How I Stopped Packing Lunches and Started Enjoying the Morning

Homemade pizza; raspberries; banana chips and crunchy green beans; hard-boiled egg; gf bunny crackers

I really hate packing my son’s lunches. I know you guys enjoyed those posts, and some of you still want to see photos of lunches, but I always felt funny sharing them. Here’s why:

  1. I advocate for school lunch reform — not people packing. Putting up those lunch photos felt like I was “selling out”; the whole reason I created this blog in 2010 was to raise awareness about school lunch. The blog has evolved beyond straight school lunch posts now, but I still didn’t think it fit.
  2. I felt like I was bragging. Even though my son has food allergies going on, it did feel a bit showy to put photos of my son’s lunches out there. Where some sought and found inspiration for lunch packing, I saw exactly what one reviewer pointed out on her review of my book on Amazon. Yep, she called me “elitist.” You know, you open yourself and share something personal (my son’s lunches are personal — food is personal). You know what? I didn’t sign on to deal with that.
  3. I despised the experience of lunch packing. I don’t think you understand the depth of my hatred of lunch packing. It took over my morning every single day. I spent more than 30 minutes running around like crazy trying to get everything “just so.” I was losing my mind. Yeah, I could have packed, or at least prepped, the night before — and sometimes I did — but normally at night after my son went down the last thing I wanted to do was think about lunch packing. So I procrastinated until the very last minute. I often paid by not having time to pack my own lunch. Sometimes the price was my own sanity.

So there’s that.

Gf pita bread; pear slices; salmon; blueberry goat yogurt; package of gf crackers

And then last spring my son started struggling at school. My heart broke when I got a bad report virtually every single day. I knew he needed a new setting and our move made it a natural transition to something else…but what?

When half-day camp was such a big hit this summer, I decided to look for half-day preschool and a half-day nanny. When you are three and having trouble “listening,” I think it’s a sign that eight hours at child care is just too long. I had to find something that better suited his needs. I found a perfect three hour preschool program (they don’t offer food at lunch), but locating a nanny who was willing to do just half days was harder.

I started really worrying about finding someone in August, but luckily we found someone who has turned out to be just what Charlie needs. Our child care costs doubled, but Charlie’s behavior has improved dramatically, both at school and at home. He’s still having occasional “trouble listening” at school, but it’s less frequent. Most noticeably, his afternoons at home have been great (my schedule is flexible so I’m in and out and get to see him). Charlie’s overall behavior at home has been pretty much as good as it gets for someone who is turning four. He’s not perfect (hello, he’s little), but he’s a happier kid at home. It’s worth every dime.

Gf turkey bagel sandwiches; apple slices; avocado and baby carrots; homemade gf brownie; snack bar

The biggest side benefit with the change in Charlie’s schedule is that I DON’T PACK LUNCH FOR HIM ANYMORE. He comes home from preschool and the nanny makes him a lunch (or me if I’m around). Mornings are far less stressful and the extra time we have together means that I can do things with him that I wasn’t able to do before (sometimes we get to play or read a book before school — virtually unheard of in the past).

With Charlie’s fall birthday, he won’t be starting kindergarten for another two years and when he does, it will be half-day in our new district. While that means three years of some kind of nanny or home-based support allocated space in our budget, it does mean that I WON’T HAVE TO PACK FOR ANOTHER THREE YEARS! Of course this is more about supporting Charlie than my selfish need to stop lunch packing, but for me it has been so nice. Maybe I can advocate for awesome school lunch and this can go on INDEFINITELY!

Considering how things are going this fall, I’m feeling confident and optimistic about Charlie this year. He started going to full-time, out-of-our-home child care at nine weeks of age and then continued with day care. With four years of day care under his belt, I consider him a veteran. There have been a lot of pluses (he’s independent, out-going, and self-reliant), but it feels right to scale back at the moment, especially with a new baby on the way. Fingers crossed.

