it doesn’t make for a healthy well-balanced meal if thats all she’s eating. Any suggestions for something to tempt miss picky?

    • alana says

      Will she do tortillas? Or are all sandwich type things out? Ham and cream cheese wraps are a mainstay for my picky kid over here. Or what about mac and cheese in a thermos?

  97. Erin says

    My daughter isnt much of a lunch eater and is very picky when she does eat lunch. No sandwiches no beans, no dairy (allergic.) Any ideas on what to fed the kid who doesn’t like lunch?

    • Christa Reynolds says

      Try “second breakfast”; think if you do oatmeal or cereal for breakfast try hard boiled eggs/turkey bacon/fruit or try waffles & sausage & syrup. It is most likey a food-jag and will pass. (Ps- there are many dairy free options for all of these suggestions as well.)

      • erin says

        Thanks for the great idea! Breakfast is the one meal that she always eats well. You just saved me some major headaches! :)

  98. Jenn Suur says

    Great post! I think tip #2 is especially helpful. I always seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel and usually I don’t need to be. Simple is good!

  99. Michelle says

    Reading all these makes me realize how spoilt I am. I work days and my other half works evenings so while I am in the shower in the morning, he makes coffee and packs my lunch. I keep several types of homemade muffins in the freezer (currently buttermilk cornbread with green onions and cheddar cheese, peach with oats and cranberry) to make sure he keeps making my lunches and he snacks on something healthy(ish).

  100. Jess says

    Wow. For all the cooking and baking I like to do, and for as much as everyone in my family loves food of all kinds, I positively seize up at the mention of “packing a lunch” or even “picnic”. Lunch is the big black hole in my meal plan. Thanks for the tips!

    When I worked, I took boxes of tomato/lentil couscous and feta cheese, and always made my lunch in the microwave. I tend to pack hubby leftovers.

    When I take the boys out on the town, I like to bring our lunches, but it seems I never have enough or I pack way too much. I feel punished, sometimes, for using resuable containers because it means I have to carry them around all day. Sometimes, I still resort to on-location assembly, bringing a loaf of bread and PB&J.

  101. Emily says

    I only have my own lunch to pack, and even that is a challenge some days! Lately I’ve been making a savory cake on my day off (saute vegetables in a cast iron pan, mix up 3 eggs + 1 cup chickpea flour + some water, add the batter to the cooked veggies, cook 8 more minutes on the stove and then put in the oven for 10 minutes). Then I have slices of it ready to go for the next several days, which is awesome.

  102. KaeleyAnne says

    My mother always asked me what I wanted for lunch – it saved lunch coming home due to me not being interested. However, that probably worked because I loved to eat leftovers for lunch (either cold or kept hot in a thermos). I was never happy with a sandwich day after day, so my mother always made enough for supper to give leftovers the next day.

    My recent lunches (as a graduate student) often involve a jar of cut up fruit covered with yogurt along with something else (leftovers, more fruit, vegetables, bread, etc). Everything is kept cold with a frozen water bottle.

  103. Heather says

    Made car snack today and while delicious, they did not turn out in stable bars. Cooked at 350 for 35 mins. Let cool more than one hour (had banana bread in). Took out of pan and cut. That’s when I thought “this might not work”. They were really smooshy. So back into the oven for 35 minutes. I let cool completely before trying to pick one up. Still too crumbly. Any tips/suggestions?

    • alana says

      Hi Heather-
      I’m so sorry– my spam filter is really over-active with this post. I just found all three of your comments there! I haven’t had issues with Car Snack 5 being unstable, but there might be some variables I haven’t played with yet. A few thoughts right off the bat: 1. Definitely make sure you’re packing down the mixture in the pan before you bake. 2. Did you use the ginger? Or leave it out? It makes the bars too spicy for some, but it does increase the stability. 3. Did you used canned pumpkin? Or your own roasted pumpkin? Home-roasted pumpkin could possibly be have a higher water content than canned, so you could cook the pumpkin mixture a little more to evaporate the water. Do any of these seem like they could be the culprit?

      • Heather says

        Hi Alana, sorry if I seemed impatient! Thanks for the reply. #1 I will try to really pack down the mixture next time. #2 I did not use the ginger. # 3 I used canned pumpkin. So, next time I’ll press it down well and maybe find something to replace the ginger. Thanks again.

        • alana says

          Oh, no worries! I’m sorry your questions kept going to my spam! Let me know how it goes- if you still have an issue, we can figure out why :)

          • Heather says

            Alana! I did it : ). I tried again and really pushed it down. That made it a little better but not firm enough. I liked them so much though and was determined. So I went to another favorite food blog and read some recipes and comments and decided to try quick cooking oats. I was so confident I’d get it I made a double batch using 3/4 pepitas and 3/4 dried cranberries and baked it in a 9 x 13. They’re perfect!!!!! Thanks for the recipe!

