I’ve become a somewhat expert at school lunches after doing them for 10 years (so far). My lunch boxes started out looking a lot like the picture below, with a lot of processed, pre-packaged food. I’m not here to make anyone feel guilty for throwing together pre-packaged lunches! It’s just over the years, I’ve focused on what’s important to me in regards to food for my kids, and have refined the processes over time to achieve that, and I want to share my tips with anyone who wants to know.
Here’s a snap shot of the lunches I make for my kids at school these days.
Lunch boxes used to stress me out but I’m surprised to say that, while I wouldn’t say I enjoy doing school lunches, I find it quite easy now, plus I do find myself thinking about creative ways to fill the lunch box with nutritious food my kids will enjoy. This transformation comes down to this: you need to have a system.
1. Have goals
It’s important to have a sense of direction when it comes to what sort of lunch boxes you want to create for your kids. You don’t necessarily need to achieve them straight away but it’s good to have goals and work your way towards them. For me, I strive for mostly rubbish-free lunch boxes that contain wholefoods, including a fresh fruit and vegetables. I also like to provide variety, and a bit of fun sometimes. One of the key turning moments for me in my lunch box journey, is the challenge I created for myself by converting 5 dinners into lunch box food, and you can read about it here. I’ve come a long way in my goals, and next on my agenda is to experiment with healthier baking options.
2. Invest in great products
This is absolutely KEY when it comes to making lunches easy. If you invest in a good lunch box, it will last for years. I’ve tried many different lunch boxes over the years and to achieve what I want with my children’s lunches, the lunch box needs to have compartments. What you need:
- Lunch Box
- Ice Pack
- Insulated case
I’ve listed below my top lunch box recommendations below.
Bentology lunch boxes
Suitable for: Primary School & High School Kids
I review the Bentology lunch boxes (used to be called Laptop lunch boxes) in detail here. The only drawback with these lunch boxes is they have a lot of parts which can be annoying.
Yumbox Original – Suitable for: Lower Primary School Kids
Yumbox Tapas – Suitable for: Upper Primary School & High School Kids
Yumboxe original are ideal for younger children and are my top recommendation for primary school kids up to about grade 3. I just find they are too small for my kids now. However, the good news is Yumbox have just bought out a large box called the Yumbox Tapas and I am considering giving that a go for my kids this year (currently using GoGreen lunch boxes which I will explain further below).
Go Green Lunch Boxes
Suitable for: Upper Primary School & High School Kids
For the past 2 years, I’ve been using Go Green Lunch Boxes for my kids. They are HUGE so they fit a good amount of food for teenagers. However, my kids do find they do take up a lot of space in the school bag. After a few years of use, they are starting to break in parts, however I have been happy with them overall, especially if you have teenagers who need A LOT of food. They are the biggest lunch box that I have found.
Fits a small apple.
Planet Lunch Boxes
Suitable for: Upper Primary School & High School Kids
For those looking for a stainless steel lunch box, Planetbox lunch boxes are a good option. You can find more examples of lunches made in these containers here: whole food lunch box ideas.
Suitable for: Upper Primary School & High School Kids
I notice Tupperware do a rectangle and square divided lunch boxes. They look good to me. The only thing I would worry about is easy of opening (and putting the lid back on properly) for young kids.
I have used a few different drink bottles. I recommend any of the Contigo brand (I reviewed the bottles pictured below here).
Recently, my kids have used Nike sport bottles and they have been surprisingly excellent and don’t seem to leak. You can get them from places like Rebel.
Other Bits and Bobs
Another product I have found REALLY fabulous for the lunch box are silicone muffin cases. I use them to cook bakery items. Then, I freeze them in the cases, and they go straight into the lunch box in the morning. Another way I use them is when they are empty, they are a great way to section small food in the lunch box (there are examples at the end of the blog post).
Using the freezer is imperative to my lunch box success (which I go into further below) and so I have dedicated containers to store lunch box food in. These Sitema containers are great, and they are clear so I can see what is in them easily.
I also have a few fun things to include in the lunch boxes to make things interesting. My favourites are the eye food picks I bought from Lunch Boxes With Love. However, I don’t do fun stuff all the time, maybe about once a week or fortnight. If you head over to my Instagram @beafunmum and search for the hashtag #BAFM_Lunchbox you will see many examples of the realistic lunch boxes I make for my kids. Sometimes they are fun, and sometimes they are boring!
