Day 114: sloppy joes (and the ups and downs of packing kids’ lunches)

Today’s menu: sloppy joes, whole wheat buns, beans and rice, unsweetened applesauce

Looky here, we have a new menu item again! Wow. The sloppy joe wasn’t baaad…but it was sure messy. I would have taken a picture if my hands weren’t covered in sloppy joe fixings. The “joe to bun” ratio was a little skewed in favor of the meat. I think I could have easily made two sandwiches with all the stuff I got. I didn’t have the chance to see the what the cafeteria looked like, but I bet it was a mess. Often I’ll see the students with big stains down their shirts after lunch, but today nothing stood out.

I have never eaten beans and rice mixed together in the same little package before. You can see (below) that the beans were a little on the dry side. I think they were seasoned, but they need some kind of sauce.

I’m happy that the applesauce was unsweetened and there were no dyes like before.

All and all: it’s very brown, but it wasn’t bad. (I like making sloppy joes at home with ground turkey)


Three little stories about packing lunch

A student of mine packs his lunch. Last week on pizza day I asked him what he had for lunch and he said, “My sandwich, half a pizza, and chips.” Now I wish I had asked what the kid who traded half the pizza got for it. Often one student will trade a main entree for a treat out of another student’s packed lunch.

I chatted with a friend about her experience eating school lunch as a kid. She’s originally from Montana. She told me, “Hot lunch was for the poor kids. I always packed. Looking back I’m sure it was made onsite and was fresh.” Later when she did get lunch money, she remembers using it to buy large cookies from the window. “When I got lunch money, I would either buy one chocolate chip cookie and a soup or two large chocolate chip cookies. That would be my lunch. In high school it was open campus so I went out for fast food every day. My mom gave me $2 per day and I could get something at Hardee’s.” She is now a vegetarian so I found it surprising that she ate fast food every day.

At my high school, only seniors were allowed to leave for lunch and I did go out and get fast food. That was the only time in my life that I ate a lot of fast food. I was a student athlete so I’m sure I was burning those extra calories off too. Of course I thought I was fat, but that’s another issue!

Ever since watching Food Inc, I have gotten serious about packing my son’s lunch for daycare. Before I would send the odd entree to substitute or augment a lunch at daycare, but now that I’m worried about things I saw in the movie, I’m taking it up a notch and sending a lunch every day. For example, my husband and I reviewed the daycare menu and realized that there was more ground beef than we’d really like him to be eating considering we don’t buy beef at the grocery store.

Before when the menu read, “Ground beef, rice, bananas, carrots,” I would have felt great about that because I assumed there was minimal processing involved for those items. Now I think about I can offer even healthier options. Actually that was today’s menu for lunch at daycare. Instead I sent cut-up organic chicken sausage, organic yogurt with organic raisins, and a mini-salad of cut up snap peas, sliced carrots and a sprinkling of organic micro-greens (he thinks they are look like “hearts”). I also left a note saying that he could eat the rice and the bananas from the original lunch. Thankfully I have a really good eater and they tell me that he eats everything.

The chicken or fish nugget lunches are no brainers (as in he’s getting something from home), but tomorrow’s lunch at daycare lists  “cheese sandwich and tomato soup.” That is one of my favorite combos to eat and my kid loves soup. I’m going to have to decide tonight whether I try to send soup or let him eat theirs, which won’t be organic. My kid loves soup.

Here’s another issue: they tell me he wants to have the same lunch as his friends. They are patient with him and like I said I know he’s a good eater and likes what I’m sending, but he wants the same as they have. They said he wanted a bite of a chicken patty. Yep, I was shot through the heart. One of his caregivers said to me, “It’s ok? I gave him some.” I guess it is since he already had it! Just kidding, I love his caregivers and trust them. If he’s hungry and wants food, I don’t want them to deny him.

I asked, “Did he eat what I sent?” And they said he likes all of it. Things I’m sending are lots of rice stir-frys with chicken and fish (for the main entree), an fresh fruit like pineapple and asian pears from our neighbor’s tree (they asked us over to pick and we have a bounty) and fresh veggies like shredded carrots stuffed with hummus in mini-pitas, cherry tomatoes, organic peas, sweet potatoes as well as sunflower seeds. I even purchased organic, antibiotic-free chicken nuggets at Whole Foods for the days that they do offer nuggets and he wants to be like his friends. It broke me to buy them, but I thought it best to have them on hand.

