For this week’s installment of our Expert series, we interviewed Stephanie Agnew, Assistant Director of the Parents Place (a leading resource center here in the SF Bay Area) Peninsula location. She is an expert on school selection (among many other things!) who frequently delivers workshops and talks on how to choose the right preschool for your child. We are thrilled to share her insights with you on different types of preschool philosophies and programs and how to make the best choice for your child and family.
Hey, we’ve all been there — buying cheap store-bought Valentines at the drugstore the night before the big exchange at school. 😮 Do what you gotta do, mama! However, just in case you’re feeling aspirational this year 😉, we’ve scoured the web and rounded up our favorite DIY Valentine’s card ideas for kids — with an emphasis on the easy and/or candy-free (however, we did make exceptions for a few candy ideas that were simply too cute to resist!). Most of these would work great for not only for classmates and teachers, but also family members (e.g. Dad or Grandma)!
First day of school: Prosciutto and mozzarella sticks, sauteed vegetables, fruit cut up into adorable little animal shapes, and homemade yogurt smoothie. Plus a cute little note and/or artwork to let them know just how much you care.
By mid-October: PB&J and string cheese. And a napkin. If they’re lucky.
Lucky for you, we’ve pulled together a lunch box cheat sheet to pull you out of your mid-school year doldrums. Organized by food group, it will not only remind you to pack a balanced lunch each morning, and will hopefully also give you some ideas for injecting some new foods into your repertoire. Consult it for inspiration before your weekly grocery store run. It is equally valid for babies eating finger foods, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age kids. Click for a printable version that you can hang up on your fridge. Enjoy!
A few quick pics for inspiration below. We’re no professional food bloggers (or photographers), but you’ll get the idea. 🙂
Also check out our recent blog post on preschooler lunch gear (including the bento stuff used to make some of the animal shapes shown below).
Time for your little one to leave the nest and fly, fly away to preschool? Dry your tears and check out these ideas for top-rated preschool gear.
You’ll probably need a small bag to send along an extra layer, a change of clothes, etc. I’ve seen plenty of parents just use a plastic bag, but if you want something sturdier or that your preschooler can carry him or herself, check out these adorable preschooler-sized backpacks. (Note: Make sure to inspect your kid’s cubby to make sure you buy something that will fit!)
These adorable and ubiquitous Skip Hop Pack backpacks ($20) are a parent favorite. They’re compact, roomy, and come in a wide range of designs (which coordinate with the rest of the Skip Hop line).
If you want something a little different, check out the Zippee! Backpack ($25) from Sugarbooger. Its boxy shape fits well in most preschool cubbies. Note that it’s a few inches taller than the Skip Hop.
PBK also carries a wide range of preschooler backpacks (from $29.50), including this cute dino pack ($36.50).
The Zippee! Lunch Tote ($20 at Amazon) worked great as our primary lunch box last year and is still going strong, so I’d recommend it to anyone. Not only are the designs cute, but it’s insulated, very roomy, and machine washable. Sugarbooger also makes a cute reusable lunch sack if you prefer that style.
Dabbawalla lunch totes ($28) get high marks from parents. They are made of a neoprene-like material and feature a preschooler-friendly handle. They are machine washable and come in a range of cute designs with preschooler appeal.
These Built NY lunch sacks ($11-15 at Amazon) boast the design and function you expect from Built NY, all in a kid-sized package. They are made from Built NY’s signature neoprene material, and are lined with an insulating material. It is smaller and slimmer profile than some other lunch bags.
If you get one of Skip Hop’s backpacks (above), you may not be able to resist getting a matching Lunchie ($14 at Amazon). They’re adorable and insulated, but in my opinion a little too small to hold a full preschool lunch (including drink, etc.). We have one, but mainly reached for the Zippee. Still, could be a good choice if you just need to send snacks, or don’t need to send a drink.
