As a kid who got to go home for lunch on most days through my elementary school life, getting to pack a lunch and eat it with my friends at school was an exciting and rare thing for me. Eventually I learned that the excitement is dependent on the rarity, because once I reached high school and packing a lunch became a regular occurrence, the thrill seemed to disappear from the infamous lunch box.
High school lunches – the words alone conjure a taste of ham and cheese sandwiches or the sounds of my bank card swiping as I bought from the cafeteria. But looking back, it didn’t have to be that way! Taking ten minutes at the beginning of the week, and breaking down what each lunch for the week will include, lunches can become an easy part of any family’s weekly routine. Jennifer Joyce, author of “Lunch Boxes” suggests trying to pack the following each day: a main (like a sandwich, cheese and crackers, soup, or salad), a fruit (a couple pieces of a favourite fruit like berries, apple slices or bananas), a snack or treat (real fruit breakfast bars, popcorn, pretzels, or, more occaisionally, brownie, chips, or a piece of cake) and a drink (water or pure juice. Be sure to avoid juices advertised as “juice drink”, which are really just code words for “sugar added”.) And of course, a small reusable water bottle is an economically and environmentally friendly choice! This easy equation takes the stress out of packing lunches. A great anecdote to food returning home from school uneaten is to have kids help in the kitchen making their lunch. Even a job as simple as having them load their own lunch pails once the food is ready includes kids in the practice of making lunch and can take away from any lunch time stress and allows for communication about the food they will be eating.
Due to the high occurrence of food allergies, schools have now banned peanut products. Luckily, many companies have noticed this trend, and have made products that are nut free. Be sure to read the labels of children’s food carefully and to look for substitutions that will offer the same benefit, for example, sunflower seed butter is just as tasty as peanut butter and is protein packed!
Personal favourites of mine in the winter were always something warm. While my school often held “hot lunch days” there was nothing like opening up a thermos of warm soup or pasta. Although this isn’t a solution that can be packed the night before, waking up a little earlier can make a world of difference when the lunch bell rings on those cold winter days.
Looking back, some of my favourite boxed lunches that my mom made for me were the inventive kind. It was fun to open my sandwich and see that she had cut it with zigzagged lines, or that there was a love note tucked away with the sweets I got for dessert. Variety is the spice of life, and sometimes all it takes is a little surprise to make packed lunches more exciting!
References (Available to you in the Family Care Office Library!)
Joyce, Jennifer. Lunch boxes. London, England: Penguin Group, 2005. Book.