Motherhood

An Easy Way to Help School Jitters

The Joy of Lunchbox Notes

For any parents out there whose little ones need a pick-me-up during the school day, this one’s for you…

I’ll begin with the obvious: packing school lunches is tedious, thankless, repetitive (but never meditative) and always a little disgusting. To this day, when I take a whiff of an empty Thermos, I experience a wave of morning sickness so strong, I forget that my final baby is not only fully gestated, she is now in her first week of second grade.

For years, my husband was the lunch chef, bringing a short-tempered, short order flair to the operation. When I gave him a year’s furlough as a gift for his 39th birthday, he acted like I had given him tickets for the Cavs season opener; meanwhile, I reminded myself of a know-it-all mom from a 1980s laundry detergent commercial. Make way for the real expert.

Two of our three kids immediately aired serious grievances about my lunches: “Daddy knows I like my roll-up with the salami on the outside” and “Mom? FYI? I prefer macaroni in the shape of Arthur.” Our youngest didn’t even bother with low ratings; her feedback came home in the most literal form: an untouched lunch. Only eight days into the slog of matching lids to containers, locating absent water bottles and haphazardly sorting everything into the correct lunch boxes, I gave up. My husband returned to the cutting board, smugly slicing Granny Smiths with the fancy knife I offered as a gift in lieu of my catering services.

I didn’t make another lunch until last fall, when my husband was in London for a week. I find that a few solo days can be a nice breather; I welcome the opportunity to eat cookies in bed and arrange the shoes in the front hallway in size order. But I dreaded — dreaded — the lunch prep. I told my husband how my mom used to freeze casseroles for my dad to eat when she was out of town — would he consider assembling the lunches ahead of time? He laughed.

On my first morning as head chef, I woke up early, blundered into the kitchen and created a Vivaldi station on Pandora, willing the allegro soundtrack to grant me the serenity I needed. Then I lined up my tools and took a deep breath. By the time the New York Times skidded onto the front porch, I’d assembled two sandwiches, crusts intact, and filled two metal containers with cheddar bunnies. Add grapes, add water. Done. Why was it so easy this time? Suddenly, low-level nausea made way for the euphoria I used to feel when one of our babies drifted off to sleep without the usual bedtime watusi of rocking, pacing, patting and a serenade of “You Are My Sunshine.”

With a few extra minutes before my troops slunk grouchily downstairs, I grabbed two postcards from the junk drawer and wrote each of them a quick note. The messages were simple: “Good luck on your social studies test” and “Have fun on the class trip.” I’m familiar with the suburban legend of the parent who pens a daily cartoon for his kid on a banana peel; please trust me, I am not that mom. I’m no more likely to take a heart-shaped cookie cutter to a sandwich than I am to mill my own flour from scratch. I specialize in shortcuts, not perks.

But when I came home that night, my younger two kids were waiting for me at the train station, leaning dreamily on their scooters. “You packed notes for us,” they said, wonder in their eyes. That enthusiasm was the wind beneath my lackadaisical, lunch-averse wings.

I started packing postcards every day, introducing daily themes such as Trivia Tuesday (The average American eats 20 pounds of onions per year), Wacky Wednesday (Did you know that the strongest muscle in your body is your tongue?) and my own version of #TBT (What condiment did [cousin’s name redacted] pour over his head in a restaurant last summer?). I bookmarked a handful of websites featuring weird facts and G-rated jokes for Funny Friday, and amassed a collection of postcards spotlighting fine art, national landmarks and animals doing wacky things. Last spring, I even ran a contest, where the kid who correctly recited the tongue twister I packed in his or her lunch earned points towards a hot fudge sundae.

So, why would a mostly sane, frequently frazzled parent willingly add an extra step to an onerous process? I’m not sure, but I do know that the postcards lend an organizing principle to the most hectic moments of my day. They give me something to think about while I jockey Oreos and baby carrots, and scrub grape jelly off the sash of my bathrobe. Of course, there are plenty of other things I should be thinking about first thing in the morning, but the time I spend with my coffee and my postcards and a Sharpie is infinitely more pleasant than mapping out the day’s battle plan, not to mention the endless drumbeat of meetings, spelling words, orthodontist appointments and outgrown shoes. For one peaceful moment, everything else can wait while I Google amazing facts about pigs. The details will be revealed — or concealed — in the lunchroom, but the thrill of discovery is all mine, and the silence in our kitchen is sweet.


Elisabeth Egan is the former books editor at Glamour and the author of the novel A Window Opens. You may remember her from this beautiful post with advice for her college-bound daughter. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in Self, People, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and many others. She is also the force behind the Instagram account @100postcards.

Do you ever write lunchbox notes? Any other lunch-packing tips? Thank you, Liz!

P.S. What food geniuses have for lunch and how to help your kid turn a bad day around.

(Top photo by Bernard Hoffman via Life Magazine. This essay originally ran on Dinner: A Love Story five years ago, syndicated with permission.)

  1. rachel says...

    anyone else out there love packing lunches?? I love packing my daughters lunch! Its a challenge everyday… and her “bentgo” lunch box doesn’t smell at all!

