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School Lunches Are the Enemy

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School lunches are my enemy.

Well, not the actual lunches, just the process of making them. You see, my kids go to a Jewish Day School, which means that their lunches must either be parve or dairy. I have no problem with that, as we keep kosher and therefore won’t make the mistake of accidentally sending in shellfish or a ham sandwich. Rather, the issue I have with lunches is that my kids constantly tell me how they no longer eat this or no longer like that. They change their minds as often as a new parent changes a diaper.

My kids eat perfectly well at dinner time, despite sometimes saying that they don’t like something my husband or I are serving. But lunch is a different story. Things that they would normally eat at home or even order in a restaurant are somehow off-limits when they come out of a lunchbox. I don’t get it.

“Mom, why did you put yogurt in my lunch today?”

Oh, I don’t know, perhaps because for the past three years you’ve eaten it pretty much daily.

“But Avital said she’s allergic to yogurt.”

Then it’s a good thing you aren’t Avital, isn’t it?

“Mom, can you please give me a cheese sandwich in my lunch?”

(Mother places cheese sandwich in lunch, which is promptly returned that afternoon with the now room temperature cheese still there.)

How was your cheese sandwich?

“I didn’t like the cheese.”

You’ve GOT to be kidding me.

“Mom, I told you I don’t like peanut butter sandwiches.”

My mistake. How about a Sriracha sandwich?

“Yum, I love Sriracha!”

I try to make healthy lunches for my kids, ages 5 and 7, but I often find that what I have on hand isn’t what they had in mind. The younger one will no longer eat applesauce and the older one has decided that string cheese is the devil. Hummus is devoured at home, but they won’t touch it at school. They aren’t allowed to warm up food at school, so anything I send in must either be cold, room temperature or sent in some sort of hot food container. I have yet to find ANY thermos-like vessel that keeps the food warm enough until lunchtime, so my famous macaroni and cheese or not-so-famous soup is out of the question. I also ask them what they would like (grapes or apples? carrots or celery?), so that when I go to the grocery store I know what to buy, but that hasn’t proven to be too successful either. I stand in the aisles of the grocery store like an idiot trying to figure out what to purchase. The trusty lists I used to make don’t help me anymore because I don’t even know what to add to them.

As a kid, I remember when I used to do the grocery shopping with my mom. We’d peruse the aisles with our supermarket circular, detailed shopping list and meticulously cut coupons from the Sunday paper. We’d put everything neatly in the cart, and as we checked out, I would place each item perfectly in the paper bags and then move the bags to the cart. These days, I just throw random stuff in the cart and hope my husband can figure out what to make with it. Thank goodness he has the ability to create something edible from the cornucopia of stuff I bring home. If it were me, we’d have pasta every night. I’m not joking. I’d be known as the best mom ever.

I’m often tempted to buy the packaged stuff because at least that way I can simply throw a handful of individually wrapped “food” items in their lunches and call it a day, but then I read the blog posts of the mom with four kids who makes everything from scratch with healthy and local ingredients. I think that’s great, if you have a passion for that kind of thing. I try and follow her recipes, but I usually skip the steps like the ones where you let an egg come to room temperature by letting it sit out for 40 minutes. It’ll warm up when it cooks, right?

Another option would be to spend $6 per lunch, per child, per day for them to get hot lunch at school. That’s certainly not going to happen. For that money, I could hire my own personal chef to do the shopping, cooking, packing and cleaning up.

I want to make sure that I am packing healthy lunches for my kids, but I don’t want to drive myself crazy doing it, nor do I want them to throw away perfectly good food. The other night, our dinner was an interesting vegetable soup made locally here in the D.C. area. Kale, chickpeas, tomatoes, barley and carrots—on the side we had cut up celery and carrots with hummus and pita. The kids gobbled it up, and even had seconds, but yet the (same) carrots I put in one of their lunches earlier in the day, came home uneaten. A couple of nights before that, we had homemade BBQ tofu burritos with shredded cabbage, guacamole, plain Greek yogurt (our stand-in for sour cream), cheddar cheese and salsa. If they’ll eat a fairly sophisticated meal like that, then what could possibly be the problem with the standard old cheese sandwich or PB&J?

There is a silver lining in all of this: My daughter, who is currently in Kindergarten, just started a unit on nutrition. Her teacher has told the class that they must be sure to pack a good lunch and two healthy snacks. She has learned all about protein, grains, fruits and vegetables and she never hesitates to remind me that she needs to have healthy snacks. I am hoping that learning about eating healthy for school lunches will translate into less uneaten lunches brought back home.

But I’d love to hear some advice from you. What do you do to make sure your kids are eating healthy lunches?


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