Back-to-School Lunchbox Love
I say this every year, but weren’t we just celebrating the last day of school?! As summer winds down, it is time to get ready for another exciting school year. Or maybe you are helping your little one get ready for their very first day of school. I remember those days (and the anxiety…mostly mine!) like they were yesterday.
Shopping for backpacks, buying new shoes, getting haircuts, choosing a favorite lunchbox – those are all fun things to do and easy to check off your back to school list. But what about preparing for another 180 days of packed school lunches? What may seem like a daunting task is actually something that can become a fun family tradition, one that creates memories while teaching your child important life skills – independence, responsibility, and how to make healthy and eco-friendly choices.
Here is what I have learned, having packed roughly 3,780 lunches for my kids (oh yes, I did the math!), and having been a school lunch duty volunteer for more than 9 years. I’ve seen a lot of school lunches in my time!
Something I learned early on is that lunchbox success means getting direct input from the consumer, right from the start. So at the beginning of each term, we sit down together and come up with a plan. We start by reviewing the basics:
Quick and easy. As with all busy families, lunches in our home need to be easy-to-make and quick-to-assemble. As much as we can, we prepare food and snacks for the week in individual size containers in both the pantry and fridge, and then put them into larger, color-coded containers using the traffic light system (http://www.thelunchboxclub.co.nz). This streamlines the packing process in the morning and serves as a good visual guide for the kids. For containers, I have tried nearly everything on the market, and I keep coming back to these low cost, easy-to-wash Glad containers – they seal tightly yet even young ones can remove the lids easily. We avoid the reusable sandwich bags because crackers and sandwiches “get squished” and they are hard to really get clean.
Healthy. There is an overwhelming amount of information on what we should and shouldn’t be feeding our children. Hence, I tend to rely on my trusted favorites for new, healthy ideas that help me achieve our family nutrition goals of balance and moderation. http://weelicious.com/school-lunches/ http://www.superhealthykids.com http://www.foodnetwork.com.
Must be foods my children will actually eat. Balancing three picky eaters is no easy task, and it can be both concerning and disheartening to find your child’s lunch box still full at the end of the day. Getting the buy-in and involvement of your kids early on greatly increases the likelihood that they will actually eat their lunch. And if your child eats the same thing everyday for a week, month or year, don’t worry. You can ensure they are getting the variety they need at home. For some children, knowing what to expect in their lunchbox daily is very comforting.
Litter Free. This is a must in our home. Packing a litter-free lunch not only cuts down significantly on the exorbitant amount of trash going into our landfills, these lunches are easier to pack and they are more durable (again, stuff won’t get “squished”). Litter-free also means a healthier and more economical alternative than packing single-serving items. Stock up on reusable food and drink containers, cloth napkins, reusable cutlery, and be sure to label everything.
Fun! Children love to open their lunchbox and see a cheerful lunch. However, unless you have lots of time and love doing it, take the pressure off of yourself to make a fancy bento lunch. A simple cookie cutter or mini food punch for sandwiches, ham, or cheese is sure to delight children of all ages. Pinwheels, wraps, healthy, hearty cookies, homemade granola bars…all add fun and variety. For little ones, I find that packing a bunch of small items to munch on is great, if they don’t like, or can’t finish, a sandwich. A note from mom or dad, and their favorite Funkin cloth napkin (used as a napkin and a placemat) always brings smiles to little faces. I’ve seen it over and over again.
For older children, such as my 11 and 12 year old boys, my husband likes to print the daily Garfield cartoons, write a funny comment from dad, and tuck them into the inside pocket of their Funkins lunch bags. The boys love this and they bring home the cartoons to make a cartoon booklet keepsake. This is especially meaningful to our oldest son who has Asperger’s Syndrome – social time during lunch can be stressful for Aspies and a cartoon to read while eating is like a warm “hug” from home.
And once we have reviewed the basics, we prepare the weekly lunch schedule for each child, write up our grocery list, shop together and then we come home and prepare food for the week. Sharing even the simplest of tasks with the kids makes the work much easier on Mom, teaches our children important kitchen skills and can be a lot of fun together. So, keep it light, keep it fun and enjoy this family activity. I was speaking with a friend of mine recently whose youngest just left for University, and she said to me “believe me, you will one day miss packing those little lunch boxes.” And I already do.
Lisa Baumgartner is the Founder & CEO of MyFunkins Ltd., makers of award-winning Funkins (www.myfunkins.com) reusable cloth napkins for kids.