August 16th, 2010
Have you heard? (How could you not!) It’s Back-to-School season!
And just like for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the rest, we get bombarded with a shit ton of back-to-school marketing earlier and earlier. (Since when has “back-to-school” reached holiday status?!) While some of it is super helpful, the sheer amount of information and advice is enough to make you go batty.
So I’m going to do you a solid. I’m going to give you the only five pointers you need to pack yummy and healthy lunches that will keep kiddo well fed without any extra work for you.
And don’t forget to chime in with your tips, too. Together let’s make this a one-stop shop for back-to-school lunch ideas.
1. Plan for leftovers.
I know it sounds labor intensive, but planning ahead saves time in the end. Seems counterintuitive, I know, but it’s true. Every Sunday, I make a meal plan for the week. If you can’t do that (or don’t want to), at least plan ahead enough to make an extra portion of one or two dinners per week. That means one or two lunches done. Just like that.
2. Go international.
We love sandwiches here in the States. And why not. A good sandwich—sometimes even a mediocre one—is just what you need to hit the spot. But, day after day, they can get a little old and uninspired. I mean, how many PB&J’s or turkey sammys can one kid eat? (Probably a lot, but it certainly doesn’t help get them excited about food.) Instead, think crepes (make ahead and freeze), quesadillas (ones like these filled with red chard and mushrooms or butternut squash and avocado are more delicious than you’d think at room temp), dosas (made easy if you get a mix, make like crepes and freeze), and hand-held pies (these Syrian spinach pies are made with store-bought pizza dough and a no-cook spinach filling). All of these things are easy to fill with standard sandwich stuffers or more creative and nutritious vegetable fillings.
3. Use your freezer.
I’ve already mentioned freezing several times, but it bears repeating. Use. Your. Freezer. Which, by the way, brings us back to planning. When you make something that’s also good for the lunchbox, be sure to cook extra. Or plan a time when you can cook for a a couple of hours to stock your freezer with goodies that’ll make packing lunch easier for the month: crepes, dosas, veggie fillings (e.g., chickpea, spinach and potato mash), a shepherd’s pie, zucchini or sweet potato muffins, baked chicken fingers, or polenta squares which can be layered or topped with good stuff. It doesn’t have to be fancy. And, if you do a little planning, it doesn’t have to be often. You might even consider sharing the responsibility with some friends: once a month make everyone in your “club” responsible for cooking 2 lunchable items for the whole group. Five participants equals ten lunches (enough for half a month of school!) ready and waiting in your freezer.
4. Pack fruits and veggies.
I hear you chuckling. Especially you parents of older kids. But hear me out. (Many of you laughed when I wrote, more than once, about why hiding vegetables misses the point and that turned out to be sound–even recommended!—advice.)
Day after day, offering a well rounded lunch with a main entree (if you will), a snacky thing like muffins, granola bars or yogurt, and a bunch of fruit and veggies sends a clear message about what makes a good meal. Sure, many kids will leave the fruit and veggies. Let them! If they’re really hungry, they’ll eat it. Or they’ll trade and negotiate to end up with someone else’s more appealing lunch box item. Fine. (Kind of savvy, even.) Kids will do this and we can accept that without being in collusion with them. All you need to know is that you did your job by providinh a healthy, well-balanced lunch. Period.
5. Don’t care what others think.
Your child will not be scarred by having a lunch that’s different from the other kids. I know. When everyone else had Twinkies and PB&J, I had Greek food and snacks from the health food store. My lunch sucked. (Unlike me, my mom did not know how to do healthy without doing lame.) Do I still talk about it to this day? Yes. But I also love food and cooking and, as far as I can tell, none of my issues stem from what my mom packed for lunch.
And, while I’m at it, I don’t want you to just ignore your kid’s classmates. I also want you to ignore their parents! Nobody knows better than me feeling like other parents are thinking, “Oh, you’re the mom what packed THAT for lunch.” Yes. I am that mom. Because encouraging good eating habits is not a crime. In fact, it’s arguably one of the most important things we can do to invest in our children’s lifelong healthy habits. And no I don’t live a life of luxury where I can spend hours packing a precious lunch for my kid. I’ve found ways to do it just as fast as you madly scramble to throw together yet another ham sandwich. Don’t believe me? See 1-4 above.
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