Last week I dared to break the tranquility of summer and start talking about lunch boxes and the impending return to school; this week I'm thinking about what goes inside of those carefully-chosen containers.
My children take a packed lunch to school every single day. Although my daughter once upon a time expressed an interest in hot lunch, the realities of that option have made her appreciate bringing a meal from home. My son is the world's slowest eater, and even if he wanted to buy lunch (he doesn't), it wouldn't leave him enough time to actually sit down and eat.
So that leaves me with: One picky eater who is easily overwhelmed by choice and one adventuresome "grazer" who happens to be a vegetarian. Let me just whip out a hand and count how many times I've packed the two of them the same lunch on any given day. Okay, all done. (I have several fingers left over, by the way.) Over the years I've figured out how to more or less keep my children in school lunches they'll eat.
For my son, it's one (simple) sandwich and one other food item like a piece of fruit. Maybe a piece of fruit and something "snacky" like pretzels, if I think he'll be really hungry. Pack more than three foods for him and he won't eat anything at all. Don't ask me why. Maybe he finds it overwhelming, maybe he just likes watching me open his bag at the end of the day and announce to no one in particular that tomorrow I shall save myself some time and just prepare his lunch and throw it directly into the trash.
For my daughter, the more choices, the better. Two carrots and two celery stalks and three grape tomatoes and a stack of cucumber rounds is infinitely preferable to a handful of baby carrots. Three kinds of crackers to go with her cheese is better than one. Tiny little cupfuls of raisins or beans make her happy. A whole sandwich? Boooooring! She likes it when I mix it up.
As I gear up for the start of the school year, I've got school lunches on the brain, and I'm turning to both my old favorites and new sources for inspiration.
If you're packing for a vegetarian, run, don't walk, over to Smitten Kitchen for this smashed chickpea salad recipe. (Heck, I'm an omnivore, and I love it, too.) Since discovering it last year, my daughter has eaten it on bread, scooped it with crackers, and slathered it on veggies. It's delicious and a great stand-in for chicken salad.
For those willing to eat animals, check out Cooking With a Plan's curried chicken salad recipe. It looks incredibly lunch-box-friendly... you know, for meat-eating kids who allow their foods to touch. Not that I'm pointing any fingers.
My daughter adores anything Bento-like when it comes to packing lunch, so although I'm always game to consult our old favorite, Vegan Lunch Box, I've also recently bookmarked Wendolonia's Bento-inspired lunch box ideas, and Kitchen Cow is not only talking Bento, she's giving readers a chance to win a copy of 501 Bento Box Lunches.
And while my son will probably be happy to stick to his Nutella on whole wheat coupled with a banana, I'm looking forward to trying Conversations With a Cupcake's Sweet Kiwi Salsa with Mapled Almond Shovels. I'll say I'm making it for my daughter's Bentos, but if there's extra left over for me to snack on, well, could you blame me...?
So let's hear it: What will you be packing in your kids' lunches this year? Old favorites? New creations? I can't wait to hear your ideas.
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