I pack my kids lunch every day. And my oldest girl has carried a lunch with her since she started daycare at 14 months old, so its been quite a few lunches now! I have run into several lunch time dilemmas and here is how I solved them. First of all, remember to pack the lunch the night before, make sure you have lunch items on your weekly shopping list, and always look to see what comes back untouched from the kid's lunch box. No sense in packing something your kid won't eat, right?
1. Out of bread
Send in peanut butter crackers as a change from the usual PB and J. These can be made on many types of crackers including graham crackers, saltines, Ritz or even smear a bit of peanut butter on a rice cake! Other "non-sandwich" sandwich options include rolling peanut butter, jelly and banana in a tortilla, sending in a generous slice of banana bread (w/ or w/o a nut butter of some sort). You can always forgo PB and J completely by sending in sandwich meat rolled in lettuce leaves or cheese or both. Simply lay out a slice of sandwich meat, layer a slice of cheese (my kids like provolone) and roll up. I stash these in a reusable sandwich container. One time I started a "trend" at my daughter's school by smearing peanut butter on a hot-dog bun and putting a whole peeled banana on the bun. I called it, "Monkey Hotdog" and all of her little friends quickly followed suit.
2. Can't find the Ice-pack
It is hard to keep the contents of the lunchbox fresh and cold without the little ice packs that many lunch boxes come with, isn't it? I have used double baggied bags of ice, frozen her juice box the night before (it thaws by lunchtime) or even resurected old teethers from the back of the freezer and sent those in as well. Do you have a re-freezable "boo-boo" bunny? He has served as a lunch time ice-pack on more than one occasion here!
3. Out of Juice Boxes
I have packed water bottles, small sippy cups of our own juice (cheaper too) and when she was "too old" for sippy cups, I bought her a sports bottle we could fill at home. I hardly ever buy a true juice box anymore. Refillable containers are cheaper and create less waste. If all else fails your child can usually buy milk or water at school too!
4. What side dishes?
Baby carrots or small broccoli florets, with a separate container for ranch dressing, cheese sticks, small boxes or baggies of raisins, bags of granola, frozen grapes (help keep lunch cold too), a banana, cherry and grape tomatoes, slices of salted cucumber (also great with ranch dressing), whole wheat crackers, small container of cottage cheese. I sometimes send in a small baggie of potato or corn chips, just for fun. Everything in moderation, even moderation!
To be honest, I love, love, love dessert and it is something we have at home quite a bit, but at my daughters' school they often have cookies for an after school snack, so I usually don't pack anything sweet in her lunch. But after Halloween (for several weeks) I put one small candy per day in her lunch box, or sometimes homemade oatmeal or peanut butter cookies (I'd send chocolate chips, but sometimes the chocolate melts). A piece of fruit is usually all my girls need, but sometimes we get them jello or pudding cups too. Don't stress this one!
6. My kid won't eat sandwiches at all!
Well, mine sometimes doesn't either. I have been known to send in greek style vanilla yogurt with some granola as a "main dish" or some cheese sticks and assorted fruits. My kid has taken a green salad with cubed chicken on top, soup in a thermos, trail mix (included cheerios, peanuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, and a few M&M's) cottage cheese and fruit, cold, cut up chicken strips, Babybel cheese and carrot sticks, and even a lunch called "Make your own Lunchable" where I cut up lunch meat and cheeses into little circles and let her eat those with Ritz crackers. Just make sure they get an opportunity to eat some protein, carbs and fat in every meal and that they have plenty to drink and your kid will have the energy to get through the day!