No research articles, no checking statistical integrity or inclusion criteria for control and intervention groups to formulate a conclusion, today! And I know it’s been a while since I actually published a *new* Saturday post, but with a sick toddler, I’ve had my fair share of distractions.
After getting slightly burned out by the time- and brain capacity- intensive Saturday Sproutings posts, it’s time to take a break and post about something I have been learning to adjust to, as Jia’s new routine is full time daycare for 8-9 hours a day:
Nope, I’m not a gym rat referring to some uber healthy meal prep that involves a ton of brown rice, lean meats, veggies, and plastic ziploc containers, I’m talking about daycare meals.
Our daycare provides snacks in the morning and afternoon, and includes whole milk (for snacks and lunch). What’s missing? THEM PROVIDING LUNCH! With daycare tuition being NOT the cheapest part of the monthly bill bundle, I was really hoping to find one that would prepare snacks AND meals so I could just be responsible for a quick breakfast out the door and dinner.
I don’t particularly enjoy cooking (I do OCCASIONALLY, when inspiration strikes me), and I especially don’t enjoy seeing my great attempts and efforts (not to mention money and tedious trips to Trader Joe’s) that an indecisive ever-changing-in-opinions-and-taste-preferences toddler will (many times) go to waste. Cooking and whipping up a variety of brilliantly creative meals isn’t my forte. It’s not even my … opposite of forte.
So after we were referred to this daycare that we REALLY TRULY LOVE and are grateful to have found (truly amazing teachers, wonderful curriculum, skills building, crafts every day, exploration, songs and instruments, it has almost everything, in my opinion), I had to make lunch-planning fun.
Step 1: Find a fun Meal Box
I scoured the various mom boards on Facebook, Pinterest boards, and Amazon Mom reviews galore for recommendations and blog posts on how to pack your toddler/pre-schooler’s lunch.
I read about various bento boxes (stainless steel, plastic, stacking, folding, single-layered). I read about glass cubes. I read about segmented and divided plastic containers with side snaps. I looked at the prices. I read the limitations of them. I looked at normal lunch boxes. I got excited and put bento boxes in my shopping cart. Then I read about something else that was great, so I deleted said bento box from my cart.
After multiple rounds of this head-spinning-but-mom-fun darting back and forth, I solidly decided on the YumBox Panino. (if you have questions on why I didn’t choose something in particular, ask me in the comments section)
I’m plain obsessed and am 100000% happy with my decision on the YumBox. (And yes, it was all my decision. It’s best to leave the husbands out of these decisions, because you’ll get someone who could care less all of a sudden throwing in their 2 cents when they aren’t the ones prepping the meals anyway)
The YumBox comes in a variety of colors and is very reasonably priced at $28. I originally got mine from Amazon for $28.50, but there have very limited choices in colors available for purchase now. So, head directly to the website if you want all the color options. There’s a 6-compartment version (YumBox), and a 4-compartment version (YumBox Panino). Since I’m all about the girly girl, I chose the YumBox Panino in Pink Lemonade. Why is it so fab? It has a silicone inner lid that prevents any leaks or spillage from compartment to compartment. This is so important! And I chose the 4 compartment box, mainly because six compartments would be too much to think about and would be too limiting a volume for each compartment. Four compartments: Protein/entree, vegetable, fruit, and dip/dessert.
Plus, I bought silicone (yay, reusable) cupcake liners from Amazon.com (Effiliv Baking Cups) to further compartmentalize the 4 sections should the need arise (it has arisen. Many many times!). The 4 sections just gave me more flexibility as you’ll see in the pics. This suggestion came from I think Pinterest.
Why a bento-style box?
- Because I didn’t want to waste about 5 ziplock bags each day, contributing to garbage in the landfills. I knew they existed, yet I wasn’t sure if our daycare was a Zero-Waste facility, so I wanted to get something eco-friendly.
- Plus, it is adorable. If we’re being technical, I mean. 😉
- Easily opened by an 18 month old (age when Jia started daycare). Encourages independence.
- It’ll grow with her. What older toddler or younger girl has decided a colorful plain non-cartoon character box is too young for her? There’s no Elsa on here, no Hello Kitty, no cutesy cupcakes when Frozen/Hello Kitty/cupcakes later become “old news” (these are all options I did consider).
- Easy to clean. Cmon moms, you know you’re with me on this one. The clear tray pops out easy for cleaning and all the lines are smooth. No “waterproof fabric” that’ll get dirty and nasty, no zippers that’ll house grime and bacteria.
If it’s cute, it’ll be more fun (for whoever is packing it). That was my thought process. And it worked.
Downside to the Yumbox – as much as I’d love to say “there are none!” I have to be honest. The yumbox tray can’t be microwaved, so if you’re packing warm foods (especially as the temps start to drop, your toddler may like to eat something warm from home) you have to pack them separately, in microwavable containers. Also, I’m afraid to put it in the dishwasher after reading some reviews on Amazon. Some parent said that the tray got warped even on the top rack of the dishwasher and they had to purchase replacement insert trays, so I am choosing to avoid that altogether and hand wash. Besides, we don’t run the dishwasher every day, so hand washing is kind of mandatory anyway.