My Lunch Box Product List
- Lunch Box
- Insulated Case
- Ice Brick
- Silicone Muffin Cases
- Sistema containers (for freezable items)
- Food picks
- Drink bottles
- Miscellaneous small containers
3. Have a dedicated lunch box storage section
The system I use requires the need for containers. This is a bit of a pain, but it really makes it quick in the mornings. I have lunch box items stored in my pantry in baskets. One for drink bottles and lids, one for the containers and one for the lunch boxes and other bits and bobs I don’t use everyday.
On a school morning, I line up four lunch boxes, fill with containers and then throw in the food. The last step is to place a lunch box size freezer brick in the insulted case and place the entire lunch box inside. This example is for the Benology lunch boxes. For other boxes with dividers, they just go directly in the insulated case with the ice brick.
4. Use the freezer
My freezer is my best friend when it comes to the lunch box. I mainly freeze all my bakery items that are one component of the lunch box. Food items can be taken out of the freezer in the morning and put straight in the lunchbox. They will be thawed and fresh by eating time. You can find a baking freezer challenge full of great recipes here.
The following items will keep for 2 weeks in the freezer.
I tend to make sandwiches fresh, because I prefer to do that, but if you have a mad busy week ahead, it’s good to know you can freeze them ahead of time.
Make sandwiches with fillings like cheese and ham, vegemite or jam.
Cakes and slices, muffins, baked beans, zucchini slice, quiche are some snack ideas that are able to be frozen.
Organising the freezer:
- It’s helpful to have a dedicated draw in the freezer for lunch box items.
- Separating portion size is easy with zip-lock bags. For a more environmentally friendly option, use individual containers or freeze in batches and place directly in the lunch box of a morning. For layering in containers, use a sheet of baking paper.
This is a heap of food I prepared ahead of time to freeze (except the eggs I just put them in the fridge for a few days).
To aid the morning rush, much of the lunch preparation can be done the night before and the weekend. I don’t always do this, as I usually have time in the morning, but it can really help if you know you have a busy morning.
- Cut up fruit and vegetable pieces
- Portion yoghurt and crackers. I also make custard the night before sometimes and let it set in the containers that fit into the lunch box. Then in the morning, they get slotted in.
- Make a batch of sandwiches and place them in the freezer
- Bake home goods and freeze in portion size
6. Break it down
Instead of thinking morning tea/lunch food, I break the lunch box down into food types. So in each packed lunch, I aim for this balance:
- 1 x Fruit
- 1 x Vegetable
- 1 x Snack Food (baked goods, energy balls, crackers, egg, cheese, yoghurt)
- 1 x Lunch Item
- 1 x other (if needed, depending on the child)
This system allows for seasonal variations and helps me to shop smart. I’m fairly consistent with this system and so my kids are used to seeing vegetables in their lunch box.
7. Lunch box staples
It’s great to have your lunch box staple foods you can fall back on (like the humble sandwich). I have certain foods that I know work well in the lunch box and here are some of the items on my list:
Vegetables: corn on the cob, cucumber, snow peas, carrot, celery sticks, baby corn, tin corn, avocado, cherry tomato
Fruit: small apple, tin fruit, stone fruit, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwi fruit, small pears, watermelon pieces, pineapple pieces
Snacks: muffins, nut-free choc energy balls, apricot balls, rice crackers, popcorn, trail mix, muesli slice (another 2nd recipe for muesli slice), corn & cheese muffins, coconut bread
Protein: ham, salami, salami sticks, bean dip, cheese, boiled egg, hummus, yoghurt
Lunch: sandwich, mini quiche, zucchini fitters, meatloaf, pizza scrolls, zucchini slice, wraps, pizza, salad, flat bread
7. Make it safe
I have a guest post from a dietitian you can read which gives great tips on making the lunch box healthy and safe: Lunch Box Tips
8. Make it fun
Once you have a good system down, it’s easier to find ways to make lunches fun. I don’t do this all the time, just a few time a month to mix things up. Try new foods and different ways of presenting them. Below are a few links:
9. Get Feedback from Kids
I often say to my kids, “How was lunch today?” I like getting feedback on what they like and don’t and what works (sometimes I’ve tried something and it didn’t work in the lunch box). I think including kids in the process is a good way for them to try new things and be engaged with food. You can read more about how we establish a food culture in our family here.
