This is not a “feel good” post. It may even be a “feel sad” post.
If you’re a reader of this blog, and maybe a fan of my EasyLunchboxes, you know that (surprise!) I’m a little obsessed with healthy lunches. I take a lot of care (if not a lot of time) to send my girls to school with appealing, nutritious meals. But what about the kids who’s parents have different priorities? The ones who’s lunches aren’t so great? What exactly are those children being fed? And why, if their parents are making the effort to send a lunch at all, are those lunches low on nutritional value or kid-appeal? Joanna C. is a longtime customer and fan of mine. She has been writing about her own lunches this year, and in an attempt to eat better and get fit, she’s been sharing photos of what she eats, to keep herself accountable. Joanna recently emailed me a question about what/how to pack meals for a long and busy day. Because it was her question that I chose to answer in one of my recent videos, I awarded her with a coupon for a container and cooler bag. Her lovely thank you email to me included some observations she thought my readers would find of interest:
“…I am planning to donate them to my school as a raffle item for our next fundraiser. As a teacher, I see a lot of school lunches. And I see a lot of parents who are in need of some education about how to pack them!
Here’s my first example. We have a child who recently started bringing his own lunch to school instead of purchasing the healthy school lunches. Here is what he brings: an unpeeled whole piece of fruit, a cookie or handful of goldfish crackers in a baggie, and a jam sandwich wrapped in about five layers of paper towel. There are three problems with this lunch. Firstly, he is a very messy eater so the unpeeled, uncut fruit makes a huge mess when he eats it—and teachers who are on duty are in charge of cleaning up the tables when the kids were done! If these parents had a simple hard-shelled container they could pack cut fruit in, where it would be protected and not get damaged in transport, it would make eating the fruit much easier for this child. Secondly, this lunch creates a lot of garbage. They did send the sandwich in a tupperware during Earth Week, but once that was done, he was back to the paper towels, And thirdly, it is just not that appetizing. How would you feel about your lunch if you opened it up and all you had was a smushed sandwich wrapped in dirty, jam-streaked paper towel? I bet you’d be heading to the food court! Presenting the lunch nicely makes kids (and adults!) more excited to eat it.
Here is another scenario you might identify with. We have a child who cannot stand to have his food be mixed. So the parents pack him about 10 different snacky foods for lunch every day, in a dozen tiny little containers. He needs an extra backpack to carry them all! There will be some carrots in one container; some fruit in another; cheese or salami cubes in a third. It’s all healthy stuff, but it’s a lot of containers for the child to carry, break or lose. And those poor parents must be washing a ton of dishes every night! They could get an Easy Lunchbox set, pack two containers in the cooler bag, and have six compartments available—and only four pieces of dishware to wash. Or, they could use a muffin cup, tiny loaf pan or something to divide the two big containers, and that would give them EIGHT compartments. It would be much lighter and easier for the child to carry.
McDonalds and the Nanny
And here is one last scenario. We have a family who is renovating their kitchen right now and they cannot handle making proper lunches for the child. So their solution has been to send the nanny to school every day just before lunch with McDonalds for the two kids. It’s been awful. Firstly, by the time the child gets it into the lunchroom, the bag is grease-stained and leaking. And if he doesn’t finish it all and wants to save some for snack, it’s even more disgusting. Those fast food cardboard containers just are not meant for long-term storage! Also, it is very unhealthy for the children. I don’t supervise the older grades at lunchtime, so I can’t speak for their older boy, but the younger one is known for getting sleepy in the afternoons. I teach his class about an hour after lunchtime, and more than once, I have come in for my lesson and been told he is sleeping on the back carpet and will not be joining us. I wonder if a greasy, heavy lunch lacking in proper nutrition (e.g. fruits and vegetables) is contributing to this ongoing problem. I think the parents believe that they cannot manage to pack him a proper lunch without a full kitchen. I think this is an incorrect belief—all they need is a single shelf or cupboard, and a rented mini-fridge. Buy a loaf of bread, some sliced turkey, a bag of baby carrots and some easy to prepare fruit like grapes or berries, and it would be so quick and easy to pack him a lunch, even without a proper kitchen. Throw in a cheese string or some yogurt for a snack, and boom. All the food groups, nothing fried, and it’s cheaper and easier than MacDonalds. We renovated the family kitchen when I was 10 or so, and my mother had a rented mini-fridge in the basement for a month. We all ate just as we had been before!
For those like that family in my last example, it helps to spend ten minutes making a list of go-to lunches for days when you just can’t think of anything else to pack. Grapes, a turkey sandwich and some baby carrots would be perfect for a quick lunch involving minimal ingredients. Here are some of the lunches I personally take to school:
In the large area, a serving of whole grain crackers and a soy cheese slice to melt onto them. In the two smaller ones, a fruit (usually grapes or strawberries) and a vegetable (usually carrots). In a side container, a cup of canned lentil soup (Primo is a good brand without any additives or extra stuff).
In the large area, a serving of leftover rice mixed with a serving of canned or cooked lentils (I prefer them to beans) and a dip container of soy sauce. In the two smaller ones, a fruit and a vegetable. I usually use carrot sticks and grapes for this one because they are easy to scoop out; when I am ready to eat, I dump the side dishes into the lid for a second, heat up the rice a little, mix in the soy sauce and then put the side dishes back and enjoy!
I don’t do sandwiches often since I am sensitive to wheat, but sometimes I have a craving, and this is one sandwich that actually does hold me over until home-time. In the large area, I pack a frozen veggie burger and wrapped soy cheese slice. In the side areas, I pack a fruit and a treat (I have to buy the bun specially if I want this lunch, so I usually get myself a goodie while I am at the store). I pack the bun separately. Come lunchtime, I tip the burger out onto a plate I keep at work, microwave it for a minute or to, then add it to the bun and top it with the cheese. Then I enjoy with my fruit and my treat!
As you can see, it is not hard to pack easy, efficient lunches with the Easy Lunchbox containers. I look forward to introducing them into my school community next time we have a raffle. I think many parents at our school would benefit from knowing about a product like this. Joanna – I feel happier knowing that you’ll be sharing your tips on how simple it can be to pack a terrific lunch with the families at your school. Thank you!