Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

How to make packing lunches easier

8 tips to reduce the stress of packing lunches

Affiliate links are used in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here

For the last 4-1/2 school years, I’ve been packing at least one school lunch a day. Since last school year when my son started kindergarten, I’ve been packing two.

Along the way, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. I’ve come up with ideas to keep things interesting and healthy. While both my kiddos have regular go-to favorites, they also don’t want the exact same lunch every day, and I don’t blame them!

I don’t mind packing their lunches. It makes me feel connected to them and part of their day. And, well, taking care of them is part of my job! My husband and kiddos have both participated in lunch packing as well, so it isn’t always just me making lunches happen. But no matter who is packing them, we’ve got a system down that works for us.

Pack the night before when possible

My absolute best tip for packing lunches is to do whatever you can the night before. I am a morning person, and I usually don’t have to get myself ready until after my husband and kids leave for school drop-off, yet I still find it easier to do everything I can the night before.

The majority of the time I can pack everything except drinks the night before. Lunches are stored in the fridge and Thermoses are ready to be filled, so that in the morning, I only have to add the cold pack, fill the Thermos and put it all in their lunchboxes.

Napkins, notes and non-refrigerated items go into their lunchboxes the night before as well.

Buy good food containers for cold lunches

Finding the right lunch containers for cold lunches was a game changer for me. I’ve tried a few different options through the years, but by the second year in, I’d come across Rubbermaid Lunch Blox and haven’t looked back.

They are seriously awesome because they stack together with the ice pack, come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are incredibly durable. They wash well in the dishwasher, which is important to me!

The only time I’ve had to throw out these containers was when the lid fell down onto the heating element of the dishwasher (totally my fault on that one) and once my daughter threw away the lid to her lunch container.

Otherwise, we are still using the original containers along with the additional ones I’ve bought. I have enough cold lunch containers to get us through two school days without doing dishes.

Finding good reusable containers is not only cheaper in the long run but also better for the environment.

Along with the Rubbermaid LunchBlox containers, I also love silicone baking cups. I use them a few times a week to divide up food in the large container. I use them for boiled eggs, crackers, croutons and pretty much anything I need to keep separated in the same container.

Purchase good drink containers

My daughter was going into kindergarten before I thought to look for something that would keep her drinks cold. And, hands down, the best options we’ve found are Thermos brand.

My kids love the Thermos Funtainers. They start with the 12-ounce Thermos Funtainers with a straw. In third grade, I switched my daughter to the 16-ounce Thermoses and anticipate doing the same for my son.

My kids have only needed new Thermoses when they outgrew the characters on them. (But I still have Blaze and Paw Patrol Thermoses in my cabinet, because they come in handy around the house when the kids are sick and need cold water!) And with knowing that, I went with plain or long-lasting patterns for them when I bought new ones.

Outside of lunchtime, we use them in the car, for their weekly sports practices and more. They last so well and you can even replace the rubber parts if needed to make them last even longer, but I’ve not had an issue with them.

For cleaning, they are a bit trickier in that they aren’t dishwasher safe. The Thermos part (where the drink goes into) is stainless steel and dishwasher safe, but the lid and straw parts are not. They work so well and last so well, though, that I happily hand wash! All the components pull apart to make an easy, thorough cleaning possible.

Make a routine

To make my life easier, I’ve developed a routine for our lunches. My kids don’t like and eat many of the same foods, but I have a same basic plan for their lunches.

  • Mondays: sandwiches
  • Tuesdays: snacky lunch (think peanut butter and crackers or a boiled egg and croutons)
  • Wednesdays: hot lunch
  • Thursdays: sandwiches or snacky lunch
  • Friday: non-perishable lunch in disposable containers

Each week doesn’t always look exactly like this. In fact, this week is all out of sorts. We were out of bread for Monday’s lunch, so Monday was snacky lunch. Then today, I had an early appointment. So hot lunch switched to Tuesday instead.

But, no matter which option I choose, I go with it for both kids. They may not have the exact same items, but they have the same type of lunch. For example, my daughter may have a turkey sandwich while my son has a peanut butter sandwich.