What has surprised me the most is that I love packing his lunch. At first I thought, what a hassle! But now I get pleasure thinking about him eating what I prepared for him. This is going to sound so sappy, but I get choked up thinking of him biting into a cherry tomato and saying, “suck seeds out!” (he is in the stage where he describes everything he is doing while he is doing it) or crunching on shredded carrots. Sharing a love of food with your kid is rewarding. I love thinking about him eating. He just started asking, “Dat good, Daddy?” and “Dat yummy, Mama?” when he is eating dinner and it’s just darling. He makes me smile. Food is personal and it’s lovely.


Thanks for all the great comments on yesterday’s post. I didn’t even state the obvious: chips AND fries! I know!

Regarding educational reform, I wanted to acknowledge a comment where someone described how hard it is for a teacher with a significant number of years in the system to just leave and go to another district. That’s because other districts may or may not recognize your previous years of teaching to give you credit for them.

The cut off that seems to be sticking in my brain is five years. Any school district will credit a teacher five years of previous teaching on the pay scale (but of course no “tenure” in the new district). But if a teacher wants to leave a district after 10 years, it’s possible that a teacher would lose five years of credit in another system. I don’t know enough about that to be an expert (do please fill me in), but I think that is part of the problem.

We all have to work together to solve (and save) education in this country…for all kids.

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30 thoughts on “Day 114: sloppy joes (and the ups and downs of packing kids’ lunches)

  1. What one does have to be careful of is setting it up so that he feels left out. Perhaps send some things, but allow him to choose some things too. Don't make it a battlefield. He is curious and wants to try everything, and a bit of chicken patty here or there isn't a huge deal. πŸ™‚ We always offered lots of choices, but I just made sure that what I offered was kick ass compared to everything else, lol!

  2. I have been teaching for 14 years and absolutely LOVE it! It can be challenging at times, but like you, I am always trying to push myself to continue to grow and be the best I can be for my students. I am in the process of moving and have been researching districts in the area I will be moving. I am finding each district is different in how many years they will transfer over for you. Some will actually transfer all, which has pleasantly surprised me. Many are 5 or 10 years. However, ALL of the districts, no matter how many years they will transfer, will start me at the bottom of the seniority totem pole. So scary to not have that job security anymore after so many years, but what can I do?

  3. We aren't allowed to bring food for my son at daycare now (we brought him homemade baby food) because they are too worried about fights over not having the same as everyone else. It annoys me but it makes sense. They do tell me he eats everything, sometimes multiple servings, so there's that.

  4. My sixth-grade daughter says that at her school, bringing lunch is much more desirable than buying. She's asked me in the past if I can pack extra food for her because her friends would rather eat her lunch than their own. So while in daycare it may be cool to eat what your friends are eating, by kindergarten it all changes!

    About high school, I went off campus for lunch almost every day, starting toward the end of 9th grade. You were supposed to have a lunch pass to leave, but no one ever checked and we all just came and went as we pleased. There was a Weber's bread store across the street, and my friends and I would go there and buy Zingers and Twinkies for 10 cents each, or a box of 12 for $1.09. (Yeah, I know, so nutritious.) When I stayed on campus, I usually had a Coke and a Snickers bar from the student store.

    Even better, the gym teachers sold chocolate-chip cookies out of their office before and after P.E. class – I think they cost 50 cents, and they were literally the size of saucers. I can still remember how sometimes they weren't quite baked all the way through and tasted like raw cookie dough in the middle. We had to watch Kate's Secret in class one day, and most of us stocked up on cookies to eat during the film – looking back, there was something fundamentally wrong about sitting in the disused shower area and stuffing our faces with baked goods while watching a movie about a woman's struggle with bulimia, but at the time it didn't stop us.

  5. If I'd been eating the sloppy joes, I would have mixed the beans in with the meat and then put the meat and beans overtop the rice. When we have them at home, that's how I do it. Sort of like chili over rice.

    Hard to know what to do about daycare lunch with one so young. Sending lunch with my 5 yr old Kindergarten daughter is so much easier than when I was sending for my son (who is now homeschooled) — she'll eat the cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and fruit – he wouldn't. I get what you mean about the satisfaction of knowing he'll enjoy sucking the seeds out of the tomato (though my daughter will eat the whole thing, seeds and all) — she sucks them in her mouth like a vaccum cleaner. Sad to say I don't share her love of them!

