Mini-corb needs lunch, badly.
January 17, 2018 3:03 PM   Subscribe

The kidlet needs to eat lunches that at least have a modicum of nutrition. She is not able, because of cafeteria size & time, to sit down to eat, so needs lunches that make little mess and can be eaten standing. Halp.

I have thought of chicken fingers and baby carrots, but she probably can't eat those every single day. It would be better if this was low-cost, but is not strictly necessary. She is willing and able to assemble or cook them herself, but proclaims herself utterly stumped as to what she could actually eat other than crazy suggestions like "canned pineapple".
posted by corb to Food & Drink (54 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, sandwiches were basically invented to be eaten there a reason a nice sandwich, perhaps with a full-grain bread, stacked with some veggies and protein wouldn't work?

(and, in the spirit of Ask, not going to pry about the circumstances of the question, but, whoa, no sitting to eat?)
posted by General Malaise at 3:07 PM on January 17, 2018 [28 favorites]

Hardboiled eggs, cheese sticks, fruit, cut veggies, salami pieces, crackers, sandwiches, deli meat/cheese rollups, hummus..... canned pineapple seems reasonable to me...
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 3:10 PM on January 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

I actually think foods eaten out of a bowl/tupperware with a spoon or fork or chopsticks would work best here, if she can carry her lunch in a purse-style bag (so the bag can be slung over the arm that's holding the bowl, with napkin tucked into the top of the bag. Then her other hand is free to wield the utensil.
posted by janell at 3:11 PM on January 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

One approach might be homemade healthy versions of the popular convenience snacks (in the Lunchables vein) that are portable by design.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:13 PM on January 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

would she eat fried chickpeas? I know that sounds weird but they are delicious, very nutritious, can be eaten with a spoon or with fingers with not a lot of mess. It just takes a moment to fry some up in the morning (take a can of them, drain+dry, fry with salt and any desired spice) and put them in a tupperware.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:15 PM on January 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

a tupperware cup with cottage cheese and pineapple and a spoon is eatable standing up and offers reasonable nutrition.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:27 PM on January 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I should add, because I forgot to add it like an idiot, the foods in question must be ones that do not immediately identify her as The Poor Kid: she is on scholarship in a school where most of the other kids are far wealthier.

She will however eat "weird" foods if they're not labeled as "poor" foods.
posted by corb at 3:29 PM on January 17, 2018

Trail mix? Wraps? Dates wrapped with ham? Packaged sushi, if she's not a stickler for eating only the finest rolls?
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:32 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a job for burritos. If kiddo leans towards the adventurous you can fill them with things like roast butternut squash and goat cheese. Call it a wrap, if you must.
posted by ananci at 3:33 PM on January 17, 2018 [13 favorites]

This summer we discovered these three-protein snack packs and got a bunch for one of our kids. They're from Planters but there are similar things out there. They have a bit of beef jerky, some peanuts, some sunflower seeds, in various flavors. An organized person could pretty easily make portions of that kind of thing from larger, less expansive packages.

Lunch meat slices rolled around sticks of cheese.

Cheese cubes.

Squeezable yogurt or fruit type things.

Put in containers with flip-top lids would make handling things while standing up easier (rather than removable lids).

Drinks with protein, like kefir or Carnation Instant Breakfast or the like, whether in disposable packaging or a thermos with a flip-top, or a travel mug.

Trail mix type things.

Little cracker sandwiches or pita with spreads.

Bagels with cream cheese, assembled at home in the morning.
posted by Orlop at 3:34 PM on January 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think we could be more useful with some more parameters, as I too am puzzled why standbys like sandwiches aren't right? Are these things to be packed in a lunchbox? What do the other kids eat, that don't look "poor"?

Wraps can be bougie and nutritious with cheese, lunchmeat, thin sliced peppers...

My kids' lunches are a sandwich, seasonal fruit slices in a tupperware, a container of flavored Greek yogurt ($1/each at Target or TJ's, or less if purchased from Costco,) and a cheese stick.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:38 PM on January 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Cream cheese and any number of things on nice bread: olives, roasted red peppers from a jar, sliced strawberries, sliced cucumbers. The good thing about cream cheese in sandwiches is that it helps them stick together.
posted by mareli at 3:45 PM on January 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

The same thing for almost every lunch will not hurt her, especially if you are providing nutritionally diverse options for breakfast and dinner.