So, I do occasionally add on storage cubes (we use these glass Wean Green Snack Cubes) or Sistema Small Split Containers that I found at the Old Navy impulse buy shelves, for about $3.50 a piece. They’re small enough to let Jia carry on her lap in her car seat and eat breakfast out of, as we drive to daycare and are microwaveable for when you have stuff to be warmed up for lunch. Even though the Sistema boxes are plastic, I have grown to really love them because they hold a good amount of food in them and there are 2 compartments. If we’re in a rush to get out of the house, I can pile in some fruit on one side and a halved string cheese (not long enough to shove 1 whole string cheese inside) or Babybel cheese in the other for a breakfast-on-the-go situation. And the glass cubes were great when Jia was being introduced to solids, but for now, the multi-compartment containers are the most useful. (And, let’s face it. Glass can get heavy.)
Step 2: Jot Down a List of Your Kid’s Fan Foods
Not rocket science, this one. Obvies, you don’t want to pack meatloaf when your kid hates your homemade meatloaf and prefers Boston Market’s over-salted mushy gravy-soaked version (This may be a true story).
Consider variety, but revisit some favorites. Don’t over-introduce things, sometimes it’s nice when they’re away from you and miss you, to eat something familiar.
I think I considered about 5 things she really likes and put them into pretty regular rotation, then occasionally I’ll add one thing new to the mix so at least I know she will
eat tolerate 80% of her meal.
Step 3: Make your Meals, Take some Mealfies
Meal selfies. (Just go with it)
I actually had zero intention of documenting these photos in the blog at the time I was taking them. It actually didn’t occur to me until about a couple weeks ago, when I was already 3 weeks into the past month of making YumBox meals for Jia.
I actually photographed them to share with my husband, so that the *one week* (ahem, it ended up being 2 weekdays and 1.5 weekend days) he promised I could spend out of town and kid-less with one of my best friends on a girl’s trip, he would have a little guidance as to what to do with Jia’s lunch. (He does not cook. He’s a step above ramen in the microwave. He’ll make ramen for him on the stove. And he DOES consider microwaving “cooking,” so photo documentary was a must. No, a list was not good enough, he would have to see it to wrap his head around it.)
Step 4: Take Note, But No Hashtag Necessary
Photo documentation of your meals will actually help you later when you’ve wracked your mind and can’t think of what to pack one day.
In addition to that, I actually type up a caption for the photo sharing thing through the standard photo app on iPhone (we have a share called “Things You Need To See” that only he and I belong to, between the two of us) that describes each item in the box and I report the day it is eaten, what she actually ate and what was disregarded. That way, when I see the photo, I can read how much she hates bell peppers but she sure ate every corn kernel!
OK Here are my “1 Month of YumBox Daycare Meals!”
(keep in mind, these aren’t the greatest photos since I hadn’t intended on posting them publicly. Also, these meals are not posted in any particular order, so if you see picture after picture of hard boiled eggs or something, this does not indicate the meals packed in consecutive order)
- Try and go for organic whenever possible, to minimize exposures to pesticides. Here’s a link to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen’s most and least contaminated fruits and veggies (pesticide content). Though pesticide content on farmers’ produce isn’t at an alarming rate that is necessarily dangerous, I try to avoid non-organic produce when possible. If you have foods with outer skins, either peel them or scrub them in lukewarm water or use a fruit & veggie rinse. I got my bottle from Trader Joe’s, but The Honest Company sells their version, too. I think TJ’s is cheaper.
- Try and change things up. Since these photos are not listed in any particular order, you’ll notice lots of hard boiled eggs or honey wheat pretzel sticks. I try to space them out, so a certain food isn’t packed for at least another 3 days. My grandmother was a big fan in “overdosing” us on our favorite foods as kids, so I had jars and jars of marshmallow fluff until I could no longer stand the thought of it. Same happened with chocolate swirl pound cake, lemon bars, etc. Try not to over expose your little one to the same food – you’ll want to keep them interested in it rather than “overdosed”!
- (If you can) Ask for your toddler’s input in the meal. Your enthusiasm for certain foods as they see you pack their lunch for the next day may get them eager to eat them at school.
- Pack their meals the night before so you’re not in a rush in the morning
I really don’t have many more pointers other than that though, because while I’m being honest here, Jia doesn’t always eat all her lunch and some days she’ll love purple grapes and eat them all but the next day cry at the sight of them. Toddlers are fickle and it can be downright annoying to create a masterpiece lunch only for you to open it up at daycare pick-up and see half of the food still sitting there. Womp womp.
Please feel free to comment with meal combinations that your toddler loves or tricks/tips that you found have been helpful!
Message from Jeni: I will be taking a break from blogging Saturday posts until after the holidays, to concentrate on my work/life balance. I will still be somewhat maintaining the WSDW posts but they may not be published as regularly. Please follow my Facebook page for more frequent updates, since I post links to interesting and relevant articles, funny memes, past posts, and current Jia musings on the regular.