    Denise in Canada

  6. MRs. Q I've been following your blog for a while and it has been entertaining and a bit of an eye opener for a office world DINK.

    However I remember from one of your earliest posts that you (as I) loved the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo. It may not be organic/local but its not totally evil.

  7. Also – in the future I think the sloppy joes mixture combined with the rice and beans would make for a meaty red beans and rice stew that may just be tasty. This could also be because tonight we made Red beans and rice with Turkey Kielbasa (and a salad).

  8. Another problem with teacher transfers was that we were given our contracts to sign way way before other counties were ready to hire. You had to risk not signing your old county's contract, or risk consequences of breaking the contract, if you wanted even a chance at moving out.

  9. We have the same issue at my sons daycare that just started. We packed his lunch and have been since the beginning and lucky for us the teachers there have been very nice, he is the only child that doesn’t eat the school food. I looked at the menu and the ingrident lists of all the foods they eat. It is all processed foods. All of it, even the non breaded chicken strips have fillers and stuff added!

    However the teachers there are saying he wants to eat what the other kids are eating now, were not sure what to do, we told them try not to as much as you can. He does eat all the food we give him though.

  10. I am so thankful that my child's preschool has *everyone* pack lunches. (It must be so much less work for the staff, too: just open the containers–no heating or anything!)
    Mrs. Q., it's not too early to start to teach your little guy that we do not have to have what our friends have, whether it's the same lunch or the same shoes or the same car.
    And I'm kind of picky, but this post reminded me again how glad I am not to be the one eating school lunches, even to educate the rest of the country. Thank you for making this sacrifice!

  11. Okay, so we moved from beige food to brown and red. Hmmm, still not colorful! It's so sad to see lunches that just look plain and boring. Meals should be exciting and colorful. Are they trying to bore the students to death?

    I just did lunch room duty yesterday. It was very interesting and frustrating. There were kids who were trying to trade foods for a variety of reasons. We have a strict policy of not trading foods in our schools due to food allergy concerns. Some kids were wanting to trade items brought from home for someone else's home items. Some wanted to trade their home item for one of the school lunch items. I had several kids who didn't like what their parents packed. Seriously, kids talk to your parents, parents pack what your kids LIKE. I always packed my kids lunches and I ALWAYS asked them what they wanted. It's just a waste to pack something they don't want.

    One thing I love to see in kid's lunches is notes from their parents. I think that adds something special to their day and their meal. πŸ™‚

  12. My son has several food allergies and we packed his lunch when he went to daycare. But the teachers kept giving him food he couldn't have, and then call because he was sick. Needless to say, he didn't attend that daycare for long. He's in kindergarten now, and I pack his lunches because trying to go through all of the school menus is too difficult, and I'd rather not risk it. He understands better now, and I think he's eating his food and no one elses. He comes home with an empty lunchbox anyway.

  13. I love what you're packing for your son's lunches!

    But it does sound as though he'd like to enjoy some of what his friends are eating. Picking a couple of lunches a week that seem "safe" for him to eat seems like a great idea, since it lets him socially share food. Sending along analogues such as the organic chicken nuggets can help to bridge the gap, but once in a while, I think you're right that he should just eat what's there.

    Fear not, a bite of the chicken patty won't hurt him. Should he eat it daily? Of course not. No one should. The tomato soup is also guaranteed to be high in sodium and the "cheese" sandwich made with orange-colored oil. But that's OK. Once in a while. He's eating healthy at home, and that leaves a lot of room to dabble with the less-great stuff they're serving at school.

  14. I pack my kids lunch everyday, they refuse to eat the school food ever since the school legend of the hairball in the pizza started circulating a few years ago. I would love to pack them all organic fresh local produce, but living in Colorado that is next to impossible, since we only get one growing season.

    Here's a blog post for you Mrs.Q, what kind of healthy snacks do parents have for middle schoolers who are actively involved in sports? I often end up with a houseful of 11 to 13 year old boys that will eat everything in sight and more. realistically I would rather feed them healthy organic food, but given the massive quantities that they consume food in, what is the alternative to junk food? What do other parents do? Snacks for younger kids are much easier, they don't eat as much. I would love it if you could post that, and find out how other families deal with those situations.