That being said: spring rolls, lettuce wraps, sliders, pizza, sushi
posted by HMSSM at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I too was going to say burritos or wraps stuffed with pulled chicken, pulled pork, roasted veg, brisket, caesar salad, hummus & veg ..

Or sandwiches filled with cream cheese, apricots and walnuts; peanut butter; lunch meat, etc.
posted by bunderful at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The sandwich problem was apparently that they were falling apart - but the spread options may fix that. I am really appreciating all of your creative options! I am basically just bad at this. We used school lunch until this year.
posted by corb at 4:20 PM on January 17, 2018

Get her a nice stainless steel bento or thermos looking box and have her explain how her mom is obsessed with like super healthy food. If you get a pack of coloured napkins and some cute cutlery, she'll be quirky not poor. (My kid has the same dilemma but has not yet realised why her snacks are not gourmet like the other kids....)

Whole apples are good. Mandarin oranges. Soup in a thermos, smoothies too. With a decent food thermos you can do spicy noodles and put toppings like cruncy onions and a boiled egg in another partition to add later. Hot porridge topped with greek yogurt and jam. A big wedge of plain cheesecake. Beef jerky and apples. Pasta salad.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2018 [18 favorites]

Here is a very tasty and nutritionally dense quesadilla variant that will not fall apart:

- tortilla, at least soft taco size, bigger is better
- cheese, sliced thin, or shredded if you like
- one or two eggs
- nonstick pan

1. heat the pan. Put half the cheese on half the tortilla. Set aside.
2. beat the egg(s) and cook quickly on the skillet, shaping into roughly a shape that will fit on half the tortilla. This takes like 30 seconds. You want a half-moon-shaped omelet.
3. Place your little omelet on top of the cheese-covered part of the tortilla. Place rest of cheese on top of the omelet. Fold the other tortilla half over the cheesy omelet. Now there is cheese on both sides of your omelet, inside the tortilla.
4. Put it back in the pan, toast on both sides c 1 min so the outside is toasty and the cheese melts inside.

This is very easy to eat, as the melted cheese (which of course will solidify during the day) glues the omelet into place. You can of course add some diced veg or ham to the omelet, just don't add too much to make it crumbly. We're looking for structural integrity.

Other things that glue nicely include cream cheese and nut butter.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:36 PM on January 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Peanut butter and jelly is a standby for a reason. You can bump up the nutrition with a low-sugar peanut butter - natural, non-hydrogenated is best. And you can put it on whole wheat bread.
posted by FencingGal at 4:37 PM on January 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

What about a sushi handroll but with veggies only? This would be veggies rolled in rice wrapped in nori - like a sushi burrito? It looks fancy but is dirt cheap to make...could even add a smear of hummus or some tofu for protein.

I'm suggesting no fish only because that could get weird and stinky.
posted by floweredfish at 4:45 PM on January 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wraps, wraps, wraps, where you can get protein (lunch meat, cheese) and vegetables in a one-handed portable package. You can adjust the size of the wrap to appetite/time. And then you can toss an apple or other hand fruit in the bag if you want a bit more.

Also I'd keep some of those peanut butter sandwich crackers that come in six-packs in her bag/locker; they're fast, filling, and they say "comfort food" or "snack machine food," not "poor people food." They can be a snack later in the day if she doesn't have enough at lunch, or even an emergency lunch if necessary.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:59 PM on January 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Flatbread rollups are great - I like Flatout bread but if you have access to Lavash from an Eastern European-leaning grocery or bakery it's cheaper than FlatOut (though it goes stale faster), or tortillas will work - and you can put pretty much anything sandwichy or dippy in them - because it's the sort of thing you could get from a fancy deli or sandwich shop. Cut in thirds or pinwheels You can use spreads/mayo mixes there too.

It takes some willingness to eat them at ice pack temp, but Bowls are very trendy now - quinoa bowls, burrito bowls (aka taco salad), stir fry bowls.

Omelettes can be cut into strips or squares for easy poking with a fork on the go, or you can make an omelette and then wrap it or roll it in a tortilla to go handheld. You can make a big casserole dish of quiche (it's easier crustless, as that shit flakes all over your clothes) or egg muffins, which I like with a side salad.