  2. My mother came up with a very sweet way to ease the ‘at-school homesickness’ I often experienced when I was a little one. When the car pulled up outside of my school in the morning, she would pull back my skivvie sleeve and give me a kiss on my wrist. Mum always wore bright red lipstick to work, which meant that whenever I felt lonely during the school day, all I had to do was roll up my sleeve just a little, and I would see a little red lipstick reminder that she loved me and that I was not alone. Xx

    • Becca says...

      I do this with my three year old! I teach at her preschool but she’s not in my class and she gets sad sometimes if we cross paths because I can’t hang out with her. So she gets a bright red lipstick kiss mark on the back of each hand and she’s a happy girl.

  3. Katherine says...

    I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, but please write notes that your child can read him or herself. I teach pre-k and this year 15 out of my 17 students’ parents send cute little notes. After helping everyone open all of their packets and containers, it is one more thing to go through and read everyone’s note to them. If you have a pre-reader, maybe just send a note with a smiley face or a simple I heart u. Your child’s preschool teacher will thank you!

    • Jessica says...

      I got your back on this one Katherine! I have a pre-reader and I have just enough energy (and time) to draw little silly pictures (on a post-it note) and add some stickers. She loves them! So does my big kid (who can read)!

  4. Mariah says...

    This is just so lovely and sweet, I teared up.

  5. Amy says...

    Elizabeth, you are an amazing writer. Never did I imagine reading something so captivating about packing lunches! Our kids are still little but I write notes for my husband’s lunch all the time and he loves it too :)

  6. Hilary says...

    I think I might be in the minority, but I oddly love packing my daughter’s lunch! I was also the person who was way too excited to make homemade baby food…

    I know it’s not healthy to conflate food and feelings, but I find the act of nourishing her little body with good food and nourishing her little heart with notes (and the occasional surprise treat!) to be the ultimate positive spin on emotional eating.

  7. Sara B says...

    My oldest is starting school next fall, and more than lunches I’m nervous for breakfasts! Do kids eat cereal or pop tarts or do you make them eggs or what?! Our daycare has always fed them breakfast, lunch, and snack so I have been spoiled.

    • Amy says...

      Sara, we solved the breakfast battle with a menu: I printed out “menus” with pictures of a few things that I knew they would eat and that were quick to serve (cereal, yogurt, fruit, etc.). They LOVE playing “restaurant” in the morning when we pretend to be the waiter and they get to choose their breakfast and more often than not, they actually sit and eat it. Cloth napkins are a big deal to them and an easy thing that makes breakfast feel special. Good luck!

    • JessicaD says...

      Every so often light a CANDLE on the breakfast table! You will BLOW HER MIND!!! (My kids love it!) (And a daycare that serves *breakfast*? You lucky duck!)

  8. Ugh. School lunches. And morning snack. And afternoon snack. Bane of my existence? Yes. But last year when my 4 year old was going through a particularly rough ‘potty mouth=humor+attention’ stage we bought a book of words (I think it was second grade level – so slightly advanced). I copied the word, the definition, and encouraged him to use it in a sentence, or to give someone a compliment, or to help someone that day. It took a couple of weeks, but it seemed to work wonders (at least at school which is all I was really worried about). His teachers told us that all the kids loved to hear the new word at lunch time and it encouraged lots of lunch time conversation! I couldn’t handle coming up with something new every day along with lunch, but copying something down from a book became a great little addition to my sons day on multiple levels.

  9. Claire May says...

    The timing of this is sensational! My husband makes everyone’s lunches as it is better for everyone’s sanity that I don’t do it. I hate making lunches and I know it is irrational but it doesn’t my head in. My husband is going away next week for work and I have already asked him to prepare all of our lunches (me + 2 kids) and put them in the freezer. Thanks for sharing as I thought I was the only one!

  10. I’ve been packing lunches for my son since he was 4 months old. He’s 4 now, and I literally can’t wait until he can read so I can start packing notes! I can never think of anything to draw first thing in the morning, but I always wished that someone would have taken the time to write something on a note in my lunch, growing up.

  11. Jesse says...

    I once taught a boy who’s mother gave him one of her old necklaces to take to school. On a rad day he would wear it, on an easy day it would hang from his bag. It wasn’t precious to her but for him that crystal held his hold world.

  12. Roxana says...

    LOVE this.

    So beautifully written, too! Thank you for sharing!

    • Roxana says...

      Also, that old school house photo at the top of the post is so charming. Her expression is so endearing!

  13. Laurel says...

    Gorgeous essay! My dad was on his own raising me. He left for work before I woke up all through my teen years. He never failed, not even one morning, to write me a note goodbye. I’m grown with my own kids now and live half a world away from him, but when he comes to visit I always find a note on the counter the last day of his trip, telling me he loves me and to have a great day. ❤️

    • Ruth says...

      That’s soooo sweet ❤️

    • Toni says...

      This is the sweetest thing!!!

  14. Amy says...

    I do “would you rathers” as lunch notes for my now-grade three daughter. They avoid the “mushy” aspect that she was starting to lean away from, and if I remember to ask at the end of the day which of the choices she would pick, she occasionally also tells me what the kids at her table said they’d pick, which means it’s a bonus conversation starter :) Today was “would you rather take a bath in ice, or jello?” I make a stack every so often (using the internet for ideas), and then just grab one each morning. My grade one son isn’t fully reading yet, so he mostly gets “I love you” notes that he can read.

