It's officially back-to-school season, which means an onslaught of ads, articles, posts, and pins about all of the things we should be doing to get our kids ready to return to school. While there are many aspects of back-to-school time that have gotten overblown and overcomplicated, the one that continually sends me over the edge is the topic of kids' lunches.
Photo Credit: Nadja Tatar via Flickr.
Here are just a few of the headlines I've come across recently:
“50 tricks and fun ideas for amazing school lunches”
“How to add pizzazz to your child’s lunch”
“30 days of school lunches -- no repeats!”
What killed me the most was when I googled "simple school lunches" only to find recipes for asparagus and gruyere paninis and BBQ chicken sloppy joes, as well as photo after photo of minion sandwiches and vegetables arranged to look like a flower garden.
ENOUGH, I say! A school lunch is nourishment, not art. My girls don't need their lunch to have a face. They do not need to have a completely different lunch every day for 30 days. They can wipe the jelly off of their chins with a plain old paper towel. Their lunchtimes will be fun because they will be chatting with friends and going out to recess; their food does not need to be fun.
Photo Credit: via Alyssa Pera
Here are the three goals I have for the lunches I pack my kids.
1) I want them to eat it. I was recently talking to another mom about school lunches, and she said her son asks her to pack the exact same vegetable soup in a thermos for him every day of the week. She was feeling guilty about the fact that he eats the same lunch five days a week.
You know how I think she should feel? Awesome. He knows what he likes. It has nutritional value. And he eats it.
Not all kids will be that easy to please, but most kids have a fairly short list of things they consistently like to eat for lunch. Pack those things. Don't overthink it or feel like you need to be inventive. If your kids are content eating the same things over and over again, feel lucky that your job is that much easier and you know they are leaving the lunchroom each day with a full belly.
2) I don’t want the preparation, packing and construction of lunches to take more than 5-10 minutes. Here are some of the so-called "simple" school lunch ideas I've come across recently:
Thread cubes of tortellini, cheese, vegetables, bread, and meats onto skewers to create "antipasto on a stick."
Melt cheese onto a slice of ciabatta bread, cut into strips and serve with a side of tomato sauce.
Create "build your own tacos" by packing chicken, diced tomato, lettuce, and salsa in individual cups and serving with tortillas.
It's hard enough to get my girls dressed, breakfasted, groomed, and out the door by 7:15 each morning without spending a bunch of time making and assembling their lunches. I want to be able to either make their entire lunch the night before or throw it together quickly in the morning while they're eating breakfast.
3) I want their lunch to have nutritional value. When my daughter was in kindergarten and I was volunteering in the lunchroom, I saw a little boy open a lunch box containing nothing but two full-size packages of M&Ms and some juice.
That lunch was essentially a big "screw you" to everyone who had to interact with that boy for the rest of the day, particularly his teacher.
My girls eat well at home, so I don't feel the need to pack every single food group and nutrient into their lunches. I do, however, want to make sure they’re getting a good balance of carbs, proteins and veggies and fruits to keep their blood sugar regulated and give them the stamina and energy they need to feel their best at school without running out of steam or getting hyper.
GUIDE TO PLANNING SIMPLE SCHOOL LUNCHES
With the aforementioned goals in mind, I sat down with my girls to come up with a list of lunches that would be acceptable to all of us. From there, we created a Monday to Friday "lunch menu" that we would stick to throughout the year.
Of course this does not need to be set in stone (and you'll see that Friday is listed as a "wild card" day), but it gives us a general guideline so that the girls know what to expect on any given day, and I know exactly what I need to have in stock for the week.
Here's our sample menu:
Monday: homemade lunchables*, fruit or veggies, granola cookie
Tuesday: turkey sandwich, chips or crackers, fruit or veggies
Wednesday: pb & j sandwich, chips or crackers, fruit or veggies
Thursday: B buys pizza; S gets hummus and pretzels, turkey pepperoni, fruit, carrots
Friday: repeat of Tues/Weds or wild card (sandwich, soup, pasta salad, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, leftovers, etc).
*To make homemade lunchables, just cut out small pieces of meat and/or cheese and serve with crackers.
I'd love to hear from others about favorite simple lunch ideas, and things you do to make sure your school mornings run smoothly!
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