It’s back to school this week in NYC and my little Rosa’s first day of kindergarten on Thursday. She’s (moderately) excited to head back to school. Last year’s pre-K was essentially full-time, so she’s used to the schedule. One change this year: she’s asked us to pack her lunch every day.
I admit it, last year I took the easy way out. I packed her lunch the year prior to pre-K when she was at Montessori school and there was no other option. Last year, I gladly took the school up on their free lunch offer with nary a twinge of guilt.
Frankly, though, it came back to bite me.
Last school year – exposed to chicken nuggets, cheese sandwiches, and chocolate milk on a daily basis – Rosa officially became a picky eater. When we’d eat one of our regular dinners that she used to enjoy, salmon, say, she’s crinkle up her nose and say, “DISgusting!”
Perhaps her pickiness was simply age-related, or maybe being around the other kids would have spurred her choosiness even if she had brought her own lunch. Nevertheless I now feel all of the guilt that I blissfully denied last year.
So it’s time to start a long year of packing lunches. I’ll do three days a week and Dave two. But as anyone who has packed lunches for any length of time will attest, packing interesting, nutritious, appealing lunches day in and day out can be daunting.
For starters there are a few key limitations:
1. No peanuts! (Understandable, but oh so sad).
2. No microwave, so no hot leftovers.
3. Cold cuts everyday may be a hit, but I don’t like packing such processed foods on a regular basis.
3. Did I mention that Rosa (and likely your child, as well) is very, um, discriminating?
The good news is that there are loads of inspiring resources online and experts to be consulted.
First off, I checked in with Lauren Slayton of Foodtrainers for her lunchbox suggestions. She offered some great ideas and tips:
- Pack Chobani Champions or Fage Greek yogurt with side car of preserves. This offers a little more protein and kids enjoy mixing the yogurt themselves.
- Don’t be afraid of condiments for young kids: pesto, hummus, vinaigrette. I think parents can go too plain. (JH note: I agree; if the food doesn’t taste good no kid is going to eat it)
- Thermoses work well for the non-sandwich eater: soups and pastas especially as it gets colder.
- Always include a fruit and a vegetable, to keep lunches colorful and nutritious.
- Ask the teacher to leave food that’s uneaten so you can see what’s going over well and what isn’t.
Lauren also notes that her pet peeve is waste from lunches (brown bags, baggies, plastic spoons, paper napkins etc.). That’s a good point. Imagine one year’s worth of lunch box waste dumped in one big pile…that’s a lot of baggies. Smart options include bento boxes (here’s Rosa’s), plus reusable snack bags like these for crackers and fruit.
I also found a few other useful lunchbox links:
I wrote this piece last year for iVillage: How to Pack a Healthful Lunch Your Child Will Actually Eat.
Over the weekend I found this fun website. It’s not devoted to kids’ lunches, per se, but has quirky tips and lunchbox DIY’s for anyone’s packed lunch.
Bon Appetit’s blog recently had some tips for better boxed lunches.
Finally, I read this article in the Times last week about how to keep kids’ (or your) lunches safe from bacteria. I will definitely be buying an insulated lunch container or including a cold pack for Rosa from now on.
So, what’s going in Rosa’s lunch this fall? Well, thank goodness for almond butter… Also, I’m planning brown rice and chicken salad with carrots, which I know she likes. Soba noodle salads. Cheese and crackers. Yogurt. Whole grain muffins. Homemade fruit bars. Fruit salads. Whole wheat pasta salads.
It’s not easy to stay inspired on the lunchbox front. But I’ll keep sharing new ideas and would love to hear yours as well.