And for some crazy reason, I got to teach a class on packing nutritious lunches. I am by no means very qualified, but I had a lot of fun putting my lesson together. When it came down to it, though, I had about five minutes to present my twenty minute lesson, so they got the extremely condensed version.
However, though it may not be very interesting, I am going to post my complete lesson here. The full twenty minute version. Enjoy!
When I was a kid, we had home lunch most of the time. I remember I hated it. My home lunch generally consisted of a peanut butter and honey sandwich, which was packed on the bottom of the brown bag, thus ensuring it would be utterly and completely smooshed before I had a chance to eat it. On top of that was some sort of fruit and or vegetable. An apple was pretty standard, as was a tomato or a green pepper. Carrots and celery, and raisins also frequented my lunches. If I was really lucky, my dad would remember to include a quarter for milk. Otherwise, I would get a drink from the drinking fountain when I was finished eating, on my way out to play. Which was just as well, as when he did include the quarter, I spent it on a pencil instead of the milk anyway. Pencils were very fashionable when I was in elementary. Not the typical yellow pencil, but the fancy decorative ones. There was a pencil dispenser near the office where I could join the silly fashion world of pencils. If I was extremely lucky, I would get some sort of treat, but that was only when there was a blue moon, or the planets were lined up just right, or my mom or dad were not in a big rush in the mornings. Having seven kids to get ready and out the door, though, meant that they were nearly always rushed, so the treats were extremely rare.
Needless to say, home lunch was not my favorite. I longed for the variety of school lunch. And a hot lunch! That just seemed luxurious. I would try to trade my apple for the peanut butter bar, or the cookie that the school lunch would provide, but few were foolish enough to trade with me. I remember in second grade I found a girl who would always trade me her dessert for my fruit or vegetable, and I thought she was the weirdest girl in the world, but made sure to always sit by her when it was lunchtime.
I was happy to be able to distinguish myself with some of the foods that were packed for me that I would eat. In third grade we read a story as a class about a vampire bunny who sucked all the juice out of the fruits and vegetables. That year I loved when I would discover a tomato in my lunch, as I would pretend I was the vampire bunny by biting a small hole in the tomato and sucking out all the juice before eating the rest of the fruit. I also loved to hear the shock and surprise from my friends when I would pull out a half a green pepper and eat the whole thing. Most of them didn't know what it was, and were amazed I would eat it voluntarily. Truth be told, I probably only ate it because of their shock. Peer pressure in its finest form, right?
With these memories of school lunch, I was determined to make lunches that my kids would like. When Keith was in preschool, starting from the age three, he was given school lunch. It was Head Start, which is in partnership with the school district, and so they get the same lunches as the schools. I had to fight, and jump through hoops and do all sorts of acrobatics and pleading and letter writing for them to allow me to provide Keith with a home lunch instead of the one provided by the school. I had tasted what they were giving the kids and hated it, and hated that my son would have to eat it. Plus, I had just watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and was very much on a health food/anti school lunch kick. Once I had finally convinced them that I wouldn't be bringing Burger King for his lunch every day, and that I would indeed be providing him with a decent lunch, I was permitted, and then the fun began.
I learned a lot through trial and error, and I have a lot more to learn, I am sure, about packing school lunches. I am in no way an expert, but it is something I enjoy doing. I am up to the challenge. I had many fails, and a few wins, but really, it is a learning process, and I would be happy to share with you some of the things I have learned.
Through trial and error, I have learned that there are a few things that help you pack a successful home lunch. The number one indicator of success is that the child eats it. You can make an elaborate, creative, amazing lunch, but if your child doesn't eat it, where does that get you? So, to help them want to eat the lunch, there are a few key elements I like to follow.
Presentation, Familiarity, and Thinking Outside The Box.