          • alana says

            Hooray! And great tip with the quick cooking oats- I might try it next time with 1/2 the oats blitzed in the food processor, which I think would have a similar effect.

  104. Kris says

    Until this year, I’ve had to pack lunches only occasionally. Now, my son’s going to kindergarten, so I’m gearing up to pack awesome lunches – pinning all kinds of awesome ideas that I’m not sure my picky boy will eat.
    The truthfulness of this post makes me want to hug you – and I don’t often tell strangers I want to hug them. I’m reading: Just stop stressing!
    I’m not sure what tip to share. I think the biggest help for me is packing the night before. Somethings will get soggy if packed too long, so when I prep the night before it’s more like a pre-pack. I put together what I can and otherwise just come up with a game plan for the morning. This goes for my lunch, too.

    • alana says

      You’ll be great! I think the real thread through all these comments is that a little organization and pre-prep goes along way. I’m going to try to keep getting better with those factors, too.

      (And thanks for the hug. :) )

  105. says

    Smoothies – any kind – in a thermos! You can put in an ice cube or two if you like and they will keep the mixture cold until lunch. In a good thermos they will stay cold also. As long as the kids shake them well before opening the thermos. I find it’s also a good idea to NOT put smoothies in anything clear as they separate into layers sometimes, and it doesn’t look appealing. But as long as they are shaken, they will be just as yummy and smooth looking as when they were made, and you can sneak all kinds of good stuff into them.

  106. Kristen says

    We have Bento boxes with four containers in them and each container has its own item: main dish (protein/whole grain/usually leftovers, rarely sandwiches), fruit, veg, sweet (homemade muffins/cookies/breads). My two kids know what they must have in their lunch, but then get to make decisions (and have less reason to complain about what they get!). So mornings go something like this: Would you like a banana or blueberries? Would you like carrot sticks or edamame? My eleven-year-old now packs much of her lunch herself.

    It’s a lot easier and quicker to not have to worry about what’s expected and just see what’s on hand to fill in the blanks.

  107. dianne says

    not really a helpful hint or problem – i just wanted to reirterate what you said about not having to pack different, exciting lunches all the time. a lot of kids are happier with the same old thing!
    we love the other car snacks – i’m excited for the GF, nut free option – yay!

  108. Melissa Kling says

    One of my biggest challenges was finding a stairs steel drink container I could send milk in without leaks… After a year of trying soapy options, I have found the beat option yet! It was to buy a reusable waterproof Baggie that the woman on etsy made to fit the bottle. It has a zipper so my kids can easily do it and is waterproof so if it does happen that milk leaks, I don’t have to wash everything in the bag!!

  109. Katrina says

    Candied ginger is a popular lunchbox sweet treat in my house. And anything on a bamboo skewer is wildly popular. Fruit, meatballs, squares of cheese, etc.

    Interestingly, my son packs his own lunch but insists on packing in the morning. My daughter is more practical (in my opinion) and assembles everything the night before.

  110. Stephanie says

    We prep the sturdy stuff like carrot sticks, homemade popcorn and cheese sticks at the beginning of the week and then grab as needed. Salads/sandwiches are made the night before- the trick is to remember to take the lunchbox and water bottle out of the fridge in the morning, we use the kitchen table as our launchpad and leave backpacks unzipped as a reminder. Hummus/bean dip is great as a sandwich spread and refried beans with cheese are great in a thermos for mini tacos on chips when the kids want a warm lunch that is not soup or veg chili. Add a fruit and vegetable and they are good to go.

  111. Michelle B says

    We are leftover people in my house. I work from my Dad’s house while he minds my daughter, so I pack a portion for us to both have while cleaning up dinner. The problem I had was that this portion was a perfect size for my husband – who would consume it later that night as a “snack” or thief it out of the fridge the next day for lunch as he leaves before me. My solution was a post-it scrawled angrily with “MINE” that I tape onto our bowl immediately after packing it. The “MINE” note resides on the front of the fridge while not in use. I’m not sure if I’m failing to teach my daughter to share or succeeding in displaying how to maintain a harmonious marriage. It could go either way, really.

  112. Kat says

    With my double-teaching schedule, weekday time is at a premium – so I pack 5 days of lunches x 3 people on Sunday afternoon and stack them up in the fridge. Kid is super chill about her lunch selection, preferring pb & nutella or pb & honey every single day. Hubs likes a bowl of cut up veggies he can eat with one hand while typing with the other and a slice or two of cheese, and I’m a big fan of fruits/veggies/energy balls so it works well. Mornings I grab one of everyone’s meals and stuff them in lunch bags. Fill up the water bottles and we’re on our way!