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15 thoughts on “How I Stopped Packing Lunches and Started Enjoying the Morning

  1. Love your honesty and good for you for coming up with a different solution. I have three young kids (a 6-year-old and 4-year-old twins) and morning lunch packing takes me 45 minutes! I’m not a big fan of it, either. Too bad more of our schools don’t have healthy, delicious, hot school lunches like the French!!

  2. Last year I packed every one of my daughter’s lunches and by the end of the school year I was ready to throw her lunch bag out the window lol. This year I have two kids eating lunches at school (next year it will be three). I still feel strongly about packing lunches, but I’m also giving myself some slack and they’re eating one hot lunch at school each week this year. It’s nice to have a break from the packing 🙂 With the cost of each lunch being almost $2 and the food being served not that great (both in taste and healthiness), I’ll always pack the majority of my kid’s lunches. But I’m willing to compromise a bit, for the sake of my sanity!

  3. i hate the drive to make lunch packing food art to sell kids on “healthy nutritious food” hubby and i both work, my kids have food allergies. it is hard enough just to find something that A) they’ll eat B) won’t make them sick C) we can produce and pack without consuming too many resources for me to even worry about whether the lunch looks like something the iron chef would have served my kid for school lunch.

    it’s ridic all these lunch packing blogs who make it seem like parents should spend an hour or more making special lunch food and presenting it a fun way.

    no offense to you, i get why you did what you did, so charlie could have exactly what the other kiddos were having at school, except with his food mods. it’s hard for allergy kids to watch their peers eating things they can’t have. we don’t want our food allergy kids to suffer at lunch time either from food reactions or teasing about their funny allergy food.

    but it’s not sustainable is it? there’s a reason why our ancestors sent soup and sandwiches for lunches. because anything more than that is not sustainable. i say NO to food art lunchboxes for kids. what do we teach our kids when we spend an hour or family time budget to a lunch meal? that they only have to eat healthy food when it’s arty? who is going to keep making arty lunches for them when they go to college? is it OK for them to eat junk when mom no longer makes olive and pepper faced lunchables?

    sigh. really happy to see another school food blogger on this page with me. let’s see if we can help other moms stop the lunch box art madness. sing it sister!

    ps- that comment from the reader was just ignorance. non-food allergy parents just don’t get it. how could they, they don’t have food allergy kids. it’s like parenting. it’s easy to judge “poor” parenting decision until you have your own child or four. then you start to understand why parents do (or don’t do) what they do.

  4. Great post. I have been making lunches for the past two years as my son’s school does not have a cafeteria. I like that I get to choose what he eats but the chore of making lunch every night is very stressful, especially when he decides one day that he doesn’t like babybel cheese or applesauce. That’s when I come to view lunchbox ideas.

    I do have a quick question for you though… Did you have problems with the items in your containers getting jumbled and what container system is pictured in your lunch post?

    Thanks and good luck with you son’s new school

  5. I must be in the minority, LOL. I honestly do not mind packing lunches for my boys. Maybe it’s because I think the school lunches are crap and expensive when I can pack them to be yummier, healthier and cheaper!! We have an assortment of Goodbyns, Laptop Lunchbox systems and plain ol’ insulated lunch bags that I fill with containers of food, but my lunches could certainly not be considered “artistic” in any way, but to trash talk the Momma’s that DO get creative and artistic is pointless and petty, IMO only, of course.
    I enjoy reading the blogs with lunches featured on them, I have a few websites featuring these great lunches pinned. They’re full of great ideas to keep lunches fresh and interesting (read, NOT artistic).

  6. I love your blog, your writing and your candor! I’m asking this with respect….do you think maybe what Charlie really needs is time at home with his mom? I know not all couples can afford to live on one income. But many can if they sacrifice. I don’t have new clothes and we never eat out. We’ve sacrificed in many ways so I can stay home with our kiddos. Some kids just need and crave the stability and security of being home with mom. I only say this to encourage you, in case it has ever crossed your mind to give it a try. Blessings for you and your family!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I think that he definitely needs more of a parental presence, which is part of why I changed jobs. I loved working as a teacher, because I can work during the school year and then have the summer off to be with him full-time. On the other hand, I do need to have an outlet outside the home. It makes me a better mom. Really I think that part-time work year-round is great for me. I hope that I can keep that going. I love my son, but I being with him by myself all day can be tough. Some days are easy and fun, but other days are incredibly hard. Right now it’s a balancing act — I have made myself more available for him and it is paying off, but I have to make sure I’m doing enough for myself so I don’t resent the fact that cutting back feels like it reduces my own options.

