Recession Mama Michele Ashamalla: A lot of lunches get packed in our house. My three kids, ages 5 to 11, pack lunches for school and camp, and my husband packs one for work, too. Even the 5-year-old can pack her own (with minor supervision). After years of doing this, we've got a system, and it works pretty well for us.
Our lunches all contain a main course, side(s) and a drink. For main courses, I try to always have the following on hand: bagels and cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs, cooked turkey or chicken sausage (I can't tell you why this is a favorite, but it is) and nonfat yogurt sweetened with fruit juice. They also like to take leftover pasta, beans and rice or chicken. None of them are regular sandwich-eaters, but they will make the occasional PB&J, so I keep unsweetened peanut butter and all-fruit spread in the fridge, along with some whole-wheat bread. (I have to do some counter cleanup after they're done ....)
For sides, we like all types of fruit, cheese slices and sticks, applesauce, raisins, crackers and granola bars. I keep the nonperishables in shallow bins on a low shelf in the pantry, so they're easily accessible. For drinks, we have reusable water bottles (personalized so they can grab their own) and boxed nonfat milk that is shelf-stable. I know there's a big juice debate going on, but I also have juice boxes or pouches, and they can have juice if they like (but only once a day).
In the freezer are old teething rings I use as ice packs, since they are so lightweight. Lunchboxes, Ziploc bags and reusable plastic containers are also easily accessible. The other day, my 5-year-old asked why some of the other kids get to take a different kind of lunch to camp, and after some questions, I discovered that she meant Lunchables. After some more questions, I found out that what she wanted was the salami. I added that to my fridge, cut some cheddar cheese into little squares and made sure there were Ritz crackers in the pantry (reduced-fat and whole-grain versions are now available). Crisis averted!