A short rant about packed lunches

My recent rant about taps was so popular that I have been trying desperately ever since to think of something else that annoys me. When I nearly got run over last week on a zebra crossing by a driver who wasn’t paying attention I tried to get riled up about it, I really did, but instead my brain said ‘never mind, you weren’t hurt, and sometimes you don’t always spot people on zebra crossings either’.

Damn you brain being so understanding.

Every time I see a sock or towel on the floor I try to will myself to become infuriated, but it just isn’t working, I’m just too easy going.

*pause for cynical laughter from Boyfriend, mum, and anyone else who has ever lived with me*

This morning though, as I made Belle a marmite sandwich*, it hit me – packed lunches. Dangerous driving and thoughtless housekeeping just don’t come close to the loathsomeness of having to make a packed lunch. You’d think that after having one child or another at school for over 14 years that it wouldn’t bother me any more, that I would at least have resigned myself to doing it, if not exactly embraced it. You might even think I would have been organised enough to get into the habit of making them the night before, but no, I leave it until the last possible minute every time.

I’ve decided that the issue with packed lunches is twofold. 

Firstly, there’s the imagination required. You are basically having to do the same task every day, but with the expectation that you will do it slightly differently each time. Do you know how much effort that requires?? In my day you got a sandwich and a penguin and you were grateful, (especially after the two mile walk to school and back, in the snow, uphill both ways), but nowadays the pressure is on for ‘good’ parents to create things like this:

Bento box

I mean, come on, who on earth has the time or the patience to do that every single day? You do know it’s not going to look like that when your child takes it out of their bag at lunch time don’t you? Seriously, if you are spending that much time thinking about packed lunches then something is deeply wrong. Get a job, volunteer at a local homeless shelter, take a lover, anything – but do something. Apart from anything else you’re making the rest of us look bad.

The second issue is what the packed lunch represents. When your first child goes off to primary school it can feel exciting at first, packing up their teeny tiny lunch box with wholesome treats. And then it hits you – you are going to have to do this all week, all month, all year, for years and years. And it’s not just the sandwich. You are going to have to be available to make the sandwich at the same time and place every day. For years. The packed lunch comes to symbolise everything about parenting that terrifies and frustrates you – the relentlessness, the lifelong commitment, not to mention the total lack of gratitude or acknowledgement you get for any of it.

Because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how long you spend crafting sandwiches into the shape of dinosaurs or turning a bunch of grapes into ‘fruit kebabs’, your child is going to take one bite, leave the rest in the box, and go out to play, leaving the rest for you to discover when they get home and throw in the bin.

*I wonder how many marmite sandwiches I have made in my lifetime? I really hope that when you die you get a bit of time afterwards to pull up some stats from your life – number of marmite sandwiches made, number of days in total spent going up and down in lifts, that sort of thing.



  1. 14 November, 2013 / 8:48 am

    I wholeheartedly agree. My daughter’s 14 now and I’ve also been making packed lunch for my husband for 20 years and I’VE HAD ENOUGH!!! Now we’ve moved further from where I work I also have to make myself a packed lunch, which did spur me on a bit at first but, quite honestly, it seems the more effort I put in the less they’re likely to say thank you. Cheese sandwiches all round from now on! Bah!!!

    • 18 November, 2013 / 5:57 pm

      Rachael, I am a stranger to you and you owe me nothing. But please, please, please stop making your husband’s lunch!

  2. 14 November, 2013 / 1:11 pm

    I totally agree. I loathe making packed lunches. In fact, it might be better to buy healthy, wholesome things and put them straight in the bin before handing your child a bag of crisps and a KitKat. It would save everyone a lot of effort. Apart from anything, if you did bother to make a garden of Eden lunch box like that one, by the time it had been kicked up the aisle of the bus (not a metaphor) and sat next to the radiator all morning it would look horrible.

  3. 14 November, 2013 / 1:14 pm

    This sums up exactly how I feel about packed lunches! I have to do three every morning and I’m getting bored of it now (only been doing it for 5 years). I keep trying to come up with different ideas and they have to be ‘healthy’ ideas too which makes it even more complicated. I also grew up when sandwiches and a penguin was your lunch and I don’t think I’ve suffered for it. Most of the time my sandwiches were Marmite too, and so are my children’s, so I estimate that I’m making more than 400 of them per year!