  7. As a elementary/high school student, I took a sandwich with fruit and pretzels/chips or celery probably over 80% of my time.
    I enjoyed reading your lunch posts — but have always been very conscious of how much time and effort they must have taken you. As a graduate student packing for myself, I enjoyed borrowing some of your ideas — but find it too difficult to be “creative” all the time. Therefore, I focus more on being healthy and shaking it up on occasion. I hope you enjoy your mornings again.

    I was surprised to see you got a nanny — is this a short term fix or do you plan to do something else when the new baby comes?

    1. We have a part-time nanny (afternoons only). I love it. It’s a unique situation in that she is looking for temporary and so am I. When I have the baby I plan on just taking care of both of them myself. When I return to work in 2013, I would like to get a full-time nanny. I think it’s better than day care and also more affordable. The worst part of being a working mom is child care.

  8. I too often go through phases of lunch-packing fatigue, so I understand your ambivalence towards the daily lunch-packing. However, I think in your case, it must have been made worse by the fact that you knew that whatever you packed was going to undergo scrutiny (and possibly even criticism, as you’ve noted) by your readers. I think if you had just been packing lunch without having to photograph and post it, it would probably have been less stressful.

    Also maybe you were working too hard to make the lunches “just so”? I’m lucky that my son has no allergies or sensitivities so the only things I need to focus on are whether the food is healthy, whether the food will hold up well (stay warm in the thermos, not spill etc), and whether he will like it and eat most of it, so i acknowledge that my situation may be a bit simpler than yours. I generally pack leftovers (rice, pasta etc) or a sandwich along with a homebaked snack, fruits, and sometimes yogurt. But I often give him the same or almost the same combination several days in a row, and as long as it’s something he likes, he doesn’t mind at all. My feeling with your lunches was that you strived too hard to give him something different everyday, but I think you could have given yourself a break and repeated meals more often.

    Also, I know you generally tried to give him meals that looked like what his peers were having. But did you ever try just giving him what you wanted and not worrying about his peers’ meals? Maybe he wouldn’t have noticed/cared? Or even if he did initially, he would have eventually gotten used to the idea of having something different and then agreed that his food was better and felt proud about that? Here in Canada there’s no national school lunch program, so everybody packs lunch (except for a few breakfast clubs and some high schools with cafeterias). So everybody would be eating different food and it’s not a problem. I have no idea what my son’s peers eat and I don’t think he cares. In his previous school the EA was later telling me he was the only kid in his class who had homemade muffins and home-cooked food everyday and apparently the other kids were envious of that because most of them had stuff like lunchables and other packaged foods. (I suppose if your critical amazon reviewer had seen my son’s lunch she would have called me an elitist too! Ha!)

    Anyway, your lunches looked great, and good for you that you can take a break for packing lunches now. I think I’ll be packing lunch for many years to come (until my son can do it himself)!

  9. Good for you, Sarah! Too often bloggers do what they think readers want instead of what they themselves want, and I think that can be a fraught road. Should we listen to readers? Or course. Should we listen to the detriment of our sanity and our own vision for our blogs? No.

    I actually started posting occasional lunch pictures on my FB page, but only because 1) I made a public pledge to pack lunches the night before (to preserve my morning sanity), and posting helps keep me on track; and 2) I want to show people that healthy lunches don’t have to be elaborate. We do a lot of “snacky” lunches — a little of this, little of that — and I think it’s good to show that as a counterbalance to the fancy lunch blogs out there

    It’s a bonus that my lunches also happen to be pretty/artsy — sorry, Jenna! 😉 — but that’s because we use a PlanetBox, and things can’t help but look good in there, LOL.

  10. School Lunches should government expose restrictions on what kinds of foods can be served in a school cafeteria.

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