Book Reviews

Cooking with Trader Joe’s Easy Lunchboxes Cookbook

Cooking with Trade Joe's Cookbook by Kelly Lester |  photos by #backtoschool

Yay! It has finally hit the stores, the Cooking with Trader Joe’s Easy Lunchboxes Cookbook that I photographed. I am so proud of my friend Kelly Lester the creator of the fabulous (my favorite) Easy Lunchboxes & writer of this cookbook.

As most of you know by now I have been a huge fan of  these convenient bento boxes for quite some time. They are used in virtually all of my Project LunchBox posts.

It was a natural fit when Kelly asked me to shoot her cookbook. Thanks Kelly…

Cooking with Trade Joe's Cookbook by Kelly Lester |  photos by #backtoschool

Have you ever shot a cookbook? If you have then you know it is heaps of work. From the shopping, prep work, cooking, styling, photography, edits….oh is it a treat of a job! Crazy busy, but one of the best things I have ever done. For certain. Handing in the final photos is one of the best feelings ever.

Shooting the Cooking with Trader Joe’s ELB book this past April (yes I had roughly 30 days to work this magic) was a test in time management and endurance. I thought training for the Boston Marathon (click the link for my 2005 race results) was hard…not compared to this! My days were well planned, long and strategic.

Cooking with Trade Joe's Cookbook by Kelly Lester |  photos by #backtoschool

For this cookbook I had over 80 bento boxes created by 32 talented food bloggers to photograph. In the end I think I shot over 1000 photos and submitted over 200.

Each trip home from school I would stop at Trader Joe’s. I always needed something. My days were spent prepping, cooking and being a light chaser.

Working with all natural light I had to make sure I grabbed all of the daylight I could. Sometimes this meant heading outside to the sidewalk with all sorts of reflectors and my kids as assistants!

Cooking with Trade Joe's Cookbook by Kelly Lester |  photos by #backtoschool

The weekdays were busy, but the weekends busier! Weekends meant no driving to school and a whole lot more time to cook & photograph. Sunless, gray days were a challenge ~ but thank goodness for awesome photo equipment and my favorite 50mm 1.2 lens that lets in a whole bunch of light.

Hope you enjoy this book & get loads of simple, new & delicious recipe ideas. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby do not fret ~ you can find the ingredients for these recipes at any market!

Cooking with Trade Joe's Cookbook by Kelly Lester |  photos by #backtoschool

You can help this book reach the moon by leaving some nice reviews and comments over at too!


Want to win a Cooking with Trader Joe’s Easy Lunchboxes Cookbook & (1) Easy Lunchboxes Bento Box/Insulated Cooler Bag Set….go right on ahead!

*Please note this giveaway is open to USA residents only.

Cooking with Trade Joe's Cookbook by Kelly Lester |  photos by #backtoschool

a Rafflecopter giveaway

~ Marla Meridith

Join the Conversation

359 thoughts on “Cooking with Trader Joe’s Easy Lunchboxes Cookbook

  1. my 6 year old is always requesting pb+j and a roll with cheese and butter. i’m constantly trying to come up with new ideas of things to pack for him. this book would be a huge help!

  2. My daughter is always asking for lunchables. I love to pack her a “homemade” lunchable with a whole wheat english muffin, turkey pepperoni, cheese and sauce. I add in fresh fruit and veggies on the side and she loves it!! Easy too!

  3. Marla, I was so excited when I saw your name on that book the other day on Instagram. Congratulations!! I know that if I ever needed a photographer for my own cookbook, or anything else, I would only hire you! I love your photography…the bright colors always make me smile and I want to dive into the photo. Super duper talented. Again, congratulations!

  4. This cookbppk looks like it would be great! I always need lunch ideas. And I adore bento boxes – they’re so practical and cute!

    1. ‘cookbook’ – sorry! And my favorite thing to back in a lunch are little containers of fresh fruit, or dried fruit, or crackers…I just like little containers of stuff!

  5. I always pack peanut butter, almond butter etc.. For dipping fruits in, and it’s great added protein for the kids.

  6. The thing my son is guaranteed to eat is hummus for dipping pita triangles and sliced veggies. Dipping is fun, plus he gets his carbs, proteins, and veggies that’s so easy to pack!