The Yumbox Panino ($30) is our all-around favorite for hassle-free preschooler lunches. It’s compact, yet fits a ton of food. The divided compartments remind you to pack a variety of foods for a healthy lunch, and are (drum roll please) even leak-proof (!!). We used our Yumbox as our primary food storage solution for preschool last year and loved it. For most preschoolers, I recommend the Panino model featured here, which has a single large compartment that is more versatile (can accommodate a sandwich, bagel, etc. if needed). For toddlers or younger preschoolers, however, the original five-compartment Yumbox may be a better choice. TIP: The Yumbox’s Tritan tray is microwaveable, according to the manufacturer. However, if you prefer not to microwave plastic, just use a silicone baking cup as a liner and your child’s teacher will be able to easily pop it out and microwave the contents.
The granddaddy of preschooler lunch boxes is the five-compartment Planetbox Rover ($50 for lunch box only, $62 including carry case and magnet decorations). We love that it’s stainless steel, so no worrying about any nasties leaching out of plastic. Unfortunately it’s not leakproof (either the outer box or between compartments), but two small leakproof containers are included. A great option, though, if you don’t anticipate sending a lot of liquidy foods to school. Visit planetbox.com to customize your lunch kit (including carry case, magnet decorations, ice packs, water bottle, etc.)
Wean Green Lunch Bowls
If you want to send foods that will need to be warmed in the microwave, glass is the safest choice. We love Wean Green for their baby food storage solutions, and they also make this larger Lunch Bowl (13oz, $16) — it’s leak-proof and is perfect for leftovers, soups, etc.
Bento & accessories
Many parents of preschoolers choose to pack “bento-style” lunches: including small portions of lots of different foods encourages your child to try new things and eat a balanced meal; also, presenting his or her lunch in an attractive (read: animal-themed) way often increases the likelihood that your child will actually eat it. Here are some tools to make your bento lunches easier to make and more fun to eat.
When you need to sub-divide larger food compartments(e.g. to separate wet and dry foods), silicone baking cups like these are a mainstay solution. TIP: Measure the height of your food container and look for baking cups that are the same height. Otherwise, food will spill over when your lunch box inevitably gets turned sideways or upside down. ANOTHER TIP: These are also great for isolating foods in a larger lunch container that need to be warmed, so your child’s teacher can easily pop them out and microwave them.
CuteZCute makes a wide range of food cutters, including these awesome Animal Friends sandwich cutters ($9). These work great with bread, cheeses, and non-striated meats. We also love their Panda Pocket Sandwich Kit (especially for messier fillings like PB&J; $8).
Small vegetable cutters like these animal-themed ones are perfect for veggies, cheese, and thicker meats like salami. They’ve been just the ticket for us to get our little one to eat at least a few otherwise unappetizing looking veggies with lunch. Here are also some more practical ones if you aren’t into animal-themed everything.
Utensils & food picks
Sugarbooger makes a great, flat stainless-steel silverware set ($4-9 at Amazon) that comes packaged in a travel case and fits well in lunchboxes.
If you’re just packing fruit or something that doesn’t really require a full-on set of utensils, consider getting some food picks that you can just tuck into your food container. They make eating more fun, and you don’t have to worry about the utensils getting lost.
Insulated drink containers
If you need to send milk to school, you probably want to invest in an insulated drink container. The Thermos Foogo straw bottle ($12 at Amazon) has worked great for us. It keeps milk cold until lunchtime and is the perfect size for preschoolers (10oz.). It’s also leak-proof (when closed; it doesn’t have a valve) and is relatively easy to clean. TIP: Throw the container itself into the fridge for a few minutes before filling it with milk, for extra staying power.
Note: Not all preschools require nap mats! Check with yours first before buying.
We heart this modern and functional cot cover ($35-40 at Amazon) from Urban Infant. It’s a lightly quilted cot cover with attached lightweight fleece blanket that is designed to be used on top of a cot or mat. Note that it doesn’t provide much padding, so is not designed to be used on the floor.
If you need a bit more padding, the Olive Kids Nap Mat ($37-57 at Amazon) is a great choice. Designed like an open sleeping bag, it has a cotton/poly exterior and boasts a 100% cotton flannel interior.
Happy preschooling! And don’t worry Mom, you’ve got 15 more years before your little one actually leaves the nest. 🙂
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