"Some weasel took the cork out of my lunch." -W.C. Fields
(Totally inappropriate I know, but it made me laugh so there).
My oldest started kindergarten last week and all went well, with the exception of what will heretofore be known as The Lunch Incident. Little Miss was sent to school on her second day with macaroni and cheese, carrot sticks, iced tea and a bag of cookies. For some reason she had been fighting me about the mac and cheese, even though it is the kind she likes. But I have a mealtime rule (a combination of "you get what you get" and "this is a house, not a diner") so she was sent with it and that was that.
When I picked her up from the bus she said she had a great day and we walked home as she talked about art class. We got home, she went to play with her sister and I unpacked her backpack to clean her lunch box. When I opened it, it was untouched. Even the cookies. I called her into the kitchen and she stood there, grinning, while she declared that she had pancakes for lunch mommy!
I almost stroked out with rage. There's no money in her lunch account. She had clearly been sent with lunch. I have no idea how she paid for and actually obtained the school's hot lunch. I still can't believe she was wily enough to get what she wanted (but given that she is MY child, I should have known better). And now I have a raging insecurity complex about what food I'm sending with her. I'm not a great or original cook to begin with (see my Sense Memory post on the subject) and I was terrible at providing lunches at her previous daycare. I sent peanut butter and jelly without thinking about it (thank goodness no one in her class was allergic). I would pack those Gerber raviolis that were frankly pretty gross. I just had zero time and very little capability for that task. When both of my daughters started at a school that provided hot lunch and all snacks, drinks, etc it was a delightful moment of zen. Now I'm back to square one.
I solicited feedback from wiser parents than I on Facebook about packing easy, tasty lunches (healthy is a bonus). Things I learned:
Sandwiches are so 2007: I attribute this to the demise of PB&J as a viable school lunch. I also know that my own children don't care much for lunch meat, and I suspect other kids of the same feeling.
Variety is Key: bento-style lunches afford easy ways to portion food, and provide kids with a bit of choice. So rather than hearing "but I don't liiiiiiikkkkkeee it!" You're pretty much guaranteed that they'll eat at least one thing.
Make the Kids Do It: I like this most of all. My friend Kellianne (and others seconded) creating a snack box in the fridge filled with items like yogurt, carrot sticks, apple slices and seasonal fruits. There might be a "main course" of pasta, say, but let your kids pick and pack their two dishes and juice box or milk. Then they can't complain, they did it themselves. Use the School Lunch: you don't have to do it every day, but maybe once a week the chicken nuggets and French fries make sense as a treat and/or to save your sanity. My daughter would eat nuggets and fries every day if I let her, so I plan to use this sparingly but gratefully!
Use Leftovers: I am terrible at this. I can't tell you how many times I put away leftovers with the best of intentions and throw them out after they've festered for a week. But there's no reason spaghetti and meatballs or chicken with rice can't be lunch the next day. Which brings me to perhaps the most helpful tip of all:
Plan. Plan. Plan.: also not my strong suit. But if you can create a schedule or calendar of lunch/dinner it will maximize your grocery shopping, money and brainpower. Here is a little tool to help with putting together lunches. Choose 1 from column A, 2 from column B and a drink from Column C. Fill in with your own favorites:
Cheese, turkey and triscuits
Spaghetti with meatballs
Chicken noodle soup Macaroni and cheese Veggie pasta Hummus and chips Group B: Yogurt stick Carrots Apple slices Clementines Apple sauce pouch Cheese stick Veggie sticks Group C: Milk Juice
Here are a couple of great websites with ideas:
30 Days of Lunchbox Recipes (no repeats!): http://www.peanutblossom.com/blog/2013/08/lunchbox-recipes.html/ Laptop Lunches- Lunch gear, recipes and more: http://www.laptoplunches.com/ Easy Lunch Box Lunches- (Pinterest at your own risk!): http://pinterest.com/easylunchboxes/easy-lunch-box-lunches/
What's your strategy for tackling school lunch? Do you have any great recipes for items that can be pre-made and then packed as needed or frozen for later use? Any tips on what to avoid? I'd also love to hear what lunch boxes, thermos containers, etc you like and why! Please comment below and I will try to compile recommendations and suggestions in an accessible format.