Presentation: Everything is always better if it is dressed up a little. A present in a pretty box is so much nicer to receive than a present wrapped up in the bag from the store it came in. We naturally like appealing things. I once made a gag birthday cake for a friend which looked like kitty litter. It was delicious, but it looked exactly like kitty litter, and so only one person at the whole party ate any of it. I told them all exactly how I had made it, but no one would try any, as it was not appealing, and looked like something people tend to avoid. Really gross. But it was just cake and pudding and Oreo cookies and tootsie rolls. Things that alone people flock to, but when put together in the manner that I had them, they looked disgusting. Presentation is a big thing. Wrap the sandwich up in festive cello-paper, tie a bow around it, cut it out with cookie cutters. Add sprinkles. But not to applesauce. I did that and it was a major fail. I was so proud of it when I sent it off to school with him, but when he came home, I was not surprised at all that he hadn't eaten any of it as the colors from the sprinkles had melded together and made it look very moldy and gross.
Familiarity: Give them foods that they are familiar with. Lunch is not the time to be trying out new recipes. You want your kids to eat the lunch you pack for them. Studies have shown that students who eat a healthy lunch have fewer sick days and also do better on the standardized testing. They have also shown that kids who have a healthier diet in their early years, tend to have a slightly higher IQ than those who don't. Pack foods you know your kids will like. That isn't to say you can never experiment or give them new things, but for the most part, have it be something they are already familiar with.
Think Outside The Box: This is the fun one. It can also be tied into presentation. I got really tired of making Keith peanut butter and honey sandwiches. It is what he requested every day. It got boring. So I fell into the familiarity trap. I would try to spruce it up for him, and he would come home with his lunch box full. It was very disheartening for me. Which is where thinking outside the box comes in handy. One morning we were in a hurry (who am I kidding, that was nearly every morning), and I decided to just throw a simple lunch together. I gave him a chunk of bread, some bay-bell cheese, some grapes, carrots, and some apple juice. I wrapped it up in my bandanna and told him it was a fairy tale lunch. As I drove him to school, we talked about fairy tales and what they usually had in their lunches. He was so excited to eat that lunch, and I felt like such a genius because it was so simple, but so exciting.
Another idea is to give your child a peanut butter hot dog. Put peanut butter on a hot dog bun, peel a banana and put it on the bun as if it were the hot dog, and the add a squirt of jelly across the top of the banana for the ketchup. He got the peanut butter sandwich, I got to be creative and didn't feel bad for giving him another repeat lunch.
One time I was stumped. I thought of all the ways to eat peanut butter. and remembered Ants on a Log. The classic celery and peanut butter and raisins. So I gave him a peanut butter and raisin sandwich. Frightening, I know. But he ate it and said it was okay. Win!
Make lunch fun for them. Jamie Oliver (who is my foodie hero, by the way) suggested sending a salad in a bag to school, with a little Tupperware of salad dressing. They can toss it all together in the bag before eating it. How fun would that be for them?!
Other ideas of thinking outside the box:
- food markers
- cheese and crackers (homemade lunchable)
- chickpea spread
- British pasty (hot pocket)
- pancake sandwich
- fruit and cheese kabobs
- peanut butter sushi (Chinese theme. Snow peas, fortune cookie, etc)
- veggie chips
- fruit chips
- frozen foods (grapes, yogurt, etc)
- cookie cutters.
Let your kids help you plan the lunch. If they have a part in it, they will be more likely to eat it. A good tip to follow is Taste the Rainbow. Because skittles had it right, just in the wrong way. We should be trying to eat a rainbow variety of foods to get all the vitamins and nutrients our bodies need. Make a game out of it.
And who doesn't like little notes? When I was sending Keith to school with home lunch, I tried to always write a note for him on his napkin, or leave a sticker or some sort of surprise for him in his lunch box. I wasn't always consistent, but I tried. One day, the teacher took me aside and asked me to stop. All the other kids in the class were jealous that their napkins didn't have anything written on it from their moms. It was causing quite a bit of trouble in his class, evidently. It made me laugh to know that it was so appreciated. Even when Keith told me it was embarrassing. When I didn't leave a note for him, he would always ask me why I didn't. I once told him it was because he had said it was embarrassing, and he said I should do it anyway. Gotta love the inconsistency of kids.
Whatever you decide to do, there are so many fun ways to spruce up that lunch box and to deliver a delicious and nutritious home lunch.
Basically, make your kids lunches like a present. Wrap it up nicely, include something interesting,