Happy & Healthy

Lunch Box Love – Lunch Note Ideas for Your Kids

This post was originally written on December 9, 2014, updated on August 4, 2021. While the context of going back to school during a pandemic, is very different than parenting with cancer, there are many similar parenting challenges.

With kids home so much this past year, it will be a big transition back to school for all families this fall. This is especially true for families with littles who have been out of school for months and may be feeling anxiety about being away from home.

Since I originally wrote this post, my kids have grown from 3rd graders to teenagers. It’s pretty miraculous, to watch your kids grow into independent people who can now get themselves up, pack their lunches, and get out the door all on their own. As the new school year approaches I’m getting requests from families about how to soothe back-to-school anxiety for a new generation of littles, and get them excited about the return to school (in SFUSD school starts August 16, 2021!) With big changes coming up this fall, lunch box notes are one way to reassure your little ones and give them something to look forward to each day.

Stay tuned for more ideas on how to make the transition back to school more smooth for your family. And please reach out if you have ideas or questions to share!

I probably don’t need to tell you this, but being a sick parent can really suck!

Last year, my family went through a LOT! I have faced off against serious illnesses before in my 20’s, but never before have I had to deal with an illness as big as cancer while being a parent. As any parent knows, the only thing worse than being sick (and feeling crappy) is being sick with kids. We all know from the in-flight passenger announcements given by the flight attendants at the beginning of each flight that we should secure our own oxygen masks before assisting others. Likewise, we are of little use to those we love if we don’t first take care of ourselves. Even if this makes sense on a logical level, it goes against our biology… no matter what, when it comes to survival, we will always seek to put our kids first.

That said, being really, really sick, caused all our family routines to go haywire — the universe felt upside-down. “Mommy takes care of us, not the other way around…” My daughters struggled with the idea of me being incapacitated at times. The fact that I was no longer present at school drop-offs and pick ups, or even at the dinner table at times was unnerving.

“Why are you taking the medicine…” my girls would ask, “if it makes your hair fall out and makes you feel sick?”

“That’s how we know the medicine is working…” I’d say.

“How long do you have to keep taking the medicine?” They’d ask.

“For three more months” (I had already completed three months of chemo… yet had to do six in all.)

“Wow, that’s a long time.” (I could see the realization on my daughters’ face slowly sinking in… they were finally getting the picture: my illness was serious.) “What happens if you don’t take the medicine?”

… long pause…

(I really didn’t want to answer that one.) “I wouldn’t get better. I could die.” : /

Super-Lunch to the Rescue!

Shortly after these types of conversations, one of my daughters started developing “tummy aches”. Worried about my well-being brought my tender 8-year-old face-to-face with the Grim Reaper. It also made her very aware that something as basic as life itself could so easily and randomly be taken away.

To quell her anxiety and bring her a sense of calm and predictability each day, we started some new routines around lunch. First, we always told her what she was having for lunch and when possible, we gave her a choice in what we made. Knowing what she was eating took the uncertainty out of lunch times and choosing helped her feel like she had some control in the crazy world we were living in. Second, we communicated with the teacher and school staff to let them know what was going on. My daughter’s teacher was amazing in this regard, checking in with my daughter regularly, but not in an obvious way. Using email back and forth, the two of us were able to regularly share insights on ways to reassurance my daughter, calm her fear and provide a listening ear when she needed it.

Finally, we returned to something tried and true which gave her something to look forward to… lunch box love notes.

Each day, every day, we wrote a special reassuring note to each of our girls on a post-it hidden in their lunch. Eagerly they waited to open up their lunch to find a little ray of hope in their often chaotic day. Knowing we were thinking of them made getting through a bad day, not so daunting and reminded them that even when we were not together, we were with them in our hearts…. My daughter’s tummy aches vanished almost instantly.

This little note meant so much it is STILL pinned to my daughter's bulletin board.
This little note meant so much it is STILL pinned to my daughter’s bulletin board.

Lunch Note Ideas

I wish I could take credit for this idea (though I’d like to!). I first learned about lunch box notes from this South Your Mouth food blogger Mandy Rivers. The first time I read Mandy’s list, I think I actually cried. (OK, I did actually cry. I admit it.) Even though we’d been doing lunch notes off and on for years, last year really showed me how much a simple handwritten note can mean to a child. Here are a few of our family favorites (from Mandy’s list), some of which are still pinned to my girls’ bulletin boards (4 years later!):

  1. Someone drew a picture of AWESOME and it looked just like you!
  2. Think of me and I’ll think of you. That way it’ll be like we are having lunch together.
  3. Did you feel that? I just hugged you in my mind.
  4. I’m thinking about you right now. 🙂
  5. I dreamed of the perfect child and got one – YOU!

Read more here.

Check out my Lunch Ideas on Pinterest and Instagram!

Follow Alison Collins’s board lunch box love on Pinterest.

Follow my IG lunch posts via the hashtag #sfpsmomlunch.

Want more?

(See these and other ideas on my Pinterest board: Lunch Box Love.)

  • Let the Internet inspire you! – Check out this AMAZING LIST of over 500 printable lunch notes curated by Kids Activity Blog.
  • Use food in fun ways! – If your kids is too early to read, check out this list of fun ideas by What to Expect.
  • Don’t forget drawing. –  When I was sick, my husband revived his skill in drawing cartoons (something he loved to do as a kid!). He drew Snoopy, Garfield, and a wide range of Disney characters encouraging the girls to have a great day. Check out this great article on Wander Monster written by Rob Kimmel, a creative father who sends his son to school with half drawn images on Post-its for his son to complete each day.
  • Quotes – Share inspiring quotes with your kids! I love Pinterest for quotes. I’ve started collecting them in my lunch box love board.
  • Jokes and riddles. – This is another great way to share some love in your kiddo’s lunch. My go to sites are here, here, here and here.

What are your favorite lunch note ideas to show your child you care? Do you have any favorite quotes, sayings, or drawings you’ve shared in love notes? Please share them below and I’ll put together an even bigger list!

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