  7. My favorite thing to pack in a lunchbox is a sweet treat for the afternoon slump. A brownie or a cookie usually does the trick!

  8. We like to pack a variety of sandwiches, our favorites are Sunbutter and jelly, or ham and cheese! We also like to pack healthy snacks like fruit or veggies!

  9. I can’t wait to get some ELB’s of my own! My kids love eating bento-style and this seems like the perfect thing for them. They especially like sandwiches cut into fun shapes and pasta with fruit on the side. 🙂 My youngest has multiple food allergies and will be thrilled with a homemade just-for-him version of Lunchables.

  10. My daughter’s favorite is homemade mac & cheese and I usually add carrot sticks, peas, and a small treat. We do this WAY too often, though, so it would be nice to have a book full of new ideas!

  11. My daughter loves it when I pack hummus and mini pitas in her lunch. Always needing fresh ideas. Excited for this giveaway.

  12. I love your website!!! I am a teacher and it is hard to think of great healthy lunches. Especially when their is a vending machine with lots of process food. Will have to check the book out since I do most of my shopping at trader joe’s.

  13. Well I don’t yet have to pack lunches. My daughter is 3 years old and my son is 8 months. This would definitley help me pack a healthy lunch for myself though and will definitely come in handy when it’s time for Emma to start school…YIKES, it’s gonna be here before I know it!

  14. I love chicken ceasar salad sandwiches with fruit and veggies w a vegetable dip of aome sort and a big bottle of water.

  15. My favorite thing would probably be anything other than a sandwich… I get in such a rut of making sandwiches so I love it when I can give more of a variety. Love doing fruits & veggies too because I’m better about putting those in her school lunch than I am at any other meal.

  16. Anything that makes her feel special, the special touches: fun toothpicks, fun cut food, stickers, notes, etc
    The other kids at school like it too and comment.

  17. I need helpin presentation and variety for my 2 kids desperatly. It is convenient to pack pb & j and ham/turkey sandwiches but I want to give them more variety. Plus I love Trader Joe’s, what a bonus!

  18. My favorite thing to pack in a lunchbox besides the obvious food is a note to let my daughter know that I am thinking about her!

  19. My 9 year old REFUSES to each ‘yucky school food’, so I make a lunch for her every morning. I always try to be creative.
    She loves taking fresh fruits and veggies!

  20. A hardboiled egg, for a good source of protein.

    Or, I make little sandwiches with Trader Joe’s whole wheat crackers and Trader Joe’s sunflower seed butter. Sandwiching the crackers and butter makes it less messy in transit, but I know my daughter pulls the crackers apart and licks off the butter when she eats them.

  21. I love packing fruit salads and creative salads (like different versions of chicken and egg salad and different greens salads).

  22. I have started packing my husband lunch so he doesn’t have to waste gas driving home or $ to eat out… these are great ideas!

  23. My daughter just moved home from college, she is vegan and works for a non profit, I’m always trying to think of things to pack her for lunch. It’s challenging, but my favorite thing to pack her is wraps either in tortillas or collard greens.

  24. My kids love pizza rolls: crescent roll dough with pepperoni and cheese inside. Sauce on the side of course to keep them from getting soggy before lunch. 🙂 Bell peppers on the side with fruit, a Nutrigrain bar, and yogurt to round it all out. (I heard a rumor that they put the bell peppers IN the pizza rolls at lunchtime.)

  25. My girls love wrap sandwiches and fruit. Ants on a log are also a big hit! Having just started using a bento-type lunchbox, I would dearly love this book! It looks amazing!

  26. I love these lunchbox ideas. I work as a restaurant manager so I eat a lot of our restaurant food ALL THE TIME. I think getting a set of these lunch boxes & learning some yummy lunch box combinations would be really helpful in me getting the nutrients I am currently missing by eating the same things all the time. I also think it would be helpful when sending my boyfriend to work with dinner leftovers, so that everything can be separated. Great ideas. Nice job on the photo shoots.

  27. Love these photos… I would want most of these items just as they are pictured in my lunch! Lately, I have been packing a lot of salads. Sometimes I go for the convenience of a frozen entree (usually from Amy’s or Kashi), and sometimes it’s leftovers. I don’t discriminate (much) when it comes to food! Just try to stay away from too much junk and too much processed stuff.

