These days, parents seem to treat lunch-packing like a competitive sport, producing some truly artistic mid-day meals for their youngsters. Not all parents are gifted in the ways of ham origami, but that doesn't mean their children should suffer from lacklustre presentation. Follow these tips, and you'll craft a lunch that will really impress.
Photos by Claire Lower.
Just Put Faces on Things
Hello, friend! Anthropomorphisation is just plain fun. I put some eyeball stickers on my stapler and my home office has been a joyful place ever since. To bring the same joy to your darling child's lunchbox, grab a sharpie and draw a face on a thick-skinned fruit like an orange or banana. If you want your kid to be the belle of the ball, borrow from the world of adorable tiki drinks and make glorious banana dolphins.
To make these yellow sea mammals, do the following:
- Grab a banana and give it a mouth by making an inch-long incision at the stem to give your little guy a mouth.
- For eyes, you can either draw them on with a sharpie, or insert whole cloves into the fruit, but then your kid will be the one who smells like cloves, which seems like the wrong kid to be.
- Shove something in Flipper's mouth. Lucky Peach uses a grape, but the tiki bar master Paul McGee uses whole nutmeg. I feel like grape is the better option here, unless you also pack a tiny microplane so your child may garnish their Easy Mac with the good stuff.
- You're basically done here, but you can take the look even further by inserting some trimmed pineapple leaves as fins.
You can also put faces on hardboiled eggs, like Lunchbox Dad does here with this stormtrooper egg, but I have been the kid who brings a hardboiled egg to school, and I can't say it helped boost my popularity. (I tried to combat the stigma by cracking them on my forehead, but then I was just the weirdo who hit herself on the head with sulphur bombs.)
Embrace the Cookie Cutter
You know what I'm not good at? Making shapes. I actually struggle with cutting a piece of paper into a circle. You know what is very good at making shapes? Cookie cutters. We are living in a Golden Age of Cookie Cutters, my friends, and you would be a damned fool to not harness their power.
Living in such a marvellous time means you can find a cookie cutter to suit not only every holiday and season, but your child's every obsession. Star Wars, mermaids, dinosaurs, carpentry, or — for the hipster child — mason jar cookie cutters can all be used to shape sandwiches (or cookies, I guess) into very fun, not at all boring shapes.
If you are concerned about wasting bits of sandwich, consider purchasing some cutters specifically designed for sandwiches, such as this dinosaur one that I own (pictured above).
Beyond sandwiches, small cookie cutters can be used to cut sturdy fruits like melon into all sorts of things, but if you're child is anything like me (self-obsessed) I recommend getting a set of alphabet cutters and make a fruit kebab worthy of a young Carrie Bradshaw.
You could also make lunch a more "interactive" experience for Junior by packing a few of these "Vegetable Toys" and making them build their own damn bear out of carrots. I actually own the bear and the bunny and I have only ever made cheese animals, but you get the idea.
Just make sure you get sturdy cheese slices.
Put Stuff on Sticks
Fruit, meat, sandwich rolls, vegetables: everything is more fun to eat on a stick. Some kebab ideas for you:
- Fruit kebabs with fun shapes or your child's name. Or forget about shapes and just alternate pretty chunks of pineapple with strawberries and grapes. If you need to bring your child for some reason, alternate strawberries with brownie bites.
- Make sandwich pinwheels using tortillas or flattened-out sandwich bread. Roll up and skewer.
- Roast some broccoli and potatoes and stick 'em up. Pack a nice tahini dipping sauce for extra credit.
- Omit bread entirely and make sticks of fancy meats and cheeses. I don't know if kids like fancy meat and cheeses, but I imagine the cool ones do. Maybe try prosciutto wrapped around cantaloupe if you are ambitious about the kiddo's palate.
This format has endless possibilities, so go crazy.
Lean On Cute Containers and Packaging
Not an example of what you should feed a human child; I'm simply demonstrating how muffin liners make everything cuter. I once had a little plastic container that was shaped like a cow's head, and I always ate everything in that container. Really though, the packaging doesn't even have to be that cute. Simply compartmentalising food into neat little sections does wonders for presentation. Bento boxes (like these ones we've written about before) are an excellent reusable option, but you can always divide up some Tupperware or other reusable container with adorable muffin tin liners.
Also, don't be afraid to get crafty. Butterfly bags — which, believe it or not, a man on Tinder told me about — are super easy and super cute. You can make them two ways: with clothes pins or with pipe cleaners. The clothes pin method takes a little more work, because it requires gluing googly eyes on the pin, so I recommend the pipe cleaner route. To make your cute little insect friend, just fill a plastic resealable bag with snacks, leaving a little wiggle room in there. Take a pipe cleaner, and twist it around the center, creating a body and antennae. Look how cute:
Again, maybe don't send this exact thing to school with your child. Replace the candy with carrots or something. If you have any skills of an artist, don't underestimate drawing a little cartoon directly on the Ziploc, like David Larerriere does for his children. If you aren't artistically inclined, even a smiley face and a simple, encouraging note will be appreciated. After all, it really is the thought that counts. Actually, it's really the food that's the important part, everything else is just drag.