  113. Ingrid says

    Love the sound of these pumpkin bars and can’t wait to make them. The reusable container of my dreams, which I have yet to find, is a glass or steel one that is the perfect size for half a sandwich. My 5-year-old can’t finish a full sandwich so I always pack a half sandwich in her lunch, and would love a hard container for it so that it doesn’t get smooshed.

  114. says

    For the first time ever I am sending my son off to a school where he eats lunch in a cafeteria (he’s four! that’s too young! I have so much cafeteria anxiety!), where he eats without his teachers around to help him, say, figure out where to throw away trash. Or pack up his bag when he’s done. Which is why the first day he came home with the applesauce he didn’t finish all over the inside of his lunch bag. By Friday he was figuring it out – but how do we make lunch user-friendly for him? And excuse me, now I’m going to go look at some lunch-box porn.

    • alana says

      My husband has all sorts of good advice on this one. He’s a preschool teacher, and they all eat lunch together at the table, so I’ll often show him a container and he’ll say “that’s way too hard for little one’s to open!” I think the stainless steel containers are a little harder to open, and the worst are yogurts and apple sauces in their original containers with foil to pull back- those always explode if you’re not careful! But locking containers tend to be good for little ones, like this:

      And how about doing a trial run with lunch? On the weekend, you can eat together, practice with the containers, and talk through what to do with the food left over. Then, even if he doesn’t have a teacher to help him at lunch, he can hear your voice when he’s trying to figure out what to do.

      • says

        Thank you! (And preschool teacher advice is the best.) We’ve been trying to talk him through it in the morning before he leaves, and there has been more trial and error. Pistachios – good, except they took so long for him to crack that all he ate for lunch was pistachios. So that night my husband and I had a little pistachio-cracking party, and sent him to school with them pre-cracked. Of course, that day he was totally uninterested in pistachios.

  115. says

    One thing that helps us with lunches is to wash and cut up our veggies (carrots, celery, peppers, whatever) at the beginning of the week so when it’s time to make lunches they’re easy to grab and stick into the container.

    Looking forward to trying the car snack 5 recipe sometime soon.

  116. Lillian says

    What amazing containers. I almost never post in comments, but I have to throw my hat in the ring for this one… in love.
    My question: I have a powerful little 15-month old eater, who requires multiple meals/snacks while I’m at work. (I think he takes after his 6’3″ father, who takes in amazing amounts of food at a single sitting.) Dad and babysitter will revert to endless yogurt and applesauce if I don’t leave something with a little more nutritional variety pre-prepared. Getting ready to go back to fall teaching and wondering about a few more hearty, self-feeding options for a little guy with 6 teeth. Not at all picky, but limited in what he can chew/bite off. A pretty nice problem, I know!
    Got your book at the public library yesterday and looked through the whole thing in (almost) a single sitting. Wonderful…

    • Lillian says

      p.s. I imagine your girls will feel a little like Albert in “Bread and Jam for Frances” when they open up all those beautiful little packages…

    • alana says

      Thank you, Lillian!
      How about preparing jars they can grab in the fridge- you can just do little half-cup mason jars. If you do yogurt and granola parfaits ahead of time, the granola should soak enough to make it good for your little guy. And how about cooking up a few peaches with cinnamon, for “canned” peaches? Does he like eggs? You can make bake eggs right into jars, and then they’re ready to go.

  117. Tera says

    I have a lunchbox obsession as well! I have the same water bottles as you do too =) This year with 3 kiddos in school we opted for the easylunchbox system that is sold on amazon. The kids pack their lunches (with me) at night, put in fridge, and they are ready to go in the morning! works good so far.

  118. says

    Let me up the ante, our school requests no baggies only reusable containers, only water to drink, no sugar treats and as close to nature as possible food choices; also as I am sure many of you are finding no nut products. In my parent ed classes I teach how to pack lunches, it is one of the top 5 for best attendance lol. My best hint is that lunch isn’t any different than any other meal you make; this one is just packaged to go. That and if your child is one of the few with a healthy homemade lunch (i.e. not prepackaged) presentation will count to ease the social angst especially as they get older. Try creating a lunch plan- each day has its own meal type (sandwich Mon, soup Tues, pasta Wed) or simply pre-plan your weekly meals. We do it with dinner for the week why not lunches? Lunch ideas: wrap it up, roll any meat, spread, beans or veggies in wraps or tortillas. If they can dip it they will usually eat it- try hummus, salsa, homemade salad dressing, bean puree, veggie puree etc. Cube it, think healthy cocktail food (cheese, fruit, veg, meat, beans, breads), and give them a ‘fancy’ toothpick to skewer it-this is great with the dips. Use a bento box and deconstruct salads with a side of dressing. Make a home made version of lunchables, but do it for a week’s worth, then mix and match.

