My nemesis. It always has been, even when my kids were toddlers and preschoolers. I hate lunch. I hated coming up with lunch ideas. I also hated relying too heavily on things like chicken nuggets, hot dogs and mac and cheese. Although all have their place, they couldn’t all be every day occurrences. We didn’t love sandwiches at the time, our choices seemed few.
First kid enters first grade, and it’s time to send in lunches. The other option–buy school lunches.
What to send? Who likes what? Who likes nothing? Who wants to spend $2.25 on school lunches that may be less than stellar?
And so it went, on and on. Each couple of years or so, another child entered full day school and the lunch issue hovered over us. It didn’t consume us, it was just a pain, trying to figure out lunches.
This past school year, I wrote about Elizabeth’s desire for better lunchtime choices and her new cookbook, purchased with her own money, “The Lunch Box.” Last year, Caroline and I won the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and traveled to DC for the first Kids’ State Dinner, and Alexandra came in second place for the Jr. Chefs Competition in our school district with her Healthy Sunshine Salad.
I felt like this coming school year, we just had to do better.
I thought about it all summer as we tried out different lunches at home from various cookbooks. In the meantime, my kids also changed a little bit in that they all suddenly seemed to love sandwiches. We joked when we were at Subway one day that we could name some of the sandwiches after them, “The Alexandra, The Caroline, The Elizabeth” because they each had their favorites and they’d sometimes order their sisters’ favorites instead of their own. We started recreating their favorites at home on occasion too, and they’d start ordering them by name, as if on a menu.
That’s when an idea hit me. Good idea, bad idea, we’ll see as the year goes on.
I had the idea to make a list of all the things they loved to eat that I could put into a lunchbox pretty easily, so that similar to the school menu that comes home each month, they could pick and choose what they’d like for lunch from home and as long as I had the items on hand in the house, I could make them some lunches with more variety than what’s now known as “The Usual” (pb&j).
The girls and I sat one day and came up with our lists. We started with our new-found love: sandwiches. Then we added salads, something Alex always loves to take and something easy enough to change up depending on your tastes. We thought about sides–healthy fruits, vegetables and dips/dressings etc. Finally, we added in specials: the things that they get to take only when we have leftovers from the night before–pasta with meatballs, mac and cheese, things like that.
It looked good! I even had my own sandwich, “The Mommy,” which is Nutella, Peanut Butter and Banana on a fat free wrap.
I printed it out. It took up three pages, with all the choices we’d come up with. Is this something I could maintain all year? Something I could manage?
I’m not sure. But, I’m going to try.
Keeping our already-chosen dinner meal plan in mind for leftovers (or “specials”), and knowing that my days are a little more open this first week of school, we came up with a decent list of lunches for each of the kids. Caroline’s newly into braces and still needed something soft the first day because they’d been tightened the day before. Elizabeth chose something that might sound complicated--Baby Quiches, but is fast and easy to prep early in the week and grab and go. Salads made the list for each of them on one of the day; I was thrilled.
The night before school, I mixed up one dozen eggs in a bowl. I added some milk, and grabbed a muffin tin. Into it I put some spinach and cheese in six of the cups, ham and cheese in six more, and since I still had leftover egg, I did just cheese in three more. 25 minutes later I had 15 mini quiches, or whatever you’d like to call them, for anyone’s taste. I put them into ziploc bags labeled with the chosen variety on them and put all the bags into a bucket in my fridge. Done. Lots of lunches. Both Alex and Liz took those on the first day and they’re scheduled to take them again later in the week, if they last that long.
I don’t know how this new system will work out. I do know how crazy our weeks get, but I feel like at least we’re trying; we’re making an effort to have a good variety of healthy choices for everyone to eat for lunch. And I feel like for every day that we can’t pull it off, and they have to have “The Usual,” there will be so many more days that we can.
I am a keeper of lists. I need to see things in print or I forget about them. I have lists of smaller lists. I now have a list of lunch ideas to keep things creative in our lunchboxes this year.
We’ll see how it goes.
In the meantime, on this first day of school, it’s time for lunch!