  15. Mrs. Q,

    I shoot for the 80/20 rule for my 3rd grader. If he eats the really good stuff 80% of the time I feel like a good mom. The 20% I just let go without too much comment. It keeps us from arguing and I feel it is enough room for him not to feel like we control everything that goes in his mouth. Mine also wants some of the hot food offered at his school and I'm not willing to say yes to much of it. But I do try to re-create what he wants, only with our ingredients made at home. Sometimes I even pack the home-made version on the same day as the school version. That takes an incredible amount of forethought, though, and it doesn't happen often. But he really appreciates it when it does!

  16. Yuck, I know- Pink Slime! The fact that that's the actual name and not just a description makes it seem all the worse. I only buy ground beef from a local grassfed stand (I've actually seen him grab a hunk of roast and grind it for me when he ran out, so I trust it to be unadulterated- plus it tastes SO much better!) but I'm willing to buy whole cuts from the anti-biotic free section at the grocery store. I caved and bought CAFO meat last week due to an incredible price, but the taste… After several months of almost only organic and/or grassfed beef… price is unlikely to sway me again!

    That said- will you pack lunches for me? Please? Yours sound so much yummier than what I pack!

  17. A hairball in the pizza? Yuck! Reminds me of my high school where the rumor was the pre-made, plastic-wrapped hamburgers were green on the inside (as in moldy). And there were those horrible chocolate cake squares on the dessert shelf with a layer of canned chocolate frosting that had congealed into one solid, peel-off strip.

    To the poster w/the houseful of pre-teen boys, what about making up a batch of homemade pizza dough, dividing it into individual portions and keeping it handy in the fridge along w/some tomato sauce, lowfat cheese and cut-up veggies? The kids could make their own mini pizzas. Or maybe have some baked chips, salsa, lowfat cheese and homemade guacamole on hand so the kids could make nachos.

  18. This is my first visit to this blog; I enjoy how thoughtful and insightful it is.

    That being said, how do you pack your baby's lunch (I know he's not a "baby" baby anymore, but!)? Have you considered packing them bento-style? There's so much out there now as far as different kinds and sizes of boxes, and DOZENS of blogs written by people who bento on a daily basis. Plus, I have seen a lot of parents personalizing their childrens' bentos and it's so special.

    I'm 34 years old, my sweety is 36, and we enjoy bentos every day for lunch! πŸ™‚ Good luck.

  19. Hi Mrs. Q,

    I post few & far between, but I read your blog religiously. I really love what you're doing!

    I wanted to make a suggestion for your little one's lunch. When I taught pre-school, we had a little girl that had Celiac's disease & couldn't eat the same things that the rest of the class ate. Her mom brought her a lunch every day & we would give her the fruits & veggies that she could eat from our lunch staff. She always wanted to eat what the rest of the class ate, and she would often feel left out if she didn't. She was often very quiet at lunch & was very unresponsive to kids asking why she was eating something different. It was quite heart-breaking.

    We had our monthly meeting with her mom & we all, as a team, came up with the idea that her mom would replicate her meals from home to be similar to our lunch meals with ingredients that she could eat. We gave her a calendar of our meals at the beginning of the month so she knew in advance what we would be serving & she would have time to prepare anything that took longer amounts of time to make.

    I can't tell you what a difference it made in this little child's spirit! Her experience with food completely changed. She went from being a quiet, shy little girl at lunch to being open & laughing, talking about things that the kids learned that day & the things that everyone was eating. She was so happy, it was such a great thing to see as a teacher.

    Her mom was such a blessing: she would make chicken nuggets, spaghetti, sloppy joes, everything you could imagine! We actually had a few other mom's that, when we were eating meals that they didn't feel comfortable with (beef & hot dogs specifically), they would do the same & bring a homemade lunch that replicated the school lunch.

    On this little girl's birthday, the mom also brought sugar cookies that were gluten-free & everyone in the class got to try them! After that, the kids always wanted part of her lunch πŸ™‚

    While I know your little guy is in a different situation, I thought this might be a good idea for you, especially on those days where it's something that he loves (like chicken nuggets!), maybe he'll feel more included & you get to provide him with fresh ingredients that help his little body grow big & strong πŸ™‚

    I don't know if this helps but it really helped out the little girl in our class.

  20. Oh my gosh, love the story about food ,inc!!! Our family watched that about a week before school started and now my son only takes lunch(he's in 5th gr.)He even asked the lunch lady if the beef and chicken are organic, cuz he said"if he doesn't ask, they won't know the students want that"!!! LOL At my daughter's preschool they are served lunch as a learning tool. They are not allowed to bring their own lunch from home as they get out 10 minutes after lunch ends. But she hardly eats at school EVER. Come on…what 4 year-old is gonna eat that yucky looking "food"!!!