When I’m trying to figure out what to pack, having a category to look for helps me.

The only day that is different for them is Friday, because my son chooses to buy school lunch on that day for pizza. I have opted to send my daughter lunch in all disposable containers most Fridays so I don’t have lunch dishes to deal with going into the weekend.

Figure out hot lunch options

To help give my kiddos more lunch options, I send hot lunch once a week. That works for us. Your schedule may be different, and that’s OK!

Again, Thermos brand food containers make hot lunch days easier. I eased my way into them during my daughter’s kindergarten year with a Disney “Frozen” Thermos Funtainer Food Jar for her.

By the time she was headed into third grade, my son was headed to kindergarten, so I decided to get hot Thermoses for both of them. I picked up some off-brand ones at a discount grocery store. They were awful and nearly impossible to open once they had hot foot inside.

So, I went back to Thermos Funtainer Food Jars and have been using the same ones for nearly two years now. I love that they have folding spoons in the lid so that I don’t have to remember to pack utensils!

Like the drink Thermoses, the Thermos food jars need to be hand washed — at least the lid and its components. But they wash up well and don’t stain.

I do follow the suggestion to fill them with hot water before putting hot food in them. Usually on hot lunch days, I leave the hot Thermoses on the counter and put a big measuring cup of water in the microwave for 3 minutes and 33 seconds (because I only have to hit one number that way!). I pour the hot water into their Thermoses and let them sit for 15 to 20 minutes while I’m doing other things.

I usually pack their hot lunches around 7 a.m. and when they eat at 10:30 or 11 (depending on the kiddo), they both report their food is still nice and warm.

Involve the kids

I don’t make my kids pack their own lunches every night, but I do like to involve them as much as possible. I will often talk with them about what I’ve been sending and ask for suggestions on what sounds good as I’m making my grocery list.

They have each come up with different ideas that have surprised me and weren’t what I would have thought of. My daughter has requested salads and wraps. My son has even asked for a slice of bread plain with the peanut butter in a dip cup on the side. He’s my particular eater, so I am always looking for ways to get him to eat. If a deconstructed peanut butter sandwich works for him, then I’m fine with it!

Keep easy food on hand

Figure out what lunch plan for the week as you go grocery shopping. Then also make sure to stock favorite items that can always fill in lunches like raisins, canned fruit, crackers, granola bars, gummies, gogurt, graham crackers, peanut butter crackers, yogurt covered raisins, string cheese, etc.

I’ve found that having a few staples for lunches always in my pantry keeps me from freaking out that I have nothing to pack the kids and getting stressed out about it.

Purchase the right disposable products

While I love reusable containers for the vast majority of what I pack, the other thing I use a couple of times a week is 2-ounce disposable dip cups with lids.

These are great for packing dips, dressings and even peanut butter. I’ve utilized them to make sure that carrots get eaten. (I am a big fan of Ranch chip dip versus salad dressing because it is healthier and less messy.)

For sending in a disposable lunch on most Fridays, I also love Glad Press’n Seal. It actually stays on the sandwich and keeps it well wrapped. Then it works as a handy placemat as well! (I use Press’n Seal for many things!)

Moms on a Mission: Kristin Billerbeck

Profiles of moms who are making a difference

Affiliate links are used in this post; if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Years ago, I picked up a book called “What a Girl Wants” at my local library. While I had read more than my fair share of Christian fiction books, this was my first encounter with Christian Chick-Lit that held my attention, wasn’t trite, made me laugh out loud and had an underlying message reminding me of Who God is.

I proceeded to devour every Kristin Billerbeck book that she’d written. They’re just good books. I read so many books that I typically use the library or Kindle Unlimited, but I bought a few of Kristin’s books when they weren’t available. Now I buy them when they release so I don’t have to wait! They really are that good.

I follow a few of my favorite authors on social media. A few years ago, I came across Kristin on Facebook and had a friend from church who was friends with her. So I sent her a friend request. I had a total fan-girl moment when she accepted my friend request.

In being the casual Facebook friends we are, I have enjoyed getting to know more about her and keep updated when new books are released so I can buy them for my Kindle. I’ve learned that real-life Christian is like many of her heroines: she has a sense of humor and a passion for God.