I like cold "fried" chicken, and routinely make baked panko chicken fingers specifically so I can eat them cold with a squeeze of lemon or a little spicy honey mustard. I also like cold eggplant parmigiana, lasagna, and saucy pasta. I accept that this may be too weird for some.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:59 PM on January 17, 2018

You could try sourdough roll sandwiches, with the rolls cut in half across the middle (shortways), and the insides scooped out and stuffed with sandwichy bits - no falling open around the sides.

Or regular-bread sandwiches, with the crusts cut off and the edges pressed together.

... there's pretty much no end to the "wrapped in a bread pocket" options. Pigs in a blanket. Calzones. Wrap sandwiches.

Fruit-on-a-stick is an option, or on toothpicks to keep them in a smaller container. Or toothpicks or bamboo skewers could be loaded with a mix of fruit, veggies, meat, and cheese.

Falafel works nicely as a finger food; dipping sauce is optional. Or homemade granola-oatmeal bars with fruits, nuts, maybe chocolate bits. Or decorated bento with finger foods.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:02 PM on January 17, 2018

Putting sandwiches in pita pockets might help in the not falling apart department. Plus, they lend themselves to delicious fillings like hummus and falafel and cucumbers and tzatziki.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:13 PM on January 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I really like these baked tofu bites. They can be eaten hot or cold, and they’re not very messy - though they look that way in the picture.
posted by FencingGal at 5:27 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

What do the other kids eat at lunch?

I get that cost might be a factor and they might not all have schedules that force them to eat standing up quickly.

But knowing that could be a source of lunch ideas, and I remember being a poor kid at a rich school -- there are so many signifiers of being different/inferior (clothes, cars, houses, what you do outside of school), it's nice to just be one of the crowd when possible.
posted by mrmurbles at 5:31 PM on January 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

A sandwich in wrap form or burrito. Wrap one end with foil and she can peel the foil down as she eats. Hummus, cucumbers, red peppers, and feta is my son's favorite, but ham and cheese with lettuce and tomato is also popular.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:38 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Remember, canned beans are cheap, but dried beans are essentially free, like a few pennies per serving.

So for all the great bean ideas above, consider using dried beans, cooked on the weekend. Can also be used to reduce your grownup food bill, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:57 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Empanadas / pasties / other varieties of "hand pies" for lack of a better term?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:05 PM on January 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

If she likes sandwiches made with meat and cheese and lettuce but they fall apart, consider making chicken salad or ham salad as the meat.

I'd assume that anything that involves a sauced thing in tupperware is going to be awkward for standing. While I can buy a hot lentil-rice bowl at a food truck and walk around eating it with a spoon, there's something about a tupperware lid with lentils smeared on it that makes managing the container and the lid and a utensil kind of difficult. Also hard to look cool and/or not cheap when you're wrapping the lid in a napkin and tucking it in your bag, or doing an awkward 3-object-2-hand balance.
posted by aimedwander at 6:07 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, I just remembered the obvious: if you want to really rabbithole, get some inspiration from bento. It is very easy to let this get expensive and gadgety but you don't have to. It effectively costs nothing extra to make toothpick skewers of fruit or salad components, or to combine foods you'd normally eat but not together, or to rework a food you'd normally eat hot to something convenient to eat cold.

You don't need the fancy boxes, Gladware or Food Prep Boxes from Amazon (which the rich kids will recognize from some family member's outsourced fitness meal plan/personal chef and so might not read "poor" to them.) will do.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:09 PM on January 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I work construction, and hygiene options for real handwashing (not just sanitizer) before lunch are sometimes limited. I therefore tend to wrap my sandwiches in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, to protect myself from ingesting various toxic/dirty construction debris of the sort that hand sanitizer won't help with. A little wasteful? Perhaps, but it keeps the food from falling apart, keeps my fingers off the food, and keeps the food off my fingers. Might be a good option for your kiddo.

