The kids always tell me my lunchbox is cool. Gosh. What I would have given for that school cafeteria approval rating in the Sixties! It makes up a bit for never having had a "nothing blouse" or a "fruit loop" shirt in elementary school.
When my lunch includes a yogurt dressing for my chef salad, it's big news on the junior foodie network. They all eat Go-gurts, fruit-gurts, drink-gurts, and Mongolian yurts, but they don't eat vegetable salads if they can help it.
Yesterday was pretty long and hectic, so I wanted to eat my supper when the little students had their afternoon snack. I raced through a convenient Arby's to pick up an original roast beef sandwich and a small iced tea on the way to school. After I read the snacktime story, Jumanji, I sat down to eat my sandwich. The preschool paparazzi circled closer and closer, and observed me with great interest.
The kids wanted to know why I went to Arby's. Why on earth did I need to eat supper at snack time? What is roast beef? Is it junk food? Why do they call it "Horsey Sauce"? Did I lose my cool lunchbox? Why did I warm my sandwich in the microwave? I sure was glad I hadn't ordered curly fries, because that's a role model kids don't need!
School lunchbox meals don't need to be over-packaged or gimmicky. They shouldn't contain more than your child will realistically feed himself within twenty minutes. Some schools send the wasted food back home in the lunchbox so parents can adjust serving sizes. Unfortunately, most uneaten food goes into the trash along with all the packaging. If the child refused to eat the supper casserole last night, why on earth do parents send the same thing in a lunchbox? It sets up child and teacher with struggles that interfer with school attitude and work.
Texture, sound, color, and shape are essential lunch features to kids. They like to have some foods that serve as pointers when they pontificate on a range of subjects. Some foods are useful for stacking and building into small walls. That was why I liked canned diced beets as a kid.
Kids like to have one thing that they can rely on, even though it seems boring to adults to have a half PB&J or cheese sandwich every single day. Daily roast beef sandwiches helped me survive the ordeals of junior high school. My youngest needed a daily strawberry yogurt from first through eighth grades.
Kids don't seem excited about a hot lunch at this age. They struggle with the height of tables and chairs. It is tough to spoon soup out of a tall Thermos if you are only three feet tall. Spills don't brighten anyone's day. Hot chocolate seems like a fun idea, but it's another spiller.
Leaking lunches are the bane of the cafeteria. Make sure lids are screwed on tight, and that your child doesn't help make her own lunch by adding a popsicle when you aren't looking!
What will kids eat at lunch? Based on twenty-five years of packing lunches and being in school lunchrooms, I'd suggest:
- Mixes of yogurt-covered raisins, craisins, peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, Cheerios, croutons, and pretzels that they help make.
- Carrot sticks. They like to dip them, and yogurt is good for dipping*
- Seedless grapes
- Peanut butter on saltines
- Orange sections (Most kids won't eat apple slices that have turned brown, and won't bother with a whole apple.)
- Plain popcorn
- Plain granola bars. They like chocolate ones better, but still eat the plain ones.
- Crunchy banana chips
- Dried apricots
- Cheese cubes and string cheese
- Crunchy still-frozen peas (excellent rattle factor)
- Chilled pasta with grated cheese
- Half a bagel with cream cheese
- Sliced deli ham or turkey rolled up
*Yogurt dip or dressing:
4 oz plain yogurt
1/2 t lemon juice or rice vinegar
shakes of dill, cumin, paprika, and garlic
It helps to remember that someday your child will be a parent and get to enjoy this struggle from your point of view!!