  15. Julie says...

    Love this!!

  16. Felicia says...

    I never packed a lunch as a young child, but when I was in high school my father insisted on packing for me. On my brown bag lunch there would be a cartoon, usually featuring me, every single day. They were usually pretty wacky! On my last day of high school my dad put a note in my bag, “I will miss packing lunches for you!”
    I have a first grader now and while I haven’t drawn any lunch cartoons for him, I hope I can find a way to make the mundane special for him, too.

  17. Lindsey says...

    My mom always wrote notes to me. They were simple—“Have a good day!”—but I remember feeling seen and known on days when everything else seemed to undo those truths. This is the first year my oldest (first grade) can read her notes; last year, I just drew hearts and rainbows. But now I can give her what I hope is a hand-squeeze when she forgets she’s seen and known: “You’re my favorite girl! Be kind! Make good choices! I love you. Love, Mom.”

  18. Sarah says...

    My father packed the most delicious and thoughtfully prepared lunches, always complete with a hand drawn cartoon of the two of us with a “your DAD loves you” written below the image. I loved opening them, and always demolished them, because he focused on packing what I liked more than what was maybe the most “healthy” (hello, 100-calorie cookie packs and salami on wonder bread sandwiches cut into bite sized bits so I could bite through them when I had a retainer). I will say, I also felt the joy with which he packed them, as a child. I know it’s not an easy task to pack lunch, but you should know your children will remember the effort with so much nostalgia when they are adults. To this day, I really enjoy packing my own lunch because I associate the process with feeling really cared for–now I do it for myself.

    • Sara says...

      As a mom of two little kids, I loved and needed to hear this. So sweet, and it sounds like you have a wonderful father.

  19. gg says...

    wow, who knew? my mom taught us kids how to pack our own lunches starting in kindergarten. we didn’t know any different and apparently my mom saved herself a lot of stress!

    • Josephine says...

      Ha! Love this

  20. Leah says...

    I do the same thing minus the postcards – you’ll find a large a orange post it note is in my kids’ lunch boxes. They love it and look forward to it, totally worth the extra five min every morning.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      alex writes notes on little slips of notebook paper. (“I had a great weekend with you! Love, Daddy” or “Are you excited to watch Home Alone tonight? Love, Daddy.”) they’re so simple, but toby loves them SO much.

  21. Marisa says...

    Loved this!

  22. Christy says...

    Off topic but, i’s like all the best people in the world come together in the comments section at Cup of Jo.

    • Neha says...

      Or Cup of Jo encourages most of us to share our best selves….
      our most caring, passionate selves…
      it’s quite something, isn’t it 😄

    • Karyn says...

      It is my favorite! I will read a good CoJ comment thread like this one (and–who am I kidding?–every one of them) all the way to the end every day.

  23. Andrea says...

    School lunches are the BANE of my existence. I have had successful spurts of fun notes, thoughtful questions and the like. But, I guess it wasn’t cutting it for my then kindergartner. As usual, at the end of the day I unpacked her lunchbox and nestled in it was a scrap of paper, written on in her kindergarten scrawl “love mom to olive” along with some scraggly hearts she had drawn. I took the hint….

  24. Sasha L says...

    I’m so grateful we homeschooled until my kids were old enough to pack their own lunches! This idea of packing kids lunches gives me so much anxiety lol 😉

  25. Nancy Iriye says...

    I love this and will try it tomorrow!

  26. Sherri Lynn says...

    My daughter is going to school for the first time this year. She’s in pre-K, so she’s been learning her ABCs and is very eager to learn to read. She’s mastered a few short words, so today I was able to include her first lunchbox note. It simply said, “Hi Madeleine! 💛 Mommy”. Was it the shortest note in lunchbox note history? Perhaps, but she can read all of those words, and I suddenly found myself in a new place of motherhood that somehow got here much sooner than I’d imagined.

  27. Ceridwen says...

    I literally just finished packing lunch boxes, sighing at my rather lame results, to open this post was perfect..are you reading my mind?! We take turns with lunches, my husband always nails it, and I always ask kids for a review at the end of the day. Overheard my eldest saying to my youngest once after they were clearly baffled by my lunchbox choices, “Well, you can never trust mum with lunch.” I can’t argue with that.

  28. Stefanie says...

    I’m stealing the notecard idea! Mainly in hopes of keeping the connection with my daughter who just entered middle school.

  29. Jenn says...

    I put notes in my first-graders lunch box every few days. When I went in for Back-to-School night I found that she’d put one of them in her pencil basket at her desk so she could keep it close to her every day. Last week she wrote me a note and put it in her lunch box for me to discover while cleaning it out that evening. That note has now made its way to my wallet. These notes boost my spirits just as much as I imagine they boost hers.

    • Ancy says...

      Crying ❤️

  30. NN says...

    Ack this is terrifying! I have a 1 year old and am starting to get nervous about this already.