10. Lunch Box Examples
Below are a few lunch box examples and you can find even more ideas by looking through the lunch box tips on the blog under Lunch Box Ideas or in this post on my @beafunmum Instagram feed. Just search for the tag #BAFM_Lunchbox.
Tip: Depending on what is on the wrap, I separate the fill ingredients from the wrap in the lunch box and the kids make it up themselves fresh at lunch time.
Tip: Energy balls are fabulous in the lunch box and they freeze well.
Tip: Silicone muffin cases are great for separating food in the lunch box.
Tip: Leftover rice or pasts can be turned into an easy lunch box food.
Tip: Food picks work well with cut up fruit and veggies.
Tip: You can make a big batch of pizza and freeze in small square portion for the lunch box (if kids like cold pizza)
Tip: Try growing cherry tomatoes in a pot in the backyard. They are so easy to grow and it’s wonderful to be able to include food you grow yourself in the lunch box. Here’s a guide: Plant Pot Garden.
Tip: Make sandwiches a bit more interesting by cutting them in different shapes sometimes, or make soldiers.
Tip: Try new foods! The kids may not like it, but they might too, and it’s all about building your lunch box repertoire.
Tip: Make quiche in muffins trays so they are in individual sizes. This makes it easy and quick to use in the lunch box. This is the recipe I use: Quiche Recipe.
Tip: Think outside the box! My kids love it when I put plain corn chips and dip in their lunch box. The bean dip recipe is here.
What a Typical Lunch Box Making Morning Looks Like
- Take lunch boxes from drying rack and lay on the bench.
- Pull out bakery item from the freezer and place directly (frozen) in respective lunch box sections.
- Add fruit (cut if necessary).
- Add veggies (cut if necessary).
- Add lunch component (either from freezer – e.g. scrolls – or whatever I have for lunch like a ham, cheese and mustard sandwich – made fresh).
- Take freezer brick out from freezer.
- Ice brick in insulated case, lunch box in the case and leave on the bench for children to collect.
All this takes under 10 minutes to make 4 lunch boxes.
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How I encourage my kids to eat veggies
AndreaNovember 10, 2014 at 10:14 am
Hi Kelly, thank you thank you thank you for this timely article and sharing your ideas. My 5yo starts school in February, and I am already dreading the whole lunchbox thing. But your article makes it seem so easy. Bit of time for me to practise. 🙂
Kelly - Be A Fun MumNovember 10, 2014 at 10:45 pm
These are all the things I would teach myself if I could go back to the beginning! Haha. All the best for next year for your little one. Such a big, wonderful step!
BelindaNovember 10, 2014 at 2:48 pm
Thanks Kelly for showing that healthy school lunches can be done! I just need to be more organised 🙂
Kelly - Be A Fun MumNovember 10, 2014 at 10:42 pm
So glad you found it useful!
sNovember 13, 2014 at 9:08 am
Ah Kelly, I don’t have to make lunches for four every day but if I did I would come straight over here and follow this guide. You take the overwhelm out of the whole lunchbox thing. My twins get a hot vegetarian lunch at school – odd but true – and the big teens prefer to make their own. I do bake things for them and try to have plenty fruit in the house – that’s a job in itself!
Kelly - Be A Fun MumNovember 13, 2014 at 6:25 pm
Hot vegetarian meal at school sounds THE BEST!! Wow.
kate - The Craft TrainNovember 17, 2014 at 11:10 pm
This is a great post. I’m totally aiming to do something like this (atm my lunches look average at best), and I have had bad luck with lunch boxes breaking and just not being very suitable so the lunch box tips help too. Thanks – pinning.