    Alana is right on, try for the night before and get the kids involved. Either that or delegate it to someone who isn’t trying to find the bleeping matching sock from behind the dryer while putting on mascara.

  119. says

    My lunch dilemma is “How the heck do I fit ALL THIS FOOD into my husband’s lunch box?” oh, and also, “Why the heck does he eat so much food?”

  120. Gretchen says

    Wow! I love reading all these comments! Lots to learn here!

    I struggle with packing clean, healthy food for my hubby without breaking the bank. Leftovers? Sure… But he needs 2 big meals a d 2 snacks while he’s at work. Any suggestions?

  121. Gretchen says

    I’m going to read every comment with my coffee in the morning! So much to learn here!

    I struggle with packing big meals for my hubby!

  122. Darla says

    My comments aren’t any great revelations. For years we have done breakfast set-up and lunch the night before. I can’t emphasize how easy that makes life for everyone the next morning. Backpacks, etc. also are set out for easy prep. When the kids were younger we had a little check-off chart to help them plan out what needed to happen. We have small containers that are prepped with bulk items, so some of the lunch is choose and fill the lunch bag. I have to admit I look around a few good blogs for ideas to spark new lunches from time to time. Now that I have a HS male that doesn’t like carrying a lunch bag with reusables, I’m scrabbling for healthy foods to mysteriously pump into his body without making him feel like a geek. The challenges of parenthood! Thanks for the timely conversation on lunches.

  123. Kim McCallie says

    My kids aren’t interested in sandwiches at all. I try to send crackers, pretzels, apple slices, fruit roll-ups, etc. Woukd love some new lunch gear to inspire me.

  124. Deana McInnis says

    My lunch problem is packing enough food to fill my son up. He’s a great eater with a huge appetite. A sandwich, apple, and cup take up all the room. Then he’s still hungry or starving when he gets home.

  125. Sarah L says

    I just scrolled down to add my comment and I saw that another commenter also addressed the issue of leaking salad dressing containers. I’m never sure how to carry my salad dressing.

  126. Erin says

    I think tip #3–that repetition is ok–is an enlightening one for many moms! And I have a story to go with that. My husband for one whole school year, brought what he calls an “olive loaf” sandwich for lunch. Every. Day. Every. Day! (I am still not entirely sure what olive loaf is, but I kind of don’t want to know and so don’t ask too many questions.) He actually gets driven kind of crazy by the fact that I hardly ever repeat a dinner item, because he does like repetition. I do think Pinterest/blogs give us a false sense of reality–we need to think of them as magazines, staged and pretty, but staged nonetheless. And my lunch tip–I love the reusable food pouches. I use Little Green Pouches, and things that my daughter won’t eat in its naked form (smoothies!) somehow become magical once put in the pouch–and she wants to eat/drink it. I like to fill them up whenever I have extra smoothie, then stick them in the freezer. When I’m packing a lunch, I grab the pouch and put it in the lunchbox–by the time it’s lunchtime, it’s either thawed or slushy, and functions as an ice pack in the meantime.

  127. says

    My kids love the car snacks! I have crazy mad picky eaters and I have to get creative every year. this year we decided no more junk, and I’ve been baking ever since. (thanks to your book!). My most helpful hint for my pickies – freezer smoothies. I can sneak green veggies in there, and they are none the wiser. I have to make them when they aren’t looking (of course) but it works!

  128. says

    My big challenge is healthy snacks that are nut-free! So we’ll def. be trying these car snacks. We eat nuts for most snacks around here, so it was a hard transition for us last year!

  129. Amy says

    We are always in the sandwich rut. My solution this summer has been to slather hot pepper jelly on everything! We also dump loads of money into the Applegate coffers, but I get so sick of ham and turkey all the time…so, I took our bumper crop of jalapenos from the garden and made jelly, and presto! Zippier, less boring sandwiches. Plus, I feel somewhat more virtuous because I made the jelly (totally agree with how that works, Alana).

  130. says

    Loved this post! The wonderful thing about one child being fussy is that the other really turns up the charm-so true that it’s never two-thank goodness. Hard boiled eggs, cut up veggies/fruit, yogurt, snack remnants. We can usually scrounge up enough for a couple of small meals in a morning very similar sounding to yours!

  131. Kate says

    I just re-read this post. (I am thinking of making the car snacks) I want you to know that with Spring finally on its way that we put up our Berkshires poster. It had been down for Christmas/Valentine’s Day as we put our advent calendar in that location and I have a red heart I hang too. My husband was very exited to hang it back up. I do love that poster and I think of and The Homemade Pantry (0ne of my favorite cookbooks ever–I can’t wait for volume two!!) every time I see it. Thanks again.


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