|Does your child eat the lunch you pack?|
The Truth About School Lunch
It's that time of year. The time when everyone posts beautiful photos and creative recipes for school lunch. I approach the topic of school lunch a little differently. Because in my seven years of teaching elementary school, here is what I learned about young children and school lunch:
1. Most kids spend less than five minutes eating lunch.
For children, lunch is what stands between them and playtime. They shovel a few things in their mouths and get out onto the playground as fast as they can. There are children (mostly girls) who will sit at the lunch tables and devotedly eat their entire lunch while chatting with their friends. But they are the exception to the rule.
2. You don't know whether your kid eats the lunch you packed or not.
They might eat it, but they also might trade it for something else, or throw it in the trash. As a parent, you usually just don't have that much control over what your child does or does not eat during lunch time. For example, my vegan sister told me how her daughter, desperate to find out what meat tasted like, ate a hamburger patty off the floor of the cafeteria. My sister only found out because she has a friend who works at the school who saw it happen. I think it's important to keep in mind that the amazingly nutritious black bean dip you made with organic sprouted beans could end up in the trash. And the organic snacks you paid a small fortune for might get traded for fluorescent "yogurt" in a tube. All this and more could happen without you being any the wiser.
What I Pack My Son for Lunch
I'm packing a lunch for my eldest for the first time this year. Instead of trying to pack some amazingly delicious, nutritious, and innovative masterpiece for my child for lunch, here is how I approach the school lunch dilemma:
- Serve a big homemade breakfast each morning. You can make your kid finish breakfast. You can't make him finish lunch. I make large batches of whole grain pancakes and french toast on the weekend, which are easy to reheat for a quick weekday breakfast.
- Pack a school lunch that is super easy to make using foods that you know your child will eat. This increases the chances that your kid will eat the lunch you pack. It also decreases the odds that you will be really angry at your child for not eating the lunch you worked so hard making. Soon I hope my son will be helping me pack his lunch each morning and eventually packing it all by himself. For now, getting him to change into his uniform and eat his breakfast before we need to leave is challenge enough for us.
- Pack foods that are not temperature sensitive, so that your child can eat the leftovers after school or even the next day for lunch. I realize this greatly limits your options. It also limits the amount of food that will end up in the trash. For the past two weeks, my son has eaten more than half of his lunch on the way home from school. And I'm packing his lunch based on the amount of food he would normally eat if he were eating lunch at home with me. Just today I opened his lunch box after school to discover that the only parts of his lunch he had consumed were his milk and his treat (sandwich and fruit untouched).
- The time to try to get your kid to eat a new or non-favorite food is dinner. Pack a lunch based on what your child will eat, not based on what you hope or wish she would eat. As a teacher, I saw a lot of unfinished and untouched food from home get dumped by kids in the trash.
|This is the lunch (free of disposable packaging) I hope to eventually be packing.|
So far, my son's school lunch consists of:
- Homemade 100% whole wheat bread with jam plus almonds packed in a Lunchbots stainless steel container
- Apple slices in a LunchSkins reusable bag
- Packaged treat in a LunchSkins reusable bag
- Box of organic milk
- Cloth napkin
- All packed inside a Crocodile Creek insulated lunch box with reusable ice packs
The jam sandwich plus nuts is my version of a PB&J. My son does not love peanut butter and jam sandwiches, so I agreed to make him a jam sandwich (he loves bread with jam) if he would also eat some nuts. I've been sending my son to school with special store-bought treats like Annie's crackers or Clif Kid fruit twists to make him extra excited about his school lunch, but it pains me to be using so much disposable packaging. Eventually, I would like to send my son off with homemade treats (like my healthy whole grain "cookies," chewy granola bars or even healthy-ish chocolate chip cookies) in reusable bags instead, but first I need to bake some. I also feel bad about the milk box that goes in the trash everyday. I would like to send my son with a 12 oz stainless steel bottle of water instead (he drinks plenty of milk at home). But I don't want him to feel too bad about not eating the cafeteria lunch which includes milk or chocolate milk, so for now we're sticking with the milk.
A few other suggestions regarding reusable lunch gear:
- Practice opening and closing reusable containers at home before sending little ones off to school with them. You'll find out that some containers are too difficult for your child to open on her own, and that others require a bit of practice and coaching or all the food ends up on the ground once the container or bag is opened.
- Don't send your child to school with expensive reusable lunch gear until you know you will get it back. Find out what the system for getting lunch boxes back to the classroom is and then wait a few days to see if your child reliably brings everything back home before sending him or her off to school with $50+ worth of reusable lunch gear. I, for example, did not send my son to school with Lunchbot containers (which I love because they keep the sandwich from getting crushed and are so easy to clean by hand or in the dishwasher) until the second week of school because they are $18 a pop.
How do you make sure your child eats a healthy school lunch?