CarolynDecember 13, 2014 at 3:27 pm
This may be a dumb question but do you put individual lids on all the boxes inside your “lunchbox” – having a blonde logic moment x
Kelly - Be A Fun MumDecember 13, 2014 at 3:35 pm
Not a silly question at all! I’ve been asked that a lot. The answer is the lunch box comes with 2 of the containers with lids and 2 without. The lid of the lunch box acts as a seal to keep food in…and then for anything wet etc. I use the lids for those ones. I reviewed the lunch box in detail here http://beafunmum.com/2014/02/bento-laptop-lunch-box-review/
Jolene @ Yummy InspirationsDecember 14, 2014 at 4:44 pm
Oh wow! So many super fun ideas here! I’ve share this on my Facebook Page and Pinterest. Thank you so much for putting this post together, it’s so helpful.
Kelly - Be A Fun MumDecember 14, 2014 at 7:10 pm
Thanks so much Jolene. I’m glad you found it useful.
Sandra MackenzieDecember 16, 2014 at 9:24 am
Such a great article, I sometimes feel like a failure as a Mum when I struggle to find something good and healthy for my kids to eat, while they don’t need lunchboxes yet (they are 2 & 3 and their day care provides all their food while they are there) I might just start making some for home lunches to get some practice in.
P.S. Picture 6 Plum, not Plumb LOL.
Kelly - Be A Fun MumDecember 16, 2014 at 6:20 pm
Hahaha. Thanks for that!
Ariani@Bebento-KidsDecember 17, 2014 at 1:58 am
What a great post and very well written. I’ve been making bento school lunches for my kids too and enjoy every moment. I’ve share this on my facebook page. Thanks!
Kelly - Be A Fun MumDecember 17, 2014 at 10:56 am
SarahDecember 17, 2014 at 10:05 am
Thank you so much for this! Some fantastic ideas!
With the mini quiche – do you still put pastry on the bottom of the muffin case?
Kelly - Be A Fun MumDecember 17, 2014 at 11:03 am
Not for the ones in the silicone cases. I just use the filing mixture. I have made them with pastry (in a regular muffin pan) and then put it in like that too.
MiniDecember 18, 2014 at 3:10 am
Hi thanks or these tips. Just question, where did you get the containers from?
Kelly - Be A Fun MumDecember 18, 2014 at 11:38 am
The lunch box containers? They are Laptop Lunchboxes. You can find my review on them here http://beafunmum.com/2014/02/bento-laptop-lunch-box-review/
For the containers I use for freezing (sistema) I purchased them from Coles.
Giselle BurtonDecember 18, 2014 at 3:30 pm
Our school has a nude food policy which is great, so many kids now don’t get re- package food!!!
Jane OrrJanuary 12, 2015 at 7:09 pm
I love all your ideas!! My two oldest boys will be in year 9 and year 11 and since they’ve been in high school I find it really hard to get them to eat their lunches. Then they’re starving by the time they get home and eat everything in sight!!! My daughter is in grade 6 this year and I’m hoping she’ll be better once she gets to high school? I try to have healthy snacks for after school but i feel like making their lunches is a waste of time 🙁 any ideas.
Mel WatsonJanuary 13, 2015 at 12:01 am
Kelly this is fabulous! I am starting to make lunchboxes for my 9 month old (for babysitting visits to grandparents and friends so that they know what she can have to eat!) and this is a great guide to having a system – even though my foods will differ I am going to start this system now and it can evolve with us. x
ShelleyJanuary 13, 2015 at 12:49 am
How to you keep everything from falling out? Once it’s put in the containers. Because if I were to close the lunch box with no fiver everything would be everywhere 🙂
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 13, 2015 at 7:52 am
Take a look at my review as I explain how it keeps everything in there http://beafunmum.com/2014/02/bento-laptop-lunch-box-review/
JulieJanuary 13, 2015 at 11:54 am
What size are your flat freezer containers? Trying to order from amazon, but I don’t see anything exactly like that.
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 13, 2015 at 7:02 pm
They are similar size to a large pice of bread. I got them from Woolworths or Coles. You can try somewhere like Howards Storage World for small ice bricks too.
MariaJanuary 13, 2015 at 4:57 pm
Great article, I struggle to fit enough into my sons lunch box, is four portions really enough? My son who is four will happily do two lunch sandwiches and fruit and yogurt and somehow i have to fit in snack break, and morning and afternoon tea ! I do individual containers for each thing…
karenJanuary 14, 2015 at 1:37 pm
Hi. With the insulated cooler bags for the laptop lunch box do you find just the singular work well or the duo one they have with the extra space for drink bottle?