  21. doesn't seem like too bad of a lunch. I love beans & rice, but it's too bad it's white rice instead of brown. Still, could be worse, right?!

  22. I'm a mother who's not too fond of our consumer/celebrity culture (my husband feels the same way) so my daughter has grown up without ever seeing commercial TV or listening to the pop-band-of-the-day. (We have always gotten her DVD's of shows like Dora and some Disney movies, but she's never seen a commercial at home, since my husband and I don't watch commercial TV either.)

    However, I've not wanted to be the nazi-mother, who excludes my daughter totally from popular culture –I just didn't want to introduce it until it was necessary, when her peers were discussing it and she didn't want to feel left out. So, once she turned 8, and her friends were watching Hannah Montana, I told her that she could watch it too, if she wanted to. (She watched about 5 minutes of it and found it boring and has never wanted to watch it again, much to my relief since I get pretty razzed about things that present sexuality to girls before they hit puberty.)

    The same thing is true of music –my husband has an incredible music collection, and she has been introduced to every genre (except Rap) from every decade since the 50's by spending time with him. When the school played Lady Gaga for the kids to dance to, she came home and told me they were playing horrible music in gym, although she didn't know the name "Lady Gaga" –just that it was awful. She goes to sleep at night with music on, and she can choose from our whole collection –she has strong feelings about what she wants to listen to, and I'm happy that Lady Gaga didn't make the cut πŸ™‚

    I'm hoping that by introducing her to good stuff before she knows about the bad stuff, that once she hears/sees/tastes the bad stuff she won't find it very appealing. But I don't ever want her to feel as if she can't be part of her peer group –I always keep reasonable offers open. For instance, her school gets Domino's Pizza on Fridays for hot lunch, and this year she asked if she could get the Friday lunches. But she looks at the food that comes the rest of the week and prefers what we pack. So she gets the "social" food one day a week, and healthy food on the other days.

    I hope that my plan of steering her away from things like our consumer culture, or industrial food system, will be a balance to the peer pressure which I know is only going to grow as she moves into her teens. But I do want it to be a balance –I don't want her to be the kid with the controlling mom who won't ever let her kid participate in her generation's culture and food. πŸ™‚

  23. I'm glad to hear a little more about bringing school lunches. As I read your posts I wonder how many kids bring their lunch rather then buy them and what they bring. Also, I am glad to see a little more variety so far. Hopefully you see more salads in the next couple of months.

  24. My son's kindergarten orders fast food lunches twice a week. I know he might want to be more like his friends but I'm sorry, that's not moderation…that's regularity and I don't understand why his school thinks it's o.k.

    I'm not crazy about it, but my compromise is that I let him do one of the days a week and on the other day I make him his own chicken tenders and fries from home (from scratch with no preservatives) and he's been happy with that.

    I only had one school tell me I wasn't allowed to pack my children their own food. I found another school. It's that important.

  25. I love reading all of your comments as they come in one by one. I read every one of them. Thanks!

  26. I have worked at several daycare centers and parents were never allowed to bring food for their child unless they had a documented food allergy by a doctor. Consider yourself lucky!

  27. Many states have daycares/preschools that get funding for feeding the children in their care. This is why they have rules against you sending packed lunches. They have to meet "healthy" diet requirements set forth by the program in order to receive their moneys. From what I've seen, this consists of buying food that barely meets the technical standards, and is full of a lot of empty calories and chemicals.

    When I finally found a daycare that allowed me to send my child's lunch with him, he complained about being left out and let him eat bologne despite the fact that he's vegetarian. He was sick for two days from it. Blech.

    When I was in school and getting hot lunches, we used to joke about it. The brown slop was usually meat or beans, the green slop was what we called broccoli or spinach, even though it didn't taste like broccoli or spinach, and yellow slop was creamed corn or macaroni and cheese. It was all very wet and fairly flavorless. We choked it down because we were hungry. Once a month or so we were lucky and got burgers with tater tots and some kind of sugary apple crumble thing. It was the only day of the month that everyone ate their entire meal.

    I remember when they went from offering whole milk (and those little cartons were never enough to wash down that horrible meal), to 2%. They explained to us that it was supposed to be more nutritious. One kid at the assembly piped up and suggested that real food might be more nutritious too. The students laughed. The teachers did not.

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