Though she’s won many awards for her numerous books, Kristin’s biggest source of pride is her four young adult children. I knew she’d be a great fit for the Moms on a Mission series and was so excited when she replied that she’d be happy to answer questions for me.

You’re going to be inspired by her and adore her. You’ll want to read more of her words! Kristin’s website is filled with information about her and her books. It’s organized so you can find series and stand-alone novels to dive into.

Families with Grace: What is your God-given mission or passion?

Kristin Billerbeck: My God-given mission is to tell the world God is perfect — not His people. Though His people may let you down and cause harm, God is not like that. God is loving and compassionate and quick to forgive with repentance. My books all reflect that message. 

FWG: How do you work to live out that mission right now?

KB: I’m currently writing a book about five sisters with three mothers and the same father. I wanted to show the grace in the hardest of circumstances. It can be so hard to understand God is a loving father when your earthly father is harmful or even abusive.

FWG: What are some of your biggest challenges in living out your mission?

KB: Sitting down daily and putting everyday life aside to write. I also feel a huge responsibility to get things right Scripturally. For example, in my book “Swimming to the Surface” the heroine is married to an abusive man who is narcissistic. I told the publisher before I sold them the book this will end in divorce. I cannot tell an abused woman that she can love a narcissist enough to make him change. There is no psychological evidence that a narcissist is capable of changing. 

That one was tough for me because I know what the Bible says about divorce, but I also know women who have been ready to commit suicide to get away from their abuser. God doesn’t want a mockery of a marriage over a human soul. That was not His design for marriage. But I know there are legalistic people who will not see that point of view. I respect their viewpoint, but maybe they’ve never loved anyone in that situation. I think if it were happening to their daughter, they would want separation, if not divorce.  

FWG: What have been some of your biggest blessings in living out your mission?

KB: I’m very fortunate in that I’ve gotten to travel all over the United States and meet amazing people. Also, the Christian writing community is very close-knit and I’ve made lifelong friends with many.

FWG: How do you balance motherhood responsibilities with your work/mission?

My children are grown now, but when they were young, we had “Mommy time” which was their nap time. When they got older, I still kept those hours (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) to write. I was fortunate in that I could be interrupted mid-sentence and go right back to where I was in the book when any crisis was over.

FWG: What’s the best advice you have for other moms who are following their passions?

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.”  (It’s a book title — great book, by the way.) But if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. Sometimes, if we are being called to a ministry, we have to make sure that is God’s call and follow through. 

I would also say, “Make time for yourself.” It doesn’t have to be a long stretch of time, but it is very important when you’re pursuing a passion that you understand, you do have a right to a life. Just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice who God made you to be. There are years in parenting where that is more difficult and your kids will always come first, but it’s OK to pursue what you’re passionate about. 

You can find Kristin’s most recent book, “The Theory of Happily Ever After,” on Amazon; it is available through Kindle Unlimited! Keep an eye out for her new release “Room at the Top.”

Read more from the series

Moms on a Mission: Dr. Karen Dowling

Moms on a Mission: Erin Mayes

Moms on a Mission: Mari Hernandez-Tuten

Moms on a Mission: Kathleen Brooker

Moms on a Mission: Sarah R. Moore

Moms on a Mission: Stacey Pardoe

Moms on a Mission: Crystal (aka InnieMom)

Moms on a Mission: Pastor Stefanie Hendrickson

Moms on a Mission: Amy Cutler

God is always faithful even in the midst of hard times

Finding truth in the Word of God

Each day, I send a note in my kids’ lunch boxes. We have come up with theme days. For example, on Motivation Monday I send an encouraging or inspiring quote. On Wacky Wednesday I send a joke. On Truth Tuesday I send a Bible verse.

The majority of the time, I am the lunchbox note writer. But sometimes my husband takes on note duty as we are divvying up tasks. This week, he wrote the kids’ Truth Tuesday notes.

He chose Psalm 55:22. I’ve read this verse in the NIV Bible many times, but this was my first time reading it in the ICB (International Children’s Bible), which is what I usually use for my kids’ verses.