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Bek @ Just For DaisyJanuary 26, 2015 at 9:20 pm
You’re a lunch box rock star Kelly! 🙂 THanks for sharing!
IngerJanuary 27, 2015 at 4:58 am
Lots of great inspiration here, thank you for sharing! I might have to get those laptop lunchboxes – been holding off as I was thinking the little inside containers would get lost, but it’s smart to store them separately like you do. x from Norway
Ros GardnerJanuary 27, 2015 at 7:16 am
Very impressed. Where was this when I sent my children off to school with Vegemite/Peanut Butter sandwiches and the fruit would usually come back everyday….my grandchildren will enjoy your concepts. Thank you for sharing !
SriJanuary 27, 2015 at 1:09 pm
I found this really inspirational, and am looking forward to changing the way I think about packing school lunches for the five people in my family off to Preschool, Primary School and work (also school!) this year. Could you share where you get your silicone muffin cases from? I’m always buying paper cases, but it makes more sense to have something reusable on hand – and I like the different ways you make use of them in the lunchboxes. Thanks for writing this, it’s been both challenging and helpful. 😀
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 27, 2015 at 5:40 pm
Hi Sri! From memory, I think got them from Coles. You can get them from places like Robin’s Kitchen etc. too.
MelodyJanuary 29, 2015 at 10:15 pm
Hi there Kelly! This stuff is awesome! Super easy to follow and so inspirational. U should make video on YouTube!
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 30, 2015 at 11:21 am
Thanks Melody! I do have a YouTube channel but I haven’t done anything on lunch boxes yet! https://www.youtube.com/user/BeAFunMum/videos
kylieJanuary 30, 2015 at 6:39 am
Thank you VERY much. I found some great silicone food containers and I knew I wanted to lift my game but wasn’t sure how x
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 30, 2015 at 11:26 am
So glad you found it helpful!
Sarah DohlJanuary 30, 2015 at 8:22 am
Your lunches look great – I have most of those cute supplies. My only question is, what do your kids think of their lunches when it has been tossed and turned in their bags for a couple of hours – it never looks the same as in the mornings!
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 30, 2015 at 11:35 am
As long as they have food to eat, my kids are happy. Haha. But I do find these lunch boxes keep things pretty well (depending on what is in there). Everything stays in the respective containers (and two of them have sealed lids (for yoghurt etc). I asked my daughter to take a pic of the food at lunch time one day (with her iPad – she’s at high school) and this is what it looked like http://beafunmum.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/bento-laptop-lunch-boxes-.jpg
The only stuff that escapes are little things like sultanas. If I put cut fruit up in silicone containers, it doesn’t stay perfect like that, but it still helps to keep them from getting all sloshed, squashed and bruised.
Does that answer your question? If you have any specific food you’re curious about, let me know, because I’ve probably tried it somewhere along the line!
AmyJanuary 30, 2015 at 10:04 am
I absolutely love these ideas. And the storage is genius.
Unfortunately one of my children would eat only 2 of the delicious items in the pictures, and the other would eat 5. Picky eaters who consistently refuse to try anything new is frustrating.
I’m using these ideas for me though, when I go back to work!
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 30, 2015 at 11:49 am
Ack, yes!! It can be tricky with fussy eaters. One of my kids has been a challenge, due to sensory issues, and consistency and forming a food culture at home has helped. There are still things that she just can’t stand, like anything with mayo, melted cheese and spicy things, but she will try a lot of other things now which is great (and she likes her veggies because she knows they are good for her). I talk about developing our family food culture here http://beafunmum.com/2014/05/ways-to-encourage-kids-to-eat-vegetables/
My other three kids aren’t fussy, which is SO much easier!!
BiancaFebruary 1, 2015 at 3:01 pm
I have 5 kids and have rarely made their lunches as I found it always comes home.
The day care they all attended had the 3 yr old children making their own sandwiches once a week and since then I’ve never had to make a lunch.
My 3 yr old has also been packing her own lunch for over a year (I just help with the sandwich/wrap) that way I know she knows what is in her lunch before she goes to kinder as she only packs what she likes (that changes each day)
I have a similar set up with the lunch boxes and small tubs in the cupboard and I get my kids to stick to 1 sandwich/wrap, 1 fruit, 1 savory snack, 1 sweet item (either home baked or packaged) we live in queensland and they don’t have fridges at school so we often stay away from yogurt or meat products that need to stay cold.