  28. OmG! I need this cookbook to get my daughter off of only wanting “cream cheese/ham rollie-ups” for her lunch! Plus – Trader Joe’s rocks! 😀

  29. I have really been wanting this cookbook to expand on my childrens lunches and help them to eat healthier and less processed foods. They are so darn picky tho!!

  30. Looks like a wonderful cookbook. I really struggle with new ideas…Usually end up with a frozen box. This would be a tremondous help. Love the containers also.. Thanks for the giveaway and the opportunity.

  31. My favorite thing to leave in a lunchbox besides a healthy, colorful lunch is a happy note, picture or reminder of how much I love my kid!

  32. My daughter loves sushi. I love making shaped rice creatures to go along with her sushi lunch. She is in high school now and still loves having me pack her healthy lunches instead of eating junk at the snack bar.

  33. LOL, just realized I left out my favorite thing to pack in a lunchbox on my prvious post. Chicken wraps loaded with veggies are my daughters favorite 🙂

  34. For a cute dessert I put graham crackers, mini marshmallows and a hazelnut spread in a container. It’s “make your own s’mores”! My kids love them and all their friends want to trade them for it 🙂

  35. I love to pack a fresh salad with spring mix, zucchini noodles, green beans, heirloom tomatoes, sliced apple, avocado and a homemade balsamic vinegar dressing.

  36. I seem to cook these days with LEFTOVERS in mind to pack in my little divided containers for my lunch at work the next day. Favorite thing to have ready is chicken salad…makes a great lunch!

  37. My daughter loves Salmon Salad dogs (Canned wild salmon prepped like tuna salad, put into a hot dog roll). She stopped liking sandwiches in the first few weeks of school.

  38. My kids love PB & J in their lunch, as well as Lunchables…I’d love to take on the challenge of making healthier and fun lunches for them!

  39. My favorite thing to pack for lunch is a slice of homemade zucchini bread! So delicious, and healthy at the same time. I do run out of ideas for fruit though. My hubby has gone to work with an apple for the past week straight!

  40. My favorite thing to pack in my daughter’s lunchbox is anything that doesn’t come back home. If I have to pick something though I would say strawberries. Those never come home.

  41. I love the photography! My daughter loves watermelon but I recently made it more “fun” in her lunchbox by using a melon baller. She thought eating watermelon balls was fantastic! So easy!

  42. These look DELICIOUS! I love to pack snack bars because I don’t have much time to sit and eat. I like something quick that I can grab and go with.

  43. I love to pack frozen grapes or a small container of frozen yogurt. Not only are they still nice and cold by lunchtime they keep everything else at a nice cool temp.

  44. anything! i try to mix things up, but sometimes it gets challenging. my new fave is currently a santa fe style chicken wrap! yum!! i’ve been making wraps for my (almost) 3 year old, and we call them burrito sandwiches 🙂

  45. I take my lunch everyday(K teacher).My favorite lunch I take is a huge salad, a piece of fruit, and some yogurt. I could REALLY use a new lunchbox! 🙂

  46. My favorite thing to pack in lunchboxes would probably be a nice bowl of white sticky rice with some Korean “banchan” (side dish). =))

  47. My kids love any type of pizza, leftover, bagel bites, make your own (copying a Lunchables).
    This cookbook would be awesome to win!

  48. My kids adore these milk-flavoring straws we found at Wal-Mart. There are a bunch of different flavors, and there’s no mixing involved ~ they just drink through the straw to add flavor.

  49. My entire family love Easy Lunchboxes! We take them everywhere, from school lunches, work lunches, etc to trips to Disneyland and the beach!! Would love to win!

  50. I love to make pinwheels with a wheat tortilla spread with garden cream cheese then add ham or turkey. Roll up and cut in 3-4 sections!

  51. I love to pack anything that I can use a cute cookie cutter on! From cucumbers to sandwiches, carrots to applewiches, the possibilities are endless!

  52. My son just started Jr Kinder and love his Easy Lunch boxes..We put lots of fresh fruits and healthy crackers and fun sandwhices. My favorite thing is to leave him Blueberries and yogart.