  4. 14 November, 2013 / 1:25 pm

    I do try to involve my imagination, but real life and utter fatigue always get in the way. The slight difference I offer every day? The level to which the grilled cheese sandwich is burned. I get through the tedious task of making lunch by mentally envisioning the first day of summer vacation when it doesn’t matter if my kids are eating a lunch of peanut butter on a spoon at 3 n the afternoon.

  5. 14 November, 2013 / 1:49 pm

    Brilliant – I remember the days of no. 1 son starting school and happily baking dried fruit muffins, slicing carrot sticks and buying a mountain of mini tuppaware pots. After a term of juice/hummus covered pots (lids disappeared) and soggy, uneaten sandwiches (sometimes covered in mud??!) coming home, I gave up and also sank into the marmite sandwich routine. We then lived in the USA for a couple of years I gave in and let him have canteen lunches. Until I came to a ‘take your mom to lunch’ day when I saw that he was eating a bag fluorescent yellow cheese popcorn, accompanied by a bottle of gatorade each day. Now that was a reality check and I willingly returned to marmite sandwiches!

  6. 14 November, 2013 / 3:27 pm

    I’m sorry you feel the need to rant. This is partly the reason behind why I set up Lunchbox World as a website and as a blog – to help put the FUN back into packed lunches. I feel if I plan the week’s packed lunches and make sure I do “Why not Wednesday” and “Fun Friday” it helps make the packed lunches more fun for the kids to eat! And they come home better tempered too as they’ve eaten the lunch and aren’t starving hungry! There is nothing more satisfying than opening up the lunch bag at the end of the day to find a totally eaten up empty lunch box within! It makes me feel I have done something right! So yes, I totally get it when you say it’s become so symbolic. And that’s why I get the non-perishables all ready the night before to save time in the morning. If you are looking for some lunch box ideas, do check out the blog and the website. There are lots of quick tips and hints to help you get started. You don’t have to create a masterpiece! Just go through our lunch box basics… http://lunchboxworldblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/what-is-it-with-boys.html and check out the hints and tips section on the website – we all eat with our eyes – how to avoid lunchbox fatigue http://lunchboxworldblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/top-tips-for-avoiding-lunchbox-fatigue.html
    Let me know what you think? We’re here to help x

  7. 14 November, 2013 / 5:26 pm

    Maybe I’m still in the lunch box ‘honeymoon’ phase but I don’t mind making my son’s packed lunch. I’m lucky most days he eats every last bite! I have a mountain of shaped sandwich cutters and then offer fruit, veg (cold corn on the cob is his number one choice!) one sweet treat (shop bought), and a bottle of water. My main trick is a personalised napkin every day for now with a handdrawn picture but later it will be a quick message.

    I’m trying to keep it easy and to make it less of a chore!

  8. kimberlee
    14 November, 2013 / 6:21 pm

    Mine make their own,i buy a load of stuff and they choose what goes in,and make it themselves the night before.

  9. kimberlee
    14 November, 2013 / 6:21 pm

    oh and they are 4 and 5!

  10. 14 November, 2013 / 6:55 pm

    In my house if you’re over 5 you make your own lunch, well I do have 6 kids!

    • 18 November, 2013 / 5:50 pm

      The only sane policy (maybe a little harsh on the 5 year olds but nothing they can’t get used to!)

  11. 14 November, 2013 / 10:20 pm

    I loved your taps rant and i loved even more that you have been desperately trying to think of things that annoy you :)

    Packed lunches urgh. Not looking forward to that. That pic, looks lovely but my son would eat precisely none of it.

  12. 15 November, 2013 / 7:15 am

    Oh you are so right with this! When my youngest left primary school in July, I was so relieved that I would never have to make packed lunches again.

    Mind you, I’m a mean horrible Mom who never cut sandwiches into fancy shapes – if they were lucky they got quarters instead of halves!

  13. 15 November, 2013 / 2:30 pm

    Lol! I used to be quite happy with my sandwich and a penguin! Sod the fancy pants lunches I say!

  14. Anne Wallwin
    15 November, 2013 / 2:42 pm

    i’m with you on that one!! I’m filled with dread when my son says “Mommy Fin had a surprise in his lunch box today….”