The verse pierced my heart as I looked over it to make an image for the ongoing Truth Tuesday post I make of verses I send.

I was challenged by the last part of the verse that says: “[God] will never let good people down.” The truth is I have felt like God has let me down before when He was quiet in responding to my pleas or He said no to a fervent prayer that I thought was in line with His will.

The NIV Bible says it this way: “[God] will never let the righteous be shaken.” And again I feel challenged, because I have certainly felt shaken many times when life has tossed me a major curveball that not only pummeled into me but totally switched my reality in unexpected ways.

The infallible Word of God

However, I also believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God. That means this verse is true whether I always feel its truth or not.

I have learned throughout my life and various struggles that God is ever faithful. He doesn’t always work in ways that make sense to me, but He is always there. God has never let me down, because He has never let me go.

My attention wanders away from Him sometimes, but He’s never taken His eye off me. During times when I felt like a burden was too much to bear, God has reminded me that He will help me carry the burden and even carry me when I need Him to.

I’ve also had times I have felt shaken, as the NIV Bible says. I have felt like a major earthquake has happened in my life, in fact. But I have never been shaken out of His hand.

The truth is in the midst of my hardest times when I was in utter despair and didn’t see or hear God, He was there. Always — ALWAYS — He has held onto me and reminded me of His presence if only I paid attention. He has brought me peace and comfort in the midst of days I thought would be the end of me. He has been ever faithful.

Who God is

When I ponder on Who God is in reality and in my life, I can say that He hasn’t let me down and He hasn’t let me be shaken from His grasp. He is ever faithful and always good. He is always working for my good, even when I don’t understand what’s going on.

And that, my friends, is why we don’t need to worry. We have the freedom to lay down our cares and burdens and place them on the shoulders of Someone who can not only bear them but is in charge of it all.

God didn’t make us to carry the load alone. He will hold us close even when we feel alone and keep us steady and safe even when we feel shaken.

He doesn’t promise that life will be easy, but He does promise He will be with us every step of the way. I am so very thankful for that.

8 Pizza recipes your family will love

A round-up of the best pizza recipes

If I want to guarantee my family, including my two particular eaters, will gobble up dinner, I know making something pizza will do the trick! (Things taco/nacho-related are also a hit.)

But I don’t want to make, serve or eat the same thing all the time. So shaking it up a bit works really well. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of pizza-related recipes that your family is sure to love.

These easy pizza subs I shared back in August are not only easy to make, but they are easy to customize based on what your family members like and they taste delicious!

Heather from The Super Mom Life has another take on pizza with these party pizzas made from English muffins. They are also easily customizable to your family members’ preferences and delicious!

If you want to get a bit more adventurous in the kitchen, this mock napoleon pizza recipe from Shayla at Singing a New Song is a great one to try. The thin crust pizza is best made in a wood-burning, stone oven, but since you probably don’t have one (and neither does she!), she’s found a way to make it taste nearly as good as you’d get at a swanky Italian restaurant.

Famlee of Four has a list of five easy and fun pizza recipes that your family will love for pizza night. With options like barbeque chicken pizza, cheeseburger pizza and meatball pizza, there are some great ideas for how to use leftovers and switch up flavors that even your kiddos will like!

If you’re in the mood for traditional pizza flavors, but are low on time or wanting something just different, check out these pepperoni pizza pinwheels that I shared in January. I just made them again last week. My daughter made them with just a bit of help from me with cutting and my family gobbled them up. Win-win!

While pizza flavors are awesome, there are also some delicious pizza options that aren’t in traditional flavors. This easy veggie pizza from Cassie at Get Your Holiday On uses crescent rolls for a crust and you can use whatever veggies your family likes most. It’s great for an appetizer or carry-in dinner as well!

Another non-traditional pizza that also uses a crescent roll crust is the BLT pizza that I shared back in September. It’s super easy and super delicious!

And if we’re talking pizza, we can’t neglect a dessert pizza! This fruit pizza from Mehgan at Planning for Keeps is a great option with a sugar cookie crust topped with cream cheese icing and fruit.