  53. OMG…The pictures look fabulous and I am constantly trying to get my kids to eat something out of the box…Such a great giveaway. You r a good doobie 🙂

  54. I would love the cookbook and lunch box set! With 3 children, lunches are always being packed. Something fun and nutritious is hard to come up with some mornings.

  55. I always try to include some fresh fruits and veggies for lunch. Of course my girls love to have a little treat from time to time too! =)

    Congratulations on this beautiful project! I love Trader Joe’s too… so I’m going to have to get this book for sure!

  56. Love to pack heart shaped pb&j sandwiches and fresh fruit in kiddos lunch. Would love this cookbook to add some more healthy creativity to their lunch! Thanks for the opportunity:)

  57. I pack my lunch everyday as well as my 3 year olds. Addison LOVES to help me pack her lunch. She enjoys a peanut butter and strawberry sandwich cut out into a an apple, some carrots, grapes, and water or milk. I would RRALLY love to get her this cool cookbook and lunchbox. We would make all the recipes together!! Vl

  58. We are HUGE Trader Joe’s fans! I pack three lunches and snacks every school day. I would LOVE to have some new ideas using items from our favorite store!

  59. My son loves when I have a WG tortilla spread with PB, then cut up bananas and just a tablespoon or so of granola for some crunch

  60. My 5 year old son LOVES “pinwheels” … typically whole wheat tortilla with turkey and cheese; he calls these “super duper roll-ups!” When these are packed, I know his lunch box will come home empty!

  61. I love the bento box idea and have looked at purchasing for my daughter! she likes to get creative with her lunches and being able to pack a salad, fruit and treat in one box is a great idea!

  62. I just recently discovered (and love!) Trader Joe’s. My 18 month old will be starting preschool soon and I will be needing great lunch ideas and containers. This is perfect!

  63. My husband insists on sandwiches for lunch everyday. I like to add fresh veggies for him to munch on, but I’d love some ideas to mix it up.

  64. I LOVE this! Not just for the little ones either..:-) It is giving me much needed ideas for my high schooler!!

  65. Fresh fruits and veggies. I love grapes and cut up red, yellow, and orange bell peppers as a little snack. And I really like bringing healthy leftovers and soups.

  66. I love to pack little notes telling my little ones to have a great day or to smile or just that I love them. Since they get used to seeing them we have made a game out of “hiding” the note and they have to eat their way to it. 🙂

  67. I love to add a little fruit to every lunch. Something bite size like grapes or melon balls for a sweet treat that is still healthy.

  68. My favorite thing to pack is homemade desserts and some protein source other than turkey meat or peanut butter. Today my son is getting leftover, warmed up, bbq chicken leg pulled from the bone. The bone wouldn’t fit in the thermos.

  69. I’d say one of my favorites would be a turkey hummus wrap. Excited to check out all the ideas in the cookbook!

  70. So happy to have found your blog! It is a challenge to make new and interesting and HEALTHY lunches everyday. My son’s private school is small and does not offer a lunch program. I pack his lunch everyday and I am excited to try what I find here on your blog! Thank you!

  71. I pack my lunch every day. One of my favorite lunches includes spaghetti squash made with a basil pesso along with fresh melon

  72. My husband just happened to be listening to “The Splendid Table” and she was talking about the Japanese tradition of “Bento Boxes”. I just this week started to look into it, so I can create fun healthy lunches for my daughter. I’m hoping to get some of those Bento Boxes and use some creative mojo to get it started! 🙂 Thanks!

  73. My kiddie are loving veggies and dip this year! They also like it when I leave a note with the “Word of the Day”.

  74. I love to pack my kids lunches as healthy as possible. I always include and fruit and veggie some sort of protein (PB, ham, yogurt) and ice cold water to drink. I sometimes put little notes on the food like “Orange you cute” but my 4th grader informed me this was no longer cool.

  75. I love packing lots of fresh fruits and veggies for my girls. Add in some type of meat/pasta/cheese and they love it!

  76. My daughter usually wants pizza or pb&j….I’ll need new ideas when she starts kindergarten and isn’t allowed pb&j!

  77. My favorite thing to pack in a lunchbox is a piece of fresh fruit, something easy to eat like bananas or apples!

  78. We live in Australia and my kiddies favorite thing would have to be frozen bananas processed so they are just like a frozen yoghurt. The perfect way to cool them down and as we are a dairy free house it’s the perfect way to give the ” yoghurt”. Loving your blog y the way!