For some really clever and simple "how the heck do I do boxed lunches?" inspiration, check out this vegan back-to-school bento blog post. She uses previous day's leftovers to make the next day's food. I don't think you have to be vegan to appreciate it, as the structure of her lunches definitely helps with the "how do I do a tasty/healthy/portable bag lunch?!" brain block problem I know I've had. And you might be able to adapt/use some of those recipes for eating standing up (especially the collard/nori wraps).
posted by cnidaria at 6:27 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

To offer some “side dish” options: Babybel cheese, roasted seaweed snacks, or mini hummus dips with veggies or pita chips.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 6:31 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I send my kid to school with this Bento box, mainly because he is mega picky and most of the foods he prefers are finger-foods like crackers, cubed up tofu, chickpeas, those weird reconstituted snap pea snack crisp things, carrot sticks, etc.... The box is lightweight and if packed with little nibblets of things, easy to hold with one hand, eat with the other. (The inside tray also comes out, so you can ditch the box part and just hold the tray part while you're eating.) She can pack it with whatever little bits and bobs she likes--nuts, cheese cubes, crackers, celery or carrot sticks.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:42 PM on January 17, 2018

If you end up making wraps with tortillas, cream cheese is great for gluing everything together so it doesn't fall apart. Also tasty!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:43 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I asked for self-contained foods a while back and got many good suggestions that might apply here - pupusas, spring rolls, empanadas...
posted by sibilatorix at 7:01 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:32 PM on January 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm having fond memories of the Thermos of hot Spaghetti-Os Mom used to put in my lunchbox.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:44 PM on January 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ham and cheese rollups. Mini mozzarellas and cherry tomato "kebabs" on toothpicks.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:58 PM on January 17, 2018

Peanut butter and jelly.
Peanut butter and mustard (Grey Poupon says wealthy!?)
Peanut butter and bananas (Elvis!)
Peanut butter and swiss cheese
Leftover cold pizza.
Leftover cold pasta with red sauce.
Cold Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.
Bagel with peanut butter.
Bagel with cream cheese
Bagel with any type of cheese.
posted by AugustWest at 9:32 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pita + baked falafel + hummus + red pepper strips on the side. Can be jazzed up with feta cheese or caramelized onions (less pungent than their pickled counterparts.) The sushi roll suggestions above are also good. Summer rolls with peanut dipping sauce. The Persian markets nearby sell relatively inexpensive freezer packs of square puff pastries, which take zero effort to thaw and fill with literally anything: marinara or pesto and mozzarella with jarred red pepper, caramelized onions and soft cheese and fig jam, cheddar and bacon...they're not the healthiest perhaps of "containers" but they look very impressive and extra ingredients of things like jarred peppers or olives will keep week after week. And they're super easy to make.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:14 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another thing to wrap sandwiches, wraps, burritos in that looks "deli" or "store-boughten" is checkered paper. Not cheap, but you get a lot, and wrapping them also makes it harder to drip food.
posted by clew at 11:11 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do you have a Trader Joe's nearby? They sell bags of mini-bags of almonds, which are perfect little kid-snacks.
posted by msalt at 11:55 PM on January 17, 2018

My 19-year old has always preferred to bring lunch from home for a number of reasons (one being that it is like bringing a bit of love to school every time she gets me to make them). So here are some experiences:
— she doesn't mind having the same lunch everyday. Even though she is a foodie, lunch is more about comfort and convenience.
— she prefers simple stuff. Mostly a sandwich with mayo on both slices of bread for stickiness, lettuce and/or cucumber, thin slice of ham. Sometimes I'll have leftover chicken or potato or beef and she'll have that thin cut instead, but always with mayo and greens. Alternatives: a pita with hummus, lettuce and tomato, or cold pizza. I make thin crust pizza the night before with only tomato and cheese*. Store on the counter, not in the fridge, wrapped in foil. In the morning cut squares of pizza and add fillings to taste, wrap as a sandwich, two slices together. Those are all the variables. If it's a long day, I'll pack more sandwiches and maybe some snacks, like almonds or raisins. She always brings a fruit and a bottle of water.
— I wrap the food very tightly in paper, like at a shop, and then put them in a box or a bag that just fits, then during the morning they will come together nicely.