    When I was a child (in the 80s and 90s), I ate school lunch. Both my parents worked, and making my lunch wasn’t even on their radar. I was always a little jealous of the kids who’d have bags of chips in their lunches, but I certainly wasn’t alone in eating the school lunch–lots of kids did! And…we all survived…even without the bento boxes and specially cured meats etc. I also walked to and from school alone starting at 10 years old and was a “latch-key” kid. It seems like so much has changed now.

    • EMY says...

      I had to pack lunch for my oldest when he went to daycare, but now he’s in elementary and eats school lunch… Little brother gets fed at his daycare. It’s a huge relief to have one less thing to think about every work/school day…. You do whatcha gotta do!

    • Maggie says...

      I wondered the same thing… do kids not buy lunches anymore?

    • Angela says...

      I do not enjoy packing lunches at all. Thankfully our school system got a grant this year that provides free lunch AND breakfast for all kids. This year, though, my kids go to preschool and we have to provide their lunch. I really hope they are stoked to eat school lunch next year! If not, they’ll be getting a gentle nudge. Maybe it isn’t about specialty meats or our Bentgo boxes, it’s about necessity.

  31. Alex says...

    My mom left me lunch notes every day from the time I could read until I graduated high school. Every day my friends would ask – what’s in today’s note? One day I told her they were curious so she started writing in little parts to my friends too. These too cool, 15 year old, heavy metal stoners would get so excited about my mom’s note shout outs! Anyway, I plan to do the same for my kids once they can read. :)

  32. Julia says...

    I draw my kids notes. Random pictures with them starring as superheroes, knights or Vikings but mostly just things we did together (like last weekends running match or the quirky dance party) especially my oldest (who still gets homesick sometimes) loves to ‘see’ us during the long school day.
    Favorite part of making lunch!

  33. Magge says...

    My mom used to pack “secret messages” with the trader joes letter cookies every monday. We almost never got them right but my siblings and i all still talk about it

    • Sarah says...

      Oh my gosh! How would this work?! Would she pack letters that would spell a secret word and you had to unscramble them? Such a cute idea!

  34. Bryn says...

    I love this! I don’t have children, but am a former elementary school teacher. Every morning, I would have a riddle of the day and my students loved it. I didn’t realize how much until I didn’t update it one morning and everyone was frazzled because of it! Googling riddles became one of my favorite morning rituals before picking up my students before the bell rang.

    • Jennifer says...

      Haha, I was an elementary school teacher an *also* had a riddle of the day! My favorite thing was when students thought of answers that were “wrong” but also worked. It made them so proud!

  35. Josephine says...

    Starting in elementary school I would put slips of paper with written quotes from chapter books we’ve all read together into my three kid’s lunches.
    Quotes from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Harry Potter, the Princess Bride, etc.

    HUGE HIT! Huge!

    As a matter of fact all the kids at the lunch table would ask to read them aloud.

    Did it through high school too – Toni Morrison, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown – the possibilities are endless.

    • Sasha L says...

      I love this so much ♥️

  36. Louisa says...

    At night my daughter requests a drawing – “a raccoon sitting on a lilypad!” “A kangaroo reading a book!” – and I note in on my phone. I wake up 10 minutes earlier to draw. I have always loved drawing and it had been decades since I’d given it any serious effort. I so look forward to her requests and my morning coffee/drawing time. I’m also kind of a rockstar at her school now :)

    • Winslow says...

      Louisa, I used to love to draw as well, but let it slide in favor of other interests and responsibilities. Recently, I took a solo trip to a new city to participate in a combined ceramics/illustration workshop. The teacher gave us drawing prompts to get us started – and I realized I actually have a notebook full of little sketches I’ve drawn based on my three-year-old’s prompts! “Mama, can you draw a tractor? Ok, an elephant! Ok, a flower!” Maybe our kids are budding art teachers!

  37. jeannie says...

    This was such a pleasure to read! So entertaining. Thanks for this, Elisabeth.

  38. Awads says...

    ahhh, yes…the school lunch rigamarole. i also packed notes, but they were basic “i love you! have a great day!” sometimes from the dog. But what really helped me was to prepare the sandwiches the night before, during dinner prep. It made life so much easier in the morning. By 6th grade, we were done with home lunch! eating cafeteria food is a rite of passage! don’t deprive your kid of that :-)

  39. Abbey says...

    I don’t have kids but I lol’d my way delightedly through this essay. We all have our strengths. Clearly yours, Elisabeth, is writing. It makes perfect sense that your kids delight in your postcards :)

  40. Carly Russell says...

    I need suggestions on postcards/lunchbox notes for my three kids (ages 10, 8, 6). I have been using valentine’s day cards from the Dollar Store but I love the trivia postcard idea! Any ideas where to get them?

  41. Margaret says...

    Yes yes yes! I baby sat a family for years and Tuesday nights it became my responsibility to pack lunches and at first I was nervous and a bit overwhelmed but I started adding notes with history facts on them and it turned into my favorite part of the job. I will never forget telling a mom on the playground how much I enjoyed packing lunches and she looked at me like I had two heads!

  42. Amy says...

    This is so sweet I could cry! Looking forward to writing notes in my own babys lunch box when he gets older. Swoon

    • Lynne says...

