10 Tips for Making Stress-Free School Lunches

One of last year's lunches
I always say that I don’t mind making school lunches, but the truth is, I hate it. In fact, I hate it so much that I’ve forced myself to become so efficient at making them that it’s no longer that bad.

And I am here to say that you too can hate it so much that you become a lunch-making wizard, freed from the discouragement, feet-dragging, dread and boredom that the sight of an empty lunchbox or two can bring.

Here are a few of my tried-and-true tricks for banishing lunchbox burnout, which we all know can occur long before the first day of school:

1.    Start prepping now. And I mean NOW. Today. Get your ducks in a row, mama; September is right around the corner and if you need supplies, they’ll be gone by then. (Ever try buying a snowsuit in December? It’s like that.) Take stock of your lunch making kit. Is it age appropriate? In good shape? In compliance with school guidelines? Still safe, healthy and clean enough to use? Now’s the time to figure that out.

2.    If you are buying a new kit, I am totally assuming that you are buying an eco-friendly, litterless lunch kit, because, honestly, why wouldn’t you? There are a ton of amazing products on the market and no excuse to brown bag/plastic bag it. I’m sorry, there’s just not. 

3.    You need to love the lunch kit(s) you buy. YOU are the one making the lunches, so the kit has to jibe with your style of food prep/organization, and offer at least a tiny bit of inspiration.

4.    Get the right lunch kit for your child. My kids have different kits, but I love them both. I have already raved about my older daughter’s Planet Box lunch kit, and I still love it, but felt it wasn’t quite right for my new kindergartener’s kit. It’s a bit heavy and my four year old has a tendency to eat everything in front of her, so I worried that if I didn’t ‘parcel out’ the food in a more separate way, she’d finish her food for the entire day at first break. For my four year old, we bought the Balanced Day Eco-Pack,  with divided, very easy to open containers. They fit pretty well (though not perfectly) in a Crocodile Creek lunch bag that we already had, so I didn’t buy the Balanced Day lunch bag. But it’s a good option.

5.    Hit the grocery store, and bring paper and pen. Schedule a trip to the store with your students, but this is not really going to be a grocery-buying mission. This is going to be a lunch-list-making mission. Walk the aisles with your kids, making a list of all the great stuff they would be ok with in their lunch. This will pretty much be your ingredient list for the year, meaning you can always put the things on this list into their lunch. Make sure your kids clearly understand this. It worked really well for us last year, taking the guess work out of the lunch staples, and I will be doing it again this year.

6.    Hit the internet. Do the same exercise while browsing lunch-making posts, pinterest and recipe sites. Turns out my kid will a hard-boiled egg, or a cream-cheese and jam sandwich, as long as the sandwich is cut into a cute shape. I’m ok with that.

7.    Do a lunchtime trial run. This is especially important for the kindies that may have never eaten lunch at school before, but if you’ve upgraded lunch kits for an older child, it’s also a good idea. The last thing you want to hear is that your child could not open their container, or that their water bottle leaked or that they actually prefer their food really cold and you need another ice pack. The goal is to reduce heartache, work and anxiety, yanno?

8.    Start cooking today. Yes, now, weeks ahead of schedule. Because things like mini-muffins, breakfast muffins, pancakes, and soup freeze really well, and will take up a coveted spot in the bento box come September. I batch cook items like this every couple of weeks, ensuring that I always have a few easy items ready for the lunch box.

9.    Once school starts, make lunch the night before. Seriously. Every night. It is a life saver. Unless you are one of those ‘morning people’ that wake up an hour before their kids and have oodles of goodwill and energy before 7am, this is a step you should not skip. (I do little more than grunt at people and hide in my coffee cup that early in the morning.) Mornings are crazy enough without having to make lunches, no?

10.  Label EVERYTHING. You know every parent’s good friend, Mabel, right? She is there for you. Because you’ve put a ton of money, energy and thought into these lunches, and when your kid leaves it in the playground on the first day of school, or somebody grabs the wrong water bottle in the lunch room, you want it to come back to you. (p.s. don’t just label the big part of the container; the lid needs a label, too.)

Bonus tip: Put a little note in there, would ya? The lunch was made with love, but a little heart sticker or I heart you on a napkin is about the sweetest thing you could include.



BlogHer '12: A Totally Meta Recap

I could have titled this post, Karen Went to BlogHer and All She Got Was Some Creative and Possibly Existential Angst, but a) that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, and b) if I learn nothing else from social media conferences, it’s that SEO seems to be really important, and there is exactly none in that title.

I went to my second BlogHer – it would have been my third but I had to ditch on San Diego at the last minute because we decided to move to the country on a whim that month – and it was very different from my first BlogHer experience in 2010. I knew it would be, of course – same city, same hotel, but that’s about all that’s remained the same since 2010. I have changed, and blogging has changed. And BlogHer has changed.

In 2010, I was a Voice of the Year keynote speaker – pretty amazing, and pretty insane for my first BlogHer experience. I was 100% completely dedicated to the conference – to being on that stage, to attending the sessions, to wringing every last ounce of bloggy goodness I could out of the experience. I barely noticed I was in New York City, and I came home inspired, motivated and enriched as a blogger.