And if you’re like Sarah from Mom with a Map who told me that pizza is her love language, you’re probably going to want to check out her post about the top five places in America to get pizza named from by the foodies at the Food Network! The best part is you don’t have to clean the kitchen after you eat!

Motherhood requires a sense of humor

Sometimes laughing keeps you from crying — or screaming!

This is a post I wrote back in 2013, when my son was a few months old and my daughter was a preschooler. I recently shared this story with my son. We laughed about it as a memory. So, I had to share it with you guys. Though I am past the phase of tiny babies and their messes, I still stand by the importance of keeping a sense of humor in motherhood. It gets crazy!

Motherhood is a constant learning process that requires flexibility and a sense of humor. And just when you think you have it all figured out, your children like to remind you that you certainly don’t.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I had some time with just my baby boy while his big sister was with my parents. I decided to go shopping for some clothes I needed. Shopping with a baby is easier than shopping with a preschooler. He sits in his carseat in his stroller and dozes. She wants to look at and talk about everything. 

Sure enough, he fell asleep on our way to the first store. He woke up just as I was leaving the store. He needed to eat. I decided I was a capable and experienced at motherhood. I was going to be brave and feed him in the dressing room at the next store. It was too hot to sit in the car, and I really didn’t want to go back home, yet. I still needed a few things.

I picked a couple pairs of capris and hit the dressing room. Unfortunately, the large dressing rooms were taken, so I squeezed us and our stroller into a small one with a tiny bench. I was silently applauding myself for my flexibility and making due instead of freaking out. 

I got us settled and started nursing him. He was fussy. I put him on my shoulder to burp him thinking that could be the problem. What a good mom I was to know these things!

Things take a turn

And that’s when I felt the wetness on his back. The dressing room was warm. I wondered if it was sweat. I took a peek. Nope. Not sweat. It was a massive diaper blowout. 

He’s my second baby. I’m not new to diaper blowouts. But, holy moly! The little guy had been going through a growth spurt which means lots of eating and then, usually, a giant diaper. Our shopping trip was his choice for making the giant diaper.

I was determined not to be ruffled. I whipped out the changing table pad. It just barely fit on the tiny bench. I got to work. I opened up my wipe container and realized it was almost empty. OK. I could handle this. I wasn’t going to freak out. 

With sweat running down my back, I took care of his diaper. Bless my husband’s Aunt Shirley for having sent us diaper bags to put dirty diapers in. I used one for the diaper and wipes and another for his outfit. It was bad.

I got creative with my wipes I had and used every single square inch of those wipes and then pulled out some Wet Ones that I keep in the diaper bag for his big sister and cleaned off my hands and the changing table pad. 

Fortunately I carry a clean onesie with us, so I got the little guy all changed and settled in. I stuck him back in his seat and got everything put away. Then I sat for on the bench for a short breather. I was sweating and felt like I’d been running a marathon after all the work I’d just done dealing with that massive blowout. And then I started giggling.

Keeping a sense of humor

When I was new to motherhood, almost four years ago, I’m pretty darn sure I wouldn’t have giggled. But, I did. I’ve been a mom long enough to learn that a sense of humor is a must. Because sometimes when crap happens (yeah, pun intended! I couldn’t resist!), you have to learn to laugh when you really feel like crying and giving up. 

I had a professor in college whose philosophy was, “If you’re going to laugh about it later, then laugh at it now.” I’ve learned that and managed to do that a few times in my life, especially in motherhood.

Part of me that wanted to give up, throw in the towel and head straight home wondering why I even bothered to leave the house in the first place. But, a bigger part of me thought, “Man! This is a story I’m going to tell. This is a blog post I’m going to write. And it really is kind of funny!” I survived. So did my son.

I pulled him back out of his seat and finished nursing him. He was still a bit fussy, so I hurried through trying on capris. I found a pair I liked. We left the dressing room probably a good half hour since going in (all the while I was hoping and praying there were no security cameras watching us!). I even managed to peruse the children’s department and pick up a couple of things my daughter needed.

My shopping trip definitely went differently than I had planned. But, life and motherhood seldom go according to plan. In the end, my son and I were both fine and I even left my shopping trip having gotten what I set out to get — plus a good giggle and story to tell.