      School lunches are always hard for my family. One kiddo on the spectrum and both with sensory issues make food so challenging, especially away from home. Notes definitely help! It’s a piece of home in a way that the same, exactly only three small slices of peanut butter and honey sandwich, carefully cleaned from excess mess just can’t convey. My husband is a pro and can draw amazing artwork for them, mine tend toward much simpler drawings or words. But I think it gives them comfort when they feel separation anxiety and all the other challenges that come from being away much of the day. We have saved almost every single one we’ve written, maybe it will make a cute book later in life when we’re able to look back on it with sweet thoughts.

  43. Claire says...

    wonderful essay!
    If I had the dollar value of every packed lunch I threw away untouched at the end of the school day I could probably go to Paris for a month.
    He just graduated from high school last spring and from kindergarten through senior year he also never ate one single school cafeteria lunch ever, no matter how hungry he was. Maddening.

  44. Kelley says...

    I do this for my eldest, who’s Now in second grade. She loves it and all her friends are in awe and send the notes with simple drawings around the table at lunch. I don’t do it every day, but surprise her and it makes her so happy. I thought it would be embarrassing, but she still requests them. I’ll have to find some special notecards and look up silly jokes and facts, she’ll love that!

  45. Becca says...

    I wrote a “good luck on day 1 of first grade!” note to my daughter this year and, when I asked her about it after school, she acted upset. Turns out that she loved it but accidentally threw it away and was super sad about it! I told her I wasn’t offended and the memory of the note could still make her happy. She agreed but said “don’t send me anymore notes, I don’t want to lose them too!”

    • Tara Bee says...

      Aw little sweetie. This made me giggle ☺️

  46. Aleisha says...

    I’ve made a habit of sending notes, at least weekly, since my littles started school five years ago. At the end of my daughter’s kinder year, I was cleaning out her lunch box & found a year’s worth of notes tucked safely into (what I had thought was) an unused, flat outer pocket. She had saved every one of the little notes I’d sent throughout the year. I loved that she felt they were so special & worth keeping. I’ve often wondered if she ever just pulled one out to read when things got a little hard or the day ran a little long. It was a good reminder that something so small & seemingly inconsequential can make a big impact in a child’s day.

  47. Emily says...

    When I was in middle school, my friend’s mom would write a riddle on his lunch money envelope every day. Spending our lunch period solving the riddle was always my favorite part of the day.

  48. Heather says...

    I make my kids buy their lunches after a traumatic year of packing four lunches every morning and getting bombarded with so many containers to wash after school.

    However, I do pack mid-morning snacks and sometimes sneak in random notes. My mom always did this for my school lunches, and it was one of my favorite things growing up (a favorite was, “Roses are red, violets are best, I hope you get an ‘A’ on your social studies test.” That was from third grade, and I still remember it thirty years later). My mom passed away in 2016, and every time I write my kids a note, I think of her smiling as I know she’d love that I’m carrying on the tradition.

    And this post gave me some great ideas – thank you, and I have no doubt that your kids will be telling someone about their postcards from mom thirty years from now too.

  49. Emily says...

    When my son started kindergarten, I found these little pre-written lunch box jokes. Every day I tucked one inside of his lunch box. He befriended one of the older cafeteria ladies at his school (she became like a grandma to him) and every day when he went to dispose of his garbage, he would share the joke with her. He got such joy out of her dramatic reaction each time and would delight when she knew the answer to the joke before he told her. As the years went on, he kind of outgrew the little lunch box jokes but I still tucked them in there and he still shared them with his friend.

    He started middle school this year but the cafeteria lady’s humor and willingness to laugh at the joke as well as help connect him back to his mom and home in the middle of his day was such a gift to him in his elementary years. I’ll never forget her and either will he.

  50. What a wonderfully written, sweet and funny post for a Monday morning!

    I loved the part about gifting her husband a year off of lunch-packing as a gift. That opens up a whole new world of gift ideas for me and my partner!

  51. Jo says...

    I love love love packing my son’s lunch. Having the opportunity to pack a nutritious, delicious and fun reprieve to the doldrum of a day makes me so happy. It’s my love language!

  52. shade says...

    I loved reading this so much!! It’s so beautifully written!
    I have the same lunch woes with my 6 year old. We actually sat down yesterday so he could add lunch ideas to my already started list and circle the options that he approved of…
    I’m totally inspired now to take it to a different level and surprise him with a wacky animal fact. Not sure I can keep it up daily, but I’ll give one a shot :)

  53. Kerry says...

    I used to tuck a little love note into my 6yo’s lunch, until one day he came home, looked into my eyes and said: “Stop sending me those little notes, please.” For him, they were a source of embarrassment. I stood down and respected his wishes. We laugh about it today, now that he is the wise old age of 9.

  54. Rosie says...

    I don’t struggle with packing our daughter’s lunch because we found the thing she likes and we leaned the f in. Our daughter can be picky from time to time, but she is a creature of habit and cheese and crackers are the eternal winner. Slices of cheddar, multigrain crackers, clementine or apple, baby carrots or sugar snap peas, and chocolate Teddy Grahams. Protein, grains, fruit, veggie, and something fun. Her teacher commented that she eats a big lunch compared to a lot of kids her age, but she doesn’t usually eat a snack when she gets home. I don’t have all the answers, but if your kid likes something just cling to that until her tastes change.