I also have a very small freezer or I would try freezing items for them to include.
Some very good ideas I just wish my kids would be happy to try new items (not just in their lunches)
ElizabethFebruary 7, 2015 at 8:01 pm
Love the tip to freeze sandwiches on the weekend. When I had 3 to provide lunches for, and they had to leave home at 7:15, being able to grab a roll out of the freezer was so easy for them. I used to make a bunch of bread rolls with a variety of fillings. I found chicken and mayo, cheese and vegemite, cheese and ham all froze really well. Also used to do grated carrot, cream cheese and shallots, plus a few others I can’t remember!
Kelly - Be A Fun MumFebruary 9, 2015 at 7:12 am
Grated carrot/cream cheese! Good one to try thanks!
LauraJune 13, 2015 at 4:53 pm
Love this post, it’s so helpful, you have done all the hard work for us 🙂
I’m not a mum but a student who is hopeless at making ‘packed’ lunches, but always know I should be.
This step by step guide (with suggestions and options – yay for options) is so easy to follow and modify,
I now try to have lunch packed the night before ready to go but if I haven’t managed that – step 6 is so useful when i’m only half awake in the mornings but will definitely want something descent to eat by midday.
LucyJanuary 5, 2016 at 9:09 pm
Oh man, seeing this post makes me think I’m overfeeding my daughter. She would have double that in her lunchbox each day, and eat it – and she’s only 6. It’s all healthy what she has, but maybe I need to rethink how much she has! Thanks for a fab post. 🙂
TrishJanuary 7, 2016 at 10:01 am
Great ideas thanks Kelly.
I find the Egg free policy of our school (can be in cakes) very challenging as one of my twins has food sensory issues too. Last week we found three lunchboxes in his wardrobe with decomposing mouldy sandwiches. Oh the joy of finding that.
He would happily eat an egg every day for lunch.
They were my good Tupperware boxes though so we had to clean them out.
I am going to show him this post and ask how we can help him improve his lunch eating habits.
Plus it’s too hot for yoghurt/custard etc with bags left outside on 30+ days.
I love my Contigo Thermal cup for tea, didn’t know they made drink bottles.
Ecococoon Bottles are our favourite water stays icy cold all day.
BiancaJanuary 23, 2016 at 4:01 pm
I find that with ice packs the lunchboxes do stay cool.
I put an ice pack in bottom and also an extra frozen water bottle in the insulated lunchbox.
the child can then either drink the ice water or keep as an ice block 🙂
hope that helps
LisaJanuary 17, 2016 at 1:37 am
I was wondering if you could please tell me what lunchboxes you use & where do you get them from plus where would you get the containers inside them from???
BiancaJanuary 23, 2016 at 3:59 pm
Thanks for an easy to follow guide for packing lunch boxes without the usual sandwich (my son does not eat bread) !!!
Do you put individual lids on each section/part or just the box container?
In your pictures I could not see lids?
Also what labels would you recommend to put on containers, as my kids love losing there lunchboxes!
karryn mcalpineJanuary 23, 2016 at 4:46 pm
hi kelly fantastic ideas i am starting to implement these for my son…..
Rebecca FauskeJuly 5, 2016 at 7:55 pm
Hi Kelly …. loving the inspiration from this article. I just found Munchbox containers (www.munchbox.com.au) and I’m very keen for it to arrive, together with all the little picks and fun stuff. I’ve got 3 lunch boxes to make each day at the moment and in the near future it will be 4 just like you! So whether or not the kids derive any fun from it all, at least Mamma will! One little idea I found on my Google travels tonight was using silicone icy-pole moulds to put things in as well. Just another one of those cute & colourful ideas.
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EllieJanuary 21, 2017 at 5:51 pm
Thank you so much, my oldest is about to start prep in a few weeks and I’m determined for him to have awesome lunches but didn’t know where to start! Your article was just what I’ve been looking for. Thanks again!
Kelly - Be A Fun MumJanuary 22, 2017 at 9:22 pm
So glad you found it useful!