Sample lunch for my second grade daughter–homemade stuffed muffin with ground beef & cheese, sliced hard boiled eggs, marble cheese cubes, carrots, celery & cucumber, fresh cantaloupe. Total time prep = less than 5 minutes using items in my fridge & freezer. Total cost = slightly under $1.
I’ve been reading Fed Up With Lunch for a couple of months now, ever since a friend of mine IM’ed me and told me I had to check it out.
Truth be told, I have very little experience with school cafeterias. The school I went to from K-8 in our small town did not have a cafeteria. Everyone ate the lunches their moms packed. High school was the first time I attended a school with a cafeteria and I preferred my mom-lunches. When my own daughter started K, her school did not have a cafeteria either, so I knew from the beginning, I’d be making her lunch.
I understand there are times and reasons why a school cafeteria might be appealing. I had many mornings where I thought, “I wish I could just give her $3 and let her buy something.” It can definitely be easier. If lunches are subsidized, it very well may be cheaper and necessary. That’s another post though and involves changing school cafeterias themselves. Fortunately, it can be easy and efficient to provide a healthy lunch for your child to bring with them to school.
Eating homemade, healthier lunches doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be time consuming. I think, for many people, there are multiple deterrents–the time involved, the idea that it will cost much more to send lunch than buy it, thinking that all they can figure out to send is a sandwich/apple/cookie/juice box, or thinking healthier = tofu and spinach so their kids won’t eat it.
Over time, I’ve picked up ideas to make things easier, but one of the biggest tips is to have healthy food the kids like on hand and ready to go. I prebake a lot of items. We make stuffed muffins (corn muffins with meats, cheese & veggies inside), mini quiches, and meat pastries (seasoned ground beef baked in flaky wrappers). All this can be baked in an hour or two, then frozen. There are usually several weeks worth of lunches in my freezer at any given time. I also try to prebake desserts (mini muffins or cookies that freeze well) so they are there if needed. We use other things as main dishes too, but it’s great to be able to pull something out of the freezer on a crazy morning.
Produce shopping is based on what’s on sale. The kids know that we’re getting whatever items are a good deal any given week. This week, we’re going to have bananas, strawberries, blackberries and cantaloupe, because that’s what is on sale at the nearby stores this week. I wash and/or slice the items right away so they are already in serving form. It’s much easier in the morning to pick up a container of diced cantaloupe than to have a whole melon that needs slicing.
I also try to have certain items always on hand. For us, this includes blocks of real cheese, eggs to hardboil, mini bagels; pita breads, tortillas, baby carrots; celery, and a few varieties of whole fruit. This is just based on my kids’ preferences, I keep their favorites in stock at home to make things simpler for me.
I actually don’t advocate school lunchtime as an experimental time. Kids need energy for the rest of the day. A PB&J on whole grain bread, baby carrots, an apple and a homemade oatmeal cookie that your child will definitely eat is much better than trying to send hummus, red pepper & kiwi if your child isn’t guaranteed to eat those. I confine food experimenting to home; school lunches and snacks are healthy food I know they will eat.
Ideally, school cafeterias would serve fresh, healthy foods all the time. I think it’s important and something that definitely needs changing. But, in the process, what if just 1 or 2 of those 5 lunches per week that kids eat were healthy, nutritionally balanced (and not USDA balanced, really balanced) and from home? If the end result is healthier food in our kids, isn’t it worth a try?
Quick bio: Shannon is a former middle school teacher and mom to a 7.5 and 4.5 year old. She’s interested interested in quick, easy & fun ways to help her kids eat healthy and blog about their food adventures at http://bentolunch.blogspot.com/.