    • Angela says...

      Love this! We don’t have to kill ourselves trying to provide variety! Thank you for the reminder that “good enough” gets the job done every time. I don’t know why I torture myself and waste money buying things for my twins to try, when they just end up bringing it home to throw away. Today it was cheese filled perogies….that I’m sure I’ll be giving to the dog this evening.

  55. P says...

    I stick pencils in their lunchboxes (they are always looking for pencils, especially the mechanical ones) and I often will write with a Sharpie a little note: you are awesome, or, you are a helper. I do the same with napkins. I wish I had the energy to be more witty. Will explore that. I just wish I had more patience for everyone in the morning. It is such a race to get out the door.

  56. M says...

    My kids’ school serves lunch, so I’ve never had to pack a lunch. But, I used to pick them up from school with a snack waiting for them in a brown lunch sack (it was a 40 minute drive home, so worked best for the schedule if they had their snack in the car). I would always draw little stick figures on the bag showing our plans for the afternoon. So, if they had a tennis lesson I’d draw 2 kids playing tennis. Or if we were going to the pool, I’d draw that. If we were coming home to just chill I’d draw them with the cat and dog sitting next to them. Etc. They LOVED it. It was a great way to remind them of our plans without bombarding them with information.

    • Katie says...

      This is so sweet! I really love this.

  57. melz says...

    I so relate to this….school lunch doldrums! thx for the inspiration.

  58. When I was a kid, we moved a lot (23 times by the time I was 12…and no, I wasn’t an army brat). My mom sent me to school with a bag lunch every day, usually a sandwich (bologna, tuna, or peanut butter & jelly). Along with my cheetos, and a pickle wrapped in saran wrap, was always a post-it note from my mom. Even when I was sitting alone at the lunch table, scared to talk to anyone, I would open a note from a friend. It meant the world to me.

    • Emily says...

      This is lovely.

    • Joy says...

      So sweet

  59. Berry says...

    Delightful!

  60. Denise says...

    My Mom played practical jokes on us in our school lunches. She’d put a post-it inside our PB&J that just had her signature little heart drawing with a smiley in it. Let me tell you, paper is impossible to bite through! She’d put green food coloring in our thermos of milk. She’d put little plastic spiders in our baggies of goldfish crackers. It never failed to crack us up. She also packed hot soup in the thermos on the most cold, rainy days. She was a legendary lunch-packer and I marvel to this day where she found the energy as a single working Mom to do this day in and day out for over a decade.

    • K says...

      this is awesome.

  61. Jenny says...

    This is so sweet! What a loving thing! When I was little, I used to draw and decorate on my dad’s brown paper lunch sacks. He was such a stern man, but he proudly carried his lunch in a glitter penguin sack to work. He genuinely seemed tickled by the bags. He died when I was in middle school and I haven’t thought of those lunch sacks again until today. I wish I could call him up and thank him for being excited about those lunch bags, and his daughters

    • Kristin says...

      That’s so sweet, Jenny! I am so sorry for your loss. Sending a hug.

    • Kelly says...

      This made me cry. Thank you for sharing and big hug to you!

  62. Rachel says...

    This reminds me so much of something Jenny from Dinner: A Love Story would do! I loved her book “How to Celebrate Everything” because it focused so much on rituals/traditions that matter to your family, that make everyone feel loved, and that don’t kill me from the required time commitment/effort. One year for Valentine’s day, I bought the glow-in-the-dark stickers that were probably meant for elementary school kids, and hid them all over the house for my husband. We were newlyweds and broke, and he still has the stack of them :)

  63. Diana says...

    Humour has always been a way that my daughter loves to connect. But when she was younger she didn’t always know how to be funny. I started packing notes everyday with a joke on them in the hopes they would help.
    I also illustrated them with a quick drawing that I had made. I would do a whole bunch at a time so I was usually ready. Sometimes I ran out and she always commented that she missed her note. It has been four years now and I was just wondering if I should keep it up.

  64. Jessie says...

    For the past 4 years, I’ve been including a short handwritten note with a daily joke in my son’s lunchbox.
    The best part is, since my son struggles socially, the jokes give him a chance to interact with his classmates & he tells me his classmates are anticipating his joke every day!

  65. Jamie says...

    WHAT A FANTASTIC IDEA!!!! My daughter loves receiving notes in her lunch box, and this will add so much more jazz and thrill! Can’t wait to try this out!
    Thank you!

  66. Alex says...

    I’ve been packing lunches for a while and on I’ve-got-it-together days doing notes, but mostly with cheesy mom messages (“I love you” is always important to say, but maybe less important to write on your grade schooler’s lunch note?). I’m definitely adding trivia Tuesday tomorrow!

  67. Alison Howey says...

    I always wondered if my kids loved or loathed the notes I would occasionally put in their lunch boxes until one day last year when I opened up my lunch box at work and found a note my little daughter had written to me! I was literally overcome by the tenderness of it and realized in that moment how much all those notes had actually meant to my children.

  68. Lana says...

    When I was in grade school my best friend’s mom would always write her a note on a napkin and stick it in her lunch. She was so used to them she’d barely notice it but I always was so jealous. Her mom wrote her notes! That feeling of a secret message FROM YOUR MOM (!!!) in the middle of the day seemed like it would be fantastic.
    When my first child was born I knew I’d always pack a note, and nine years later I do it every single day. Kids can’t get a quick text during the day and a note makes them feel connected to home.

