We've all seen them: Those perfectly packed lunch boxes on Facebook and Pinterest. They're filled with seaweed wraps, beet salad, quinoa muffins, and lots of other foods you wish your kids ate. They're desperately adorably, impossibly nutritious, and make you feel totally lame in comparison. Because if your value as a parent is in direct correlation with how beautiful and well-balanced your child's lunch box is, you might as well hang it up, right?
Time for a much needed reality check.
Full disclosure: I've taken my fair share of those photos and posted them online. But I don't do it to make anybody feel badly—and I don't think anyone should measure their worth as a parent based on a lunch box. So if you feel creeping insecurity at the sight of those pictures, keep these realities in mind:
Reality #1: Those photos are just ideas. I can vouch for this. Neither I nor the other amazing bloggers/pinners I know post lunch box photos to brag or assert some sort of mom-dominance—instead, we do it to give people ideas for items to pack and ways to pack them. Maybe some of the ideas are realistic for you, maybe they're not. Maybe they're things your kids would like, maybe they're not. That's okay.
Reality #2: You rarely see the "after" shot (or the clunkers). I actually try to post "after" shots of lunch boxes now and then to tell the whole story. Sometimes my kids' lunches come home gobbled up—and sometimes they eat everything but their veggies. And everyone has "off" days. When the cupboards are bare or I'm in a rush, I'll throw together a PBJ on the heels of bread with a fruit cup and granola bar and call it done.
Reality #3: Everything looks better in a bento box. Trust me on this one. It's something I learned from my friend Bri, who writes the blog Red, Round, or Green. When I drooled over the photos of her kids' lunches, she insisted the metal bento boxes she uses make anything look good. And I actually think she's kinda right (though she does pack killer lunches). For my top four bento box recommendations, see My Favorite Lunch Boxes for Kids.
Reality #4: We all have our thing. Maybe you rock the Halloween costumes. Maybe you crush the funny voices in bedtime stories or make a mean homemade lasagna. As parents, we all have our strengths and talents, and we all have those elements of parenting that we just really enjoy. For some parents, that's lunch packing. And some take it to a whole other level (google "bento" and you'll find out!). It's all good. Just because it's their thing doesn't mean it has to be your thing (and a meal can be functional and healthy without being Pinterest-perfect).
So I hope when you see those photos, you take them with a grain of salt and do what works best for you, whether that's a sandwich in a brown bag, a thermos of leftovers, a dazzling bento rendering of Han Solo made out of hard-boiled eggs and raisins, or simply money to buy the school lunch. Because wanting a nutritious meal for your kids is a good thing. Agonizing over some notion of lunchbox perfection is not.
Want to see some of those lunch box photos? Follow La La Lunchbox on Instagram, who will be be posting my lunch box photos all week.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.