*If you don't have the time for dough, you can make great mini-pizzas from pita bread. Halve the pita, and spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on each, add oregano and crumbled mozzarella, and bake in a hot oven or under a boiler for a few minutes or until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Let them cool completely before wrapping in foil. Next morning they make a fine pizza-sandwich with ham or greens or whatever you like.
posted by mumimor at 2:05 AM on January 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just a thought: kids can be weird about school cafeterias for many reasons. Just yesterday, my daughter and her friend were talking about how it was more cool when they were smaller to bring your own lunch, and that my daughter had high status because of those simple sandwiches.Then I remembered that her older sister told me the same. They went to different schools, with different social groups, but the disdain for the cafeteria was the same. Maybe it's cool to be able to go to a bench outside with your bestie instead of doing the same as everybody else? I don't know.
posted by mumimor at 2:23 AM on January 18, 2018

this is a packaging suggestion, not an ingredient suggestion: put saran wrap over the top of the food, but under the lid of the tupperware, so that the lid stays spotlessly clean. This will help the very real problem of juggling the food, the lid, and the utensil that aimedwander mentioned above (it's pretty easy to ball the saran wrap up, dirty side in), and hopefully expands your kid's possibilities.
posted by csox at 6:19 AM on January 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

I recently purchased this very lovely soup thermos off of Amazon (don't worry--they restock fairly regularly) so that I could bring hot soup to eat at lunch time, and it has been AWESOME. If you're primarily buying bisques or less chunky soups, you wouldn't even need to bother with a spoon! The most difficult part would be finding a good place to stash the lid where it won't get soup on other things if mini-corb does need to use a spoon.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:54 AM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Other people have suggested bentos and I was about to do the same. I have this book which does a good job of explaining how well the bentos are formulated to have a nutritonally-balanced meal, but are still packed with variety, and are designed to look enticing. I like that book in particular since it gives complete menu ideas, many of which are "finger-foody" - and also gives an estimate of how long it would take to MAKE them (which is reassuring, since some of the things they suggest would need to be cooked from scratch and ain't NOBODY gonna do that EVERY morning). Fortunately, though, many of the cooking options involve a microwave, and several of them can also be made ahead and reheated.

They also aren't too far overboard when it comes to the "make a character face" or "design an artistic wonder" thing that you see on Instagram all the time. There is a cute factor, yes (off the top of I my head I can think of one meal that involves cute character faces on rice balls, and another one that suggests using a piece of lunchmeat to make a robot face covering a container of rice), but it's dealable.

And you can always mix and match what the elements of any meal are to make it entirely finger-food; they have a lot of a-la-carte recipes in the back for "a single child's portion" of various vegetable sides and desserts. Off the top of my head, things I've used from that book are: rice balls (but without the cute puppy face decoration because I'm an adult and I don't care), rice balls wrapped in vegetables, simple DIY fried chicken nuggets, a steamed sweet potato thing, and something I call "meat sushi" (it has a Japanese name but I can never remember it) which is dead simple to make; you take paper-thin slices of meat, wrap them around a couple long-and-skinny vegetable options (bell pepper strips, asparagus, green beans, even frozen french fries) and then you brown the resulting rolled-up meat-around-veg product on all sides, then slice up into finger-food size pieces. The trickiest part is going to be finding a place that can cut the meat that thin for you (but you're in the New York area, so I can suggest places).

And if you go the bento route, you also have the added advantage of bento being "trendy" and that can short-circuit the "poor" thing.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 AM on January 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm back (it's a slow day at work) with some links to easy-looking "DIY Bento" ideas that seem like they're promising for the finger-food element, and/or are pitched to parents-preparing-for-kids.

this was on Parenting Magazine's web site; it's a slideshow format, with 20 pictures of "actually achievable cute bento box stuff - most of it involves cutting a sandwich into a simple alternative shape (like, a circle, instead of a docahedron or something) and then decorated with like dots and stripes cut out of a cheese slice or something, and then you shove some baby carrot sticks or edamame pods and fruit in the box to surround it. There are some that feature rice or eat-with-a-spoon things, but plenty are finger-foody.

This is on a "clean eating" site, but it actually has a good idea - "lunch" can be an assemblage of things you would consider more snacks, just all together. That's a page from a mom who pre-prepped like eight "snack packs" with crudites, grapes, a thing of string cheese, a little to-go peanut butter cup and a hardboiled egg. Add a couple crackers and that would be a decent lunch (it's almost exactly the contents of one of those trendy "protein boxes" that Starbucks charges you like seven bucks for).

This one throws in what is ostensibly a super-quick and super-popular bento component "octopus sausages", which are basically cocktail franks with slices cut into one end so that when you cook them, they separate and curl up into "octopus legs". Throw in a couple rice balls, grapes, blanched veggies or baby carrots and you're done.