  69. A says...

    so sweet!

    my dad always wrote notes in our lunches and my siblings and I turned the saved notes into a book called “Try your hardest, do your best” (one of his most repeated notes)

  70. Virginia says...

    My sweet, sweet mom wrote me tiny notes every. single. day. of first grade when I was the most emotional wreck. I remember feeling so comforted — she’d include Smarties candies with a good-luck note when I had a test, or draw little stick figures of us to remind me she was thinking of me. I saved them all diligently so at the end of the year I had a collection of hundreds.

    And what did I do with those thoughtful love letters? Gave them back to my mom. I have no recollection of this at all, but apparently six-year-old Virginia thought that since she wrote them, she would want them back??? I still cringe imagining her confusion, but she claims she doesn’t hold a grudge twenty-plus years later…

  71. Lynn says...

    I hoard postcards and I wonder if kids would like them being cut up into 3-5 piece puzzles, each with their daily note, that they can then put together to see the whole postcard at the end of each week (thus not using so many of my incomprehensibly beloved postcards).

    • Annie says...

      I love this idea. How would you feel if they lost a piece? Could also do a puzzle a day.

  72. Jess says...

    I LOVE Elisabeth’s posts…so true, funny and touching!

  73. Tricia says...

    I ask what my daughter would like me to draw on her lunch bag then do my best. She and the other kids in her class find it really entertaining :)

  74. Colleen S says...

    My mom rarely made lunches. Basically after first grade if I wanted a packed lunch, I had to do it myself. My mom worked the graveyard shift at a gas station until I was eight and my dad worked in a hospital and was usually out the door before my sister and I were ready for school. It was fine, though. We usually had bologna or cheese sandwiches with Cheetos puffs (90s lunch yumminess) as a snack. I usually put water in my thermos because I hate milk.

  75. I started doing little notes at the beginning of last school year (kindergarten for my son), and forgot all about making them within a week. Several months later, my son asked for them again. This time, I decided to spend some time at my studio making a whole bunch of little paintings to put in his lunchbox – so I’d be prepared for the next few weeks. He loved them – he would keep them in his pocket after lunch so he could look at them all afternoon. Then one day, he started describing some ideas that he thought I should make into lunchbox paintings. I told him if he drew them, I’d make them. And that’s when things became way more fun (and way more time consuming). I loved our collaboration! He’s now in first grade, and we have stopped because he was worried about first graders not thinking the notes are cool. But once he’s reading more, I’m going to borrow some ideas from this post, so great!
    https://www.instagram.com/p/Bz8mTRAlKbg/?igshid=cyuyeslgbzn4

  76. Jeanne says...

    Oh. My. Goodness! I love this. I detest packing school lunches, three of them. I finally passed the torch to my 12 year old daughter to make her own, I know, I know. But I still do my 9 and 6 year old’s. Occasionally I slip a note into their bags. They don’t ever really acknowledge it, but I always wonder how they react when they open their bags and see it. Do they smile, smurk, giggle… ? Thanks for the Monday morning brevity, I really appreciated it.
    P.S. Last year for kindergarten, I sent daily snacks in a brown paper bag and each day I’d draw a picture on the front. Wasn’t anything special but it was fun to do…

  77. Alissa says...

    This is so lovely! I pack lunch notes occasionally, and my kids are always so excited. I bought some cute Emily McDowell notecards last year that were fun (“I love you because…”), and I really leveled up this year. I found make-your-own scratch-off notes at Target – little lunch notes with a blank space that come with the scratch sticker to put on top. For the first day of school, I put them in the lunches along with a penny – my kids were FLOORED!

  78. Leanne says...

    I threw a “happy first day of grade one!” post-it note in my six-year-old’s lunch last week. He is so excited for and proud of his new reading skills, and the first thing he said when I picked him up was “Can you write me letters EVERY DAY?” Thanks for these great tips; week two and my creativity is already running low.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      So sweet!

  79. Sarah says...

    I love this! I send notes each day and absolutely love these ideas. Thanks for posting!

  80. Lauren says...

    Along those lines….I recently started sending my 4 year old niece and nephew postcards. Now that they’re “big kids” in school I thought they might like getting mail addressed specifically to them. (I’m also sending them pre-stamped blanks so that they can send me some too!) All that to say – does anyone have suggestions of where to get inexpensive postcards?

    • Jessica Hostetler says...

      Honestly, check thrift stores! Super cheap, and you may come across something great! I found a whole notebook of Beatrix Potter postcards recently at our local store, all for $2.

    • Cynthia says...

      Go to Amazon and search 100 postcards. They have many interesting sets, mostly in the $15-20 range.

    • Sarah says...

      Art museums! You support their efforts too!

  81. becky says...

    Constantly amazed at how parents put so much more into lunch prep than my parents and friends parents ever did. We were asked for our thoughts but when it came down to it, you got what you got because that’s what was on hand or easiest. There was no choice but to go with it.
    Love the lunch notes idea! I should add one in when I pack my husbands lunch.

