Balancing School Lunch Prep

photo by Jean Scheijen
photo by Jean Scheijen

Although some strides have been made from the soggy pizzas, government surplus cheese sandwiches and pale green vegetable school lunches I grew up with . There is still much to be desired in terms of nutrition on the plate of today’s students.

According to an article in the New York Times, in 2012 new guidelines were passed that added more fruits and vegetables to school lunches and reduced the amount of salt and fat. But in 2014, a bill was passed allowing schools to opt out of these guidelines.

The article goes on to say that most students were not purchasing school lunch under these new guidelines anyway. I was one of these parents. My child initally purchasing school lunch (before I knew better) and after discovering the small portions (an effort to fit within the salt and fat guidelines) and generally unappetizing food choices. (Most kids I know choose a peanut butter sandwich instead of the other meal choices.) I decided to make my child’s lunch the majority of the time.

It was not an alternative necessarily looked forward to. School lunch prep was a very time consuming and challenging endeavor for a working mom. I know what your thinking, all those pictures on Pinterest make it look so easy. Sure, if your kid would actually eat all that stuff!

But not my kids. My kids don’t eat hummus, or ravioli, or tuna fish sandwiches, or pretty much anything. No matter what shape you cut them in. Ok, I’m exaggerating. They eat some stuff, but it was a long frustrating year of trial and error to finally hit on a few healthy, recipes my kids would actually consum. Here are a few things I discovered in my lunchtime journey.

It is all about balance

I will admit. I got a little obsessed and totally overwhelmed with this process. In an effort to find more balance this year, I have made the decision to let my kids purchase school lunch on Friday’s only. The rest of the time, it’s up to me. Balance also comes in the mix of some homemade snacks and packaged snacks. If you have the time make everything from home, great! It is healthier and cost less. I tried and it was just too much pressure.

There was just not  enough time to accomplish it regularly while working full-time and still be sane. I have opted for the 80/20 rule on homemade snacks and it is working out much better.

You don’t need a fancy lunchbox

I know those Bento box things that are all over the internet and they look super cool. Little wpid-20150811_093820.jpgcompartments for sauces, dips, cheese cut in the shape of flowers.  I bought some and, although they are cute, they can run a pretty penny. They turned out to be difficult to clean, had a hard time fitting them in a lunch bag  and I ended up losing all the tiny lids somewhere in the abyss that is my container cabinet.  Come on we all have one of these see picture on the right ——> Just go with your regular plastic containers, thermos or whatever works for you. Make it as easy on yourself as possible. Filling little tiny compartments and spending 15 minutes looking for a lid. Not so easy.

Invest in a good kids food friendly cookbook

I purchases two, cooked my way through them and could not have been happier. In “100 Days of Real Food”,  I discovered my picky eater son liked, of all things, mini quiche. The other was Weelicious, in this book I found a treasure trove of recipes that used veggies in ways my kids actually liked! This year I am also using “The Best Homemade Lunches on the Planet.” I have made some of the recipes from Laura Fuentes website and have had good results. These books are what worked for me, but they are by far not the only ones available. Shop around, get you kids involved picking recipes and do what works for you.

Use left overs

I give you permission to take the easy way out. Don’t make it hard on yourself and think you have to prepare a new meal everyday for lunch. Kids are just as happy having leftover mac & cheese they loved last night in their lunchbox the next day. Don’t over complicate things like I did. I always made the assumption that kids had the sophisticated palette of an adult… until the week I never got to go food shopping. My son had PB & J everyday and loved it!

Try freezer cooking

This was a saving grace for me on days I did not feel like making lunch. Having some frozen pre-made PB & J or mini quiches to pull out last minute helped so much. Do this on your schedule. When you are making one sandwich why not make a few and freeze the rest for another day. They also act as a freezer pack keeping the lunch bag cold as it defrosts. Plus this concept works great during the dinner time rush.

In the end, my main take-away from a year of crazy lunch box prep. Do what works for you. Don’t hold yourself up to a standard that doesn’t work for you or your family. Take out every now in then is an worth the trade off for time with your family. Remember, you are the ingredient they really need.

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