Guest blogger: More Alternatives to School Lunch

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?
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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/.
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62 Responses to Guest blogger: More Alternatives to School Lunch

  1. Anonymous May 24, 2010 at 4:30 am #

    I am a single mother whose child would most definantly qualify for free lunch if I applied. I work and go to school, and I am not ashamed to say that I receive food stamps every month. Out of those food stamps, I buy everything my son eats, breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week. He has a laptop lunchbox and I pack a lot of dinner leftovers, with his help. He knows that there must be a fruit, a vegetable, a protein, and a grain in his lunch every day. Sometimes he gets a juice, sometimes he gets milk in his aluminum water bottle. He is blessed enough to go to a school where they refrigerate their lunches. I would not consider us priveleged, but I spend a great amount of time budgeting and using coupons to make sure that he has everything he needs to grow up healthy.

  2. Anita May 24, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    Good point Renee – about the focus changing. You're right – school lunches need improvement.

  3. Anonymous May 25, 2010 at 2:28 am #

    @Renee
    "And I have to admit I get a little tired of the self-righteous attitude of the guest bloggers telling everyone else how great they are at making fabulous lunches. I make my daughters lunch, I use bento boxes, I pack fresh fruits and veggies –I'm one of those privileged parents. From the comments, it seems like most of the readers are too. Enough with patting ourselves on the back –what can be done for the parents who can't do this?"

    EXACTLY. Thank you. I am in complete agreement.

  4. Anonymous May 25, 2010 at 5:06 am #

    And can I ask why someone would not be able to do this it takes 2 secs of your time the night before. Good grief people!!!!
    Even though my DD and DS will be eating made at home foods I do agree that something has to be dont with school lunches!!!!

  5. Anonymous May 25, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    anonymous @ 9.28pm…..

    so you agree with Renee… " what can be done for the parents who can't do this? "

    Well…they are being given free lunch, that's what's being done for them. The whole point of this blog is to raise awareness of the QUALITY of some of this free or subsidised food, so that even more can be done for these parents who for what ever reason can't look after their children.

    Surely those parents who CAN…should be encouraged to continue to do so, not castigated into feeling like naughty show offs??

    I have commented on Renee's intial post before, and while I think everyone has a total right to their opinion, this is one point of view that I am having a hard time with.

    There seems to be an implication that fast food and junk is the only food some people can afford.

    In Australia, we now have a supermarket shelf system where you can compare the per kilo price of everything you buy.Most fruits, vegetables and wholefoods ( things our grandparents would recognise ) come in at a FRACTION of the per kilo price of fast foods and processed junk. This is basic maths.

    Mrs Q, please continue with the wonderful diversity. You are doing a brilliant job!!

  6. Jennifer Mayer May 25, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    I do bento lunches for my daughter, and unless I choose to spend a lot of extra time on it, it doesn't take me any longer than making a PB&J sandwich and packing a couple of cookies and some chips would.

    Today, she had a few strawberries and blackberries that we had picked this past weekend on a family expedition, some carrot sticks, some cheese and whole-grain crackers, and a few chocolate covered raisins for dessert. I find she's willing to eat a better variety of foods this way, too. Nothing in there was expensive – the crackers weren't the cheapest, but she only takes about 4 of them, so the per-serving cost is minimal.

    For those of you criticizing the nutrition of that muffin, look at the rest of the lunch. It's all fresh fruits and veggies! We also need to remember that as a general rule, kids should not be eating a lowfat diet. Please also remember the size of those muffins – they aren't anything huge, and there's just a little "stuff" in there anyway.

    I make most of our breads and baked goods. One thing I often do when making non-whole grain ones is add in some Benefiber. It all cooks the same, and I feel a touch less "guilty" when I do make a plain ol' white loaf. I'm sure that would work with a cornbread muffin mix, too.

  7. Anonymous May 26, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    "but I don't have timmme *whine*" Dude, you're on the internet. Get off it and pack your kid a freaking lunch.

    -Em

  8. Anonymous May 27, 2010 at 2:33 am #

    clap clap clap well said Em

  9. Evie May 30, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    My kids were homeschooled until the last 9 weeks of school. I'm a single mom and one of the reasons I enrolled them was because they qualified for reduced lunch, even though I KNOW how unhealthy they are. Now I have two children who have constant stomach aches and I have to wonder if it is from the crappy school food. A couple of weeks into summer, we will see if they get back to normal with our healthier home food. I thought I could get the good food into them when I did have them, but I don't feel like it's enough. Next year, I'm packing it everyday!!

    To those complaining about saturated fat in beef, please remember that everyone NEEDS saturated fat! It is not the enemy. The real enemy is white flour and sugar, which we DON'T need. Kids especially need saturated fat, and when you are able to choose the quality of your beef rather than just accept the "school approved" beef, you are doing even better. We eat grass-fed beef and raw dairy products. WAY better than anything they could ever serve at school!

  10. Anonymous June 9, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    We bento too [as your picture illustrates you do also] but our children don't have access to a refridgerator during the school day and no matter the insulated lunch packs or the coolies I put in I can't get the cheese and cut up fruit to stay chilled.

    Does your child have access to a 'fridge? Or do you know something i don't? 😀 – I usually pack an non-cooling required type lunch.

  11. Anonymous June 11, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    I applaud the parents that do prepare good lunches for their kids. If all parents would do the same, or the school prepare healthy foods, everyone one benifit includeing the teachers.

    Bad food effects the student, not only from a health perspective, but behaviour.

  12. Kiri October 5, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    That muffin looks incredibly delicious. What’s the recipe for it?

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