Two years later, and I am not that same blogger. And BlogHer was not that same conference for me.

In the past two years, my writing life has changed. I have given up my full-time copywriting job to be a freelance writer and to finally write a novel. We moved to a small town partly so that I could do this. I am dedicated to this pursuit, and work at it everyday. To the detriment of my blogging.

Or perhaps my blogging is to the detriment of writing.

BlogHer was supposed to help me re-establish my passion for blogging, or at least, to help me reconnect with it. In one way, it did – I am completely nourished by the social density of BlogHer.

Many will complain that BlogHer was too big this year, and logistically, I suppose that argument could be made: I didn’t make it in to several sessions I wanted to because of capacity crowds; line-jumpers at the Martha Stewart lunch set off my heated sense of injustice and Canadian do-goodism; the literal heaving of the dance floor at Sparklecorn had me moving into slight panic-attack territory when I thought the whole place was going to fall crashing to the second story below it. But otherwise, I am ok with crowds, and more people at the conference meant more people to meet, more friends to see again or for the first time.
I am a people person, so the volume of people was not an issue for me.

But while it was easy to find friends and meet new ones, it was decidedly more difficult to find sessions that I wanted to attend. Crossing one session after another off the list, I was confronted again and again by the feelings that have been brewing for the past two years: I am at a blogging stalemate.

I’ve been blogging since the end of 2005. I’m a veteran, but I have never moved into celebloggger status, happy to bob along in my anti-A-type way. I know a lot of people because I’ve been doing this a long time, but I have never aspired to any sort of status as a blogger beyond being known as a decent writer.

I don’t want to win the internet. I want to win a Pulitzer.

To that end, I am a writer. Is blogging writing? That is a question for another post, but going to BlogHer, I was looking for something to help me enrich my writing, not just my blogging stats. The first session I attended was Blogging for the Love of It, which is all I’m doing, seeing as I am totally non-compliant with SEO rules in my personal writing, I have no ads on my blog and have never thought of myself as a brand (barf).

But is blogging for the love of it enough?

I used to say that I started my blog because I wanted my own personal editorial column in my own personal magazine. I do let bare my soul in this space, but I measure my words carefully, for effect and intent. I have had positive feedback and many opportunities have been born out of blogging.

I have been told many times that I am a good writer, and I have loved it, believed it.
(I don’t have to make the disclaimer that all bloggers are narcissists, do I?)

And then, earlier this summer, I attended an intensive writing workshop with some of Canada’s best and most accomplished authors, and some of Canada’s best and most promising young writers. And I had to rethink everything I thought I knew about myself as a writer.

I learned that I needed to murder my darlings; that I needed to put every word on trial as if for its life and that I desperately needed to invest in the economy of language. In order to be a successful writer, which is all I really want, I need to basically stop doing everything that blogging allows, encourages and rewards me for doing.

Try writing a blog post with no adjectives. It’s bloody hard.

Yes, blogging exercises the writing muscles, and even my mentor at the workshop told me not to stop, that all writing is good, but all writing will not lead me where I ultimately want to be.

Blogging is completely self-indulgent. We do not need to edit, we do not need to carefully control our language, we do not need to agonize over each word in order for it to be ‘good enough.’ We receive praise, heaps of praise, because we relate and do not critique. We encourage and support and that is important, that is so unbelievably important for therapy and for community and for our heart and for our soul.

But is it good for writing? For my own writing and my own writing goals?

I was desperate for sessions that helped me deal with my meta angst and looked for them among the plethora of choices. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find the session entitled, Why Am I Still Doing This? but I’ll suggest it for 2013.

I ended the conference with the #Blog2012 session, which was about as close as one could come to answering such a question.

In the end, I enjoyed BlogHer ’12 immensely. Felt privileged, even as a Canadian, to be addressed by President Obama; enjoyed unapologetic Martha; was part of the collective uncomfortable cringe when Malaak Compton-Rock froze onstage; met and reconnected with seriously amazing women.

Was that enough? I’m not sure. Tickets go on sale for BlogHer ’13 in a month’s time. I’ll see what I’ve figured out by then.



BlogHer '12: A Recap in Pictures

Working on a much more introspective post about BlogHer, blogging, and writing in general. But that my friends, is for a day with more coffee and less post-BH burnout.

For now, please to enjoy.

View from the Official Canadian Party
(Also: proof that in the exact perfect circumstances,
a Blackberry can take a decent picture.)

Bone marrow the size of my arm @ Minetta Tavern

I love NY, @emma_willer & @scarbiedoll

Roomies. Felt a bit crowded once Darth and Kirk moved in.

Lower East Side

Kicking off the conference with a live address from
President Obama

Martha Stewart being unapologetically Martha

Lisa Stone & Katie Couric

@candacedx @boredmommy

@scarbiedoll @mamanongrata @emmawaverman

#blog2012 with @neilochka @lauriewrites @schmutzie
(proof that I in fact made it to a few sessions)

Photo-bombing The Pioneer Woman
(Which I then felt compelled to tell her I had done.
So really, I should have just asked her for a photo.)