Friday, November 19, 2010

Thoughts On School Lunches

I volunteer at Eliza's school once a week as a lunch monitor. I see many kids bouncing off the walls, not being able to sit still to eat and visit quietly with their neighbor. It's disturbing. With the yelling, screaming, and all around chaos, my nerves are frazzled. What's even more disturbing is what I see them shoving into their little mouths. I can definately see a connection between the two. I'm thinking: What's going on, Moms? Stop the junkies from taking over! Can't you see that a lunch of Doritos, soda, candy bars, Fruit by the Foot, and Gogurts is not going to help and nourish these children. Let's step up to the plate and think about what's going on with our kids. We're the ones in charge!

I don't want to come across with a "holier than thou" attitude. I really don't. I know that these foods are so convient to toss in a lunch bag. I know, through my own personal experience and with each of my kids, how enticing and addicting they are. It's a tough battle. If you think about it, these processed, oh, so popular, convience- type foods are cheaper than a grocery cart full of produce. It's hard to fit in the time to prep and plan and prepare wholesome foods in our already packed schedules.

Needless to say, this experience has made me think hard about my own children's school lunches. It made me think of what my kids are eating and about the role I play as the mother. It's made me want to do better. Up until this year, I lovingly dedicated my early morning time to making everybody's lunch. The schools my kids go to don't provide lunches. Even when we've had that option some of the years, I never took advantage of that. Maybe once in a blue moon. Seeing the junkie options and poor lack of nutrition for the most part supported my decision. Plus, I think school lunch is a waste. I already purchase loads of delicious, nutritious food, along with leftovers from other meals, all filling the fridge and pantry, why bother and let things go to waste?

I guess I burned out last year. Homemade bread for sandwiches that no one seemed to really like all that much. String cheese. Fruit. Carrots with hummus. Leftovers to warm up. Graham crackers. An occasional homemade cookie or brownie (of course, whole wheat.) Just the same old, same old ho-hum, boring stuff. To make matters worse, it got to be pretty irritating and discouraging to hear comments like, "Mom, I need food!" I felt taken for granted. Why bother? Why not let the kids learn to take some responsibility for their own lunch?

This year, I've backed off. They've done their own thing. But now, I'm not so sure that I'm liking what I'm seeing. Too rushed for time or making it a priority to pull something together. Missing mealtimes and then coming home starving and going straight for corn chips and leftovers. No appetite for the good dinner I've prepared. Also, not a lot of good choices when the lunches are made.There needs to be some kind of solution. Middle ground that we both feel good about. Still letting them take responsibility, but realizing I need to still take the lead in making sure my children are fed properly.

I've decided that I need to do a better job of making more enticing, yummy but still healthy options available for them. I need to follow through by checking to make sure that the lunch is made (by them or myself) mostly the night before. I can make lists of possibilities of things that are on hand for all of us to see when packing lunches.Let's make a list. Let's mix it up a little...

For the main:

~Not just regular breads, but other things like tortilla wraps, pita, whole grain crackers, muffins, bagels, breadsticks, and buns.
~For sandwiches: Turkey slices, different cheeses and spreads, tuna, chicken, salmon, or egg salad mixed with mayo/yogurt. Nut butters, honey, agave, and jams.
~Meatballs or falafel
~Green, veggie, fruit, pasta, and grain salads. Taco salads are always a hit.
~Tacos, burritos (homemade)
~Leftovers (anything with rice is popular)

~Cut up veggies and dips (ranch, bean, Mexi, hummus)
~whole/cut up/dried fruits
~chips and salsa
~corn chips, pita chips, crackers, popcorn, pretzels
~granola bars or granola
~hard boiled eggs (my kids love them. Why don't I make them more often?)
~cheeses-string, cottage, spreadable, cubes
~homemade rice, tapioca, chocolate puddings
~cookies and treats baked with whole grains
~smoothies in a thermos or water bottle. (Sam is taking a green smoothie every day! Yipee!)
~milk, juices, or water

Don't forget sweet surprises like a:

~nice love note (written on a napkin) from mom. "Hope you're having a great day!" "I'm thinking of you." "You're special and I love the person you are becoming." "Let's do _____ when you get home." "Good luck on the ___ today!" "Make it a great day!"
~an unexpected, occasional sweet
~a new pencil or pen
~colorful, seasonal napkins
~frozen ice pack to keep things cool.

In the past, I've packed most of their lunches brown bag style. It's nice that we have the option of having access to microwaves at their schools. I've bought cheap plastic containers for the kids, but many times they get lost and forgotten, only to be discovered later, moldy and stinky in their backpacks or rooms. Last year, we tried these "Laptop Lunch Systems" that seemed to be okay. Everyone liked how compartmentalized the food was arranged. I liked that we weren't wasting and going through lots of Zip locks. As the kids grew, and some of their appetites did, as well, the compartments didn't seem big enough. Especially for sandwiches or for whole fruits. It seems the right size for Isaac, though. He loves to take his to the school for lunch duty and to Mama's and Papa's house. He's proud of it.

When I saw these lunch kits recently at Costco. I thought these might be part of the solutionto our lunch time dilemma. I was so happy to see how affordable these were, too, at $10 a pop. (The other Costco here in the valley had them at double the price.)

I like that the attractive, simple cloth bag is roomy and machine washable. Lots of durable snap- lidded containers to choose from. Enough room for a drink and a ice pack. I also bought a couple of thermoses and a few smaller dip containers. I think I might go back and get one for Keith and give that to him for Christmas, along with the gift of making him a lunch everyday. Well, at least most of the days.

So far so good. I'm excited and motivated. My kids seem that way, too. I yearn for a few hours to devote to making sure that we're prepared for the week. I know it takes effort and is not the easy way out. But, I want my kids to like their lunches. I want to feel like I'm being a caring, conscientious mom. We'll see how things go.


  1. Hi from a 30 Day Vegan participant! My kids are starting their first year of school for which they need lunch (last year was 1/2 day) and I'm overwhelmed with packing foods they'll eat, since I usually cook lunch at home. Thanks for all the ideas! Cheers, Jamie