  79. I have to admit, I am not very creative with lunch. I normally pack PB&J or chicken nuggets, some kind of fruits (apple pieces or apple sauce), chips (ok, not the healthiest thing) or crackers, or yogurt or granola bars or raisin. Thanks for this giveaway.

  80. I love Trader Joe’s and how awesome they have cookbooks, especially a lunch one. I have such a hard time with my 6-year-old because she’s so picky!!

  81. This sounds great! It’s so hard to come up with new, exciting meals that my kids can be more excited over than the boring (yet, strangely exciting…to them…) lunches they can get at school. Looks like that book has some great ideas!

  82. Hi I have 2 kids at school and 1 in kindergarden. I love to pack for them fruit snacks, salads, healthy sweets and so on. Would love to get the book for much more ideas.

  83. Thanks for the opportunity and ideas! I pack my 2-year-old daughter’s lunch everyday already, so these ideas will be helpful for years to come! I especially love Trader Joe’s too!

  84. My favorite thing to pack is a tortilla with smashed pinto beans, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and avocado. Sides: strawberries and yogurt

  85. I love to pack lunches full of fruits and veggies that we get from our CSA! It doesn’t matter if they are mixed salads, healthy leftovers or an almond butter & homemade jam sandwich on multigrain bread. I love “eating local”.

    P.S. Your lunchbox pics are a feast for the eyes!

  86. My seven year old daughter begs me to put salad, baby carrots, and fruit in her lunch EVERY DAY! I love how much she is into these healthy foods, and they are my favorite things to pack her. 🙂

  87. How fantastic! I would love to get my hands on this book! If I don’t win it, I’ll just HAVE to buy it! It’s only been about a month since I started creating Bento style meals for my girls and I have enjoyed every second of it! This book would be a fantastic addition to my ever growing list of supplies!

  88. My favorite thing to pack in my Easy Lunchboxes is leftovers. I often make too much so it’s great when it doesn’t go to waste, and often dishes taste better the 2nd day!

  89. I love to pack leftovers. Usually whatever was a hit the night before disappears just as quickly at lunchtime!

  90. My favorite thing to put in a lunch box is definitely pepperoni sandwiches. Sounds gross but the kids LOVE them!

  91. I’ve seen the bento lunch boxes on pinterest and a book that gives you all the easy healthy ideas…I’m sold.

  92. I love bagels in a lunch box. You can mix them with hummus, veggies, and a greek yogurt? Best lunchbox lunch ever!

  93. I probably shouldn’t be reading this post so hungry because everything looks so good. My favorite thing to pack for lunch is a bagel, cheese, and fruit. I obviously need this book so I can have better ideas!

  94. I’m so excited about this cookbook!
    My little buy loves his lentils with cheese and crackers from TJ in his lunchbox. I can’t wait for new ideas.

  95. I like packing sandwiches with lots of different toppings. Cucumber, red pepper, lettuce, pickles with some Turkey and hot mustard. Yum!!

  96. My kids pack their own lunches and they really like those Lunchables but they are so expensive so we make our own with whatever we have: crackers, cheese, rotisserie chicken or they will do cheese, meat and fruit skewers or skewers with what they find in the fridge and/or pantry. They come up with some interesting choices but they aways eat what they pack because it is their creation and not mom’s! Love it!

  97. I think my favorite is chopped apple, nuts, nutmeg & just enough cinnamon-sugar or caramel to camouflage the browning. I also love cubes of salami and cheese and a few crackers. I pack salads or leftover soups & casseroles … it really depends on what is in the house!

  98. Fun giveaway 😉

    My favorite thing to pack is fruit. I also like to back leftovers since previously they would become a waste but since backing them for lunch, we don’t run into that anymore.

    Good luck to all 😉

  99. Your blog is wonderful! Perfect timing for back to school. Wish I would have found this before summer to try a variety before school…great ideas for all my kids!

  100. These photos are inspiring me to pack my kids’ lunches! We qualify for reduced lunches, but we all know how much the cafeteria food is lacking.