(Oh, incidentally - rice balls are dead simple. You take just-cooked rice, dole it out into lumps, and form it into a ball shape and let cool. Done. You can mix stuff like some flaked tuna or salmon into the rice before shaping it, bury that in the middle, etc.)

And if you like that, here's that author's whole "how to" section, with one section just for bento. She has a couple of "bento basics" links, and links to a couple of simple bento-components ideas.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:14 AM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like wraps, easy to make, easy to eat, can be very nutritious. Be cautious with anything wet, like salsa. Refried beans, guacamole, hummus, or mashed sweet potato are good at holding it all together. A few of taco beef, sliced/shredded pork, steak or chicken, sausage, shredded raw cabbage or carrots, onion, roasted veg., salsa, rice or other cooked grains, sour cream or thick yogurt, cheese, bacon, scrambled eggs. Tuna salad and shredded lettuce. Sliced roast beef, cream cheese, and pickled red onion. I usually wrap my wraps in waxed paper, with one end very secure, and the top twisted. You can get single servings of pineapple but I always spill when I pull open the top. Get a small water bottle and freeze a beverage in it; that will help keep lunch cool and safe.
A previous on wraps.
posted by theora55 at 11:32 AM on January 18, 2018

proclaims herself utterly stumped as to what she could actually eat other than crazy suggestions like "canned pineapple".

It's portable fruit, eh, how is that functionally different from the lunchbox staple of applesauce? I mean, look, what's crazy is a kid not being provided the time or space to just sit down to eat lunch at school. Within that context, if your kiddo wants to assert some creative control over their day with some off-kilter food choices, I'd say let her indulge her whims, especially if they're as simple and cheap as small cans of pineapple.
posted by desuetude at 12:32 PM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, if you go the bento route, get her collapsible travel chopsticks. They're fun to have, and in my experience a big hit with kids. If they get stolen or lost, they're only about ten bucks, which isn't nothing, but isn't a huge risk either.
posted by desuetude at 12:40 PM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bentos are cool, but anything with lots of fiddly internal trays and cups could be awkward to eat standing up, especially if you've got chopsticks or involved. If she'd prefer something that seems more like a "proper" meal than finger foods, a simple-but-cute storage container like this may help alleviate the brown-bag/poor-kid vibe, and could hold all kinds of tasty but inexpensive one-pot-meal kinds of foods—chickpea or black bean or edamame salads, rice with dal or curry or leftover stir-fry mixed in, cold peanut-sesame noodles, couscous with stuff in it, tabbouleh, potato salad—that could be eaten with just a spoon or fork.

Agreed that cold pizza or some other kind flatbread with toppings is another good option: less messy than a sandwich, and isn't that unhealthy if you're putting it together at home. For a similar less carb-y savory and customizable option, the sort of egg "breakfast muffin/cup" recipes on every paleo-ish recipe site ever are easy and filling.

As for the finger-food options, I eat string cheese + a handful of nuts/dried fruit/trail mix (or a Larabar or one of these almond-butter balls) + an apple for lunch all the time. If she likes Larabars or nut-based energy ball types of snacks, there are loads of recipes for making them at home more cheaply. But if you're buying them in bulk from Costco or Target or someplace, they're not too expensive to throw into a lunch.
posted by karayel at 7:42 PM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bentos are cool, but anything with lots of fiddly internal trays and cups could be awkward to eat standing up, especially if you've got chopsticks or involved.

If I may redirect: it's true that there are a lot of bentos that do require cutlery. However, I've been trying to focus on the more finger-food ones. Rice balls, baby carrots, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, octopus sausages, that kind of thing. The cookbook I linked to had several options for that, plus lots of options to swap something out of a bento menu if it was too fiddly and you wanted a simpler finger-food option.

I looked even more at the bentos from the web site Just One Cookbook and they seem ideal for another reason - many of them are for her own child, who has only 30 minutes for lunch and recess; and so he wants a lunch he can be done with in only ten minutes. That sounds like a similar time constraint.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

An update! So it turns out the best solution was in fact cool bento box and she is eating vegetable sushi burritos pretty happily. Victory is had by all! Thanks, everyone.
posted by corb at 11:28 AM on April 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

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