  82. Emily says...

    I bought some super cute lunch notes from Mr. Boddington’s studio, and my girls (4 & 7) love getting them. I think the fun/wacky facts idea is fantastic…will definitely try!

    My kids actually pack their own lunches, as part of the Montessori philosophy of not doing things for a child that they can do themselves. I help my 4 year-old, of course, but my oldest (2nd grade) does it entirely herself. She’s even invented her favorite lunch, which is some variation of a rice ball stuffed with something. She has to ask me the night before so I can start the rice for her first thing in the morning, and is working toward using the stove fully herself as well.

    It can be tedious at first, but well worth it to make kids responsible for packing their own lunch. Mine eat everything so much better, and they can’t complain because they are their own chefs. I also have time for coffee and a shower without running around like a crazy person every morning.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      My friend was just telling us how her daughter made her lunch since age 2.5. Curious to try this with the boys. Thank you!

    • Hilary says...

      I loooove this idea. My daughter is too young to do this right now, but I hope to do this as she gets older.

      Hopefully quick question: Are there guidelines for what kinds of foods they can pack? I’m trying to raise a daughter that doesn’t worry about food or “bad foods” or anything, but I’m also picturing a kid just packing a bag of doritos and calling it lunch. Is the solution just only having in the house what you’re okay with them eating regularly? We currently have Yumbox containers that I love for many reasons, but they have sections for “fruit”, “veggie” etc. that I thought was a cute idea for helping to pack.

    • Marilee says...

      We do this too! This was my solution to my five year daughter who wouldn’t eat a packed lunch. We supervise and the only rules are that you need to include a minimum of 1 fruit, 1 veg, 1 protein and 1 carb. My daughter helps with the shopping to make her choices for the week and packs her lunch each day. Now we’re starting the same thing with our youngest who just started kindergarten. So far, no lunches have been brought home uneaten! Other parents look at us with a mix of wonder and horror but it works for our family.

    • Mimi says...

      I love this post and the comments for so many reasons. I, too, thought “step aside” on the days when I took over my husband’s job of lunch packing, only to be met with kiddos’ complaints. I am better at my husband, though, at teaching things that take patience rather than just doing the thing myself, so I’m once again excited to step in as expert ;) and try to shake things up with the Montessori method.

    • Jaime says...

      I love this sentiment/idea of moms and dads writing lunchbox notes, which I never had growing up. Like you, Emily, my parents gave me the responsibility of packing my own lunch starting in 1st grade! I still remember the guidelines- 1 fruit or veggie, 1 dairy item, 1 carb/bread, and 1 small treat (like a piece of chocolate or gummies).
      That being said, my parents definitely expressed their love to my siblings and me in other ways besides lunch box notes :)

    • C. says...

      “some variation of a rice ball stuffed with something”
      Brilliant, all the way around. :)

    • Laura says...

      This year I’ve fully outsourced lunch making to my 5 and 8 year olds and it’s great–although I miss including the notes! I make some sandwiches, bagels with cream cheese, etc. on the weekend (you can find lots of ideas on the internet about what freezes well), plus cut some veggies or fruit, and they pick a “main” from the freezer (which thaws by lunch) plus some things from the fridge (veggies, yogurt, cheese) and a dedicated bin in the pantry (with granola bars, fruit snacks, etc.) for the rest of their lunch. After two weeks back at school they’ve already gotten really good at only packing enough that they’ll want to/have time to eat, and the boxes come back empty. We do only have things in the house that we’d be okay with them eating, plus general rules like the lunch has to include a vegetable (and the school’s rule of no nuts, candy, etc.). I have to help our 3 year old with his lunch but the advance prep still makes that a breeze!

    • patricia blaettler says...

      When my son was in high school he told me that his friends’ moms made their lunches. I said, “well then, their moms are idiots!” hahaha
      I guess I’m a mean mom. I got it from my mom who had 9 kids.. no time for that bullsh*t.

    • Kim says...

      I started my kids making their own lunches (mostly out of desperation) at about 3rd grade. I gave them a chart showing what it had to have (a main meal, fruit, veggie, and snack) and turned them loose. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes not. I remember once when my daughter packed for her veggie a whole raw zucchini (not even sliced). She couldn’t think of anything else to pack. Ok then. I didn’t even intervene.

  83. Jackie says...

    I love this. About once a month, I surprise my kids with Lunchables. It may not be the healthiest but they LOVE it, and it makes me so happy to picture their faces when they open them at lunch time! Does anyone else do this?

    • Leanne says...

      I snuck a few Swedish Berries in with my kid’s Goldfish one day last week and it blew his mind. The thought of his excitement when he opened his little zip bag to find them got me through the work day.

    • celeste says...

      My kids beg for them, but we do it as a once-a-year treat, usually with a sandwich packed alongside.

    • liz says...

      No kids but honestly, I would be thrilled to be surprised once a month with a Lunchable – and I’m 31!

    • Florencia says...

      I’m typically a pretty healthy eater and am raising my son that way too. One day I hadn’t gone to the store and was running low on food and time. A friend had made some muffins and I put one in his lunch. He thought I put it in by mistake and didn’t eat it because he couldn’t believe he could eat a muffin for lunch!