  15. 15 November, 2013 / 10:10 pm

    You know the little beggars swap those healthy salad humus wraps with the kid who gets nuttela on white everyday and is gagging for something savoury!

  16. 16 November, 2013 / 8:32 am

    May I suggest moving to Japan is not for you? Kyaraben and oekakiben are de rigueur and sending your child off with a marmite samidge would be frowned upon in the most judgy manner possible. It makes AIBU look like Play School. Even the Bento that comes out of vending machines – the amount of vending machines in Japan is mind blowing – look like works of art.
    I keep promising myself that once a month I’ll do The Cub a Bento box full on Japanese style but the thought of it puts me off :D

  17. 17 November, 2013 / 11:30 pm

    Ohh it is such a bore – however I do like to fill them with healthy home made things and feel smug that they are healthier than the school lunches I am saving aprox £600 a year from! My HUGE rant is the soup issue. My children are great eaters and happy to eat tepid homemade veg soup in their lunch boxes but health and safety says no – not allowed because it might spill and burn someone?! If they ate the school gravy they would get hyper and could well burn someone (something about gravy makes them crazy) and I presume the gravy they serve is hot. My soup is blended veg in water and, as I said, tepid by lunch time. If they are willing to eat that they should be rewarded – not targetted by health and safety patrol?!

  18. Kirsten Murphy
    19 November, 2013 / 10:00 am

    Oh I hated packed lunches because my sons had such huge appetites, I couldn’t fit enough food in their Ben 10 lunchboxes! I made school dinners compulsory because then I knew they’d get enough to eat and the dinner lady often gave them a bit extra.

  19. 19 November, 2013 / 10:00 pm

    You are SO right. I have one child who has announced he “doesn’t like sandwiches” and another who insists on the same filing EVERY SINGLE DAY. I feel like I should be giving them wraps, homemade flapjacks, fruit salads, etc. But they would just come back with a single bite taken out of them. Hrrrrmpppphhhhh!

  20. 20 November, 2013 / 7:57 am

    Can you imagine cooking two pieces of bow pasta just for the head dress! Oh good grief! I make such rubbish packed lunches that my daughter happily has the school dinner at nursery which is a jolly good thing! Have to say people who don’t stop at Zebra crossings riles me more than the task of sandwich making though! I could rant and rant about that… And cyclists who ignore red lights! :-)

  21. 20 November, 2013 / 8:32 am

    In the ‘olden’ days my son had a ham sandwich, piece of fruit, juice and some crisps. He turned out well! Too much pressure on parents to create a work of art.

  22. 20 November, 2013 / 9:53 am

    I’m 25 and I still love the days when the missus has made me a packed lunch. She makes the most epic baguettes. When I was little, if mum wanted to get one up on the other parents, she would send me to school with a couple of Cadbury’s mini rolls. My daughters school doesn’t allow chocolate so we had to think outside the box. We ended up getting one of those Minnie Mouse sandwich cutters so when the other kids are like “Oh look, mummy made the characters of Toy Story out of cucumber and potato salad” my kids can be like “yeah, well my sandwich looks like Minnie! In yo face!”

  23. Julie Jupe
    20 November, 2013 / 10:14 am

    I got so fed up of it I took to making individually wrapped batches on Sunday night and putting them in the freezer. Then you just take a pack out each day and by lunchtime they have thawed perfectly. Works better for some fillings than others – cheese is great but tomatoes…..

  24. 20 November, 2013 / 7:05 pm

    I hate making packed lunches too. I occasionally try to make better, more interesting ones, but I find it all so mind numbingly boring. I always feel lighter on days when I have only one or none to do.

  25. 21 November, 2013 / 8:07 am

    School dinners for the win! ;-)

  26. 24 November, 2013 / 12:20 pm

    Its mindnumbingly boring as the plastic box you put it in, the pretty patterns on some of those do not help. They should be geared towards making a Mum like doing it, not covered in a childs fave hero of that term. I hear you, I made my two do their own for school once old enough.

  27. 25 November, 2013 / 5:32 pm

    my eldest is only year 1 but i am already a bit sick of making pack lunches every day! its one of my favourite things about school holidays – no pack lunches to make! :D

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