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  • Update on (Our) School Lunches


    Thank you to everyone who sent help yesterday after I asked for school lunch suggestions. I really appreciate them! I’m happy to report that the cream cheese & applesauce sandwich was a hit with both kids, although I think 50% applesauce makes the mixture too thin. I’ll try a 2:1 ratio next time, and I need to work on my cinnamon raisin bread technique too, since the bread was a little crumbly because I put the raisins too close to the edge.

    Gina‘s suggestions have me thinking outside the box a little bit, and I’m wondering if my son would have taken some cold pasta bolognese leftover from Tuesday night’s dinner, or if he’d eat some cold pizza rolls. He also loves shredded chicken in pita, but that’s a meal that usually takes him some time to eat, and time really seems to be a huge issue for him.

    It rained all day today, so the kids ate in the classroom instead of going to the cafeteria, and my son said that he has plenty of time to eat when they eat in the classroom. (Probably because they don’t have to head to recess on the playground after eating when it’s raining outside.) And indeed, he said he ate everything today. So I’m making it a priority to give him easy to eat foods. For us, that means mainly finger foods, but hopefully as the school year progresses, he’ll get the hang of eating quickly (but just at school – I don’t want him wolfing down food at the dinner table!).

    As I get the hang of what to pack for lunch, I’ll take some photos and share my what’s working for us. I do like the bento-style of packing a lot, and I do it even with sandwiches. 🙂

    Musing: On School Lunches


    The school lunch menu is less than thrilling to me, full of the usual suspects you might expect: chicken nuggets, hot dogs, pizza, PB&J, and spaghetti and meatballs. I know these foods have decent nutritional value, though knowing my child, the healthy side dish would end up neglected – and that’s assuming he ate the main course, which is hardly a safe assumption. I worry, too, that the quality of ingredients used in the lunches is on the low end of the spectrum – highly processed, all conventionally grown and raised, and possibly full of additives.

    Mark Bittman accuses American school lunches as being “third world” today, but I think that’s a little unfair. I can tell LAUSD is trying to be healthy, by serving at least some whole grains, providing a vegetarian option, and serving more than canned fruit cocktail. Of course, I’d love to see a more sophisticated menu with fresh fruit and vegetables, and locally sourced ingredients, freshly prepared on campus. And while I know that there are some schools that do this (Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard program come to mind), it’s just not something that’s universal in LAUSD.

    In fact, even though our elementary school is one of the best in the district, I’ve attended many meetings at this point and I haven’t heard a single suggestion regarding the school lunch menu. I’m actually okay with that, because the focus has been on making up for the district’s budget cuts and making sure the kids still get PE, art, a nurse, etc.

    Also, as I mentioned before, time to eat is an issue in kindergarten. One reason to pack a home lunch is more time to eat, since there’s no time spent waiting in line for food. I’m trying to get my son to leave all of his leftovers so I can see how much he eats every day, but for some reason, he keeps throwing all the food out.

    I tried packing warm food in a thermos but my son says the food didn’t stay hot. The problem here is that I can’t tighten the thermos top as much I normally would because then a small hand can’t get it open. And while there is some adult supervision, I don’t want him to waste precious eating time trying to get someone’s attention so his thermos can be opened. Given the obvious safety concern, I’m trying to stick with cold foods.

    I’ve been packing a lot of sandwiches, but it’s tough to find a deli turkey that’s also free of added hormones, antibiotics and nitrates. I’ve found one at Whole Foods that my son seems to like, but I’m sure he’ll get tired of it quickly and we’ll need to take a break. I’ve done homemade Lunchables, too, but those take more time to eat than a sandwich and he keeps saying he didn’t have time to finish his lunch.

    Tomorrow I’m going to try a suggestion I found online for a 50-50 cream cheese and applesauce sandwich on the cinnamon raisin bread I made yesterday. Any guesses on how that will go over? 😉 And any suggestions on sandwich ideas would be welcome. (Note: We don’t do PB&J – any other kind of nut – due to food allergies. But oh, how I miss Nutella!)

    Preparing for Kindergarten Part One: Lunches


    I have no idea how many parts this series will be, and I certainly have no concrete plans for when posts will go up. But I do know that preparing for kindergarten is always on my mind – it’s our biggest milestone yet, and so I’m more than a little anxious about it. (My son, on the other hand, is quite blasé about it – of course.)

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about is lunch. I know public school lunches are cheap, but I’d rather pack my children their own lunch, with higher quality ingredients.

    I pack lunch for preschool every day, so the actual act of packing isn’t a big deal at all. I’m more concerned about what will go in it, because with preschool, I have the option of putting in food that needs to be warmed up. I won’t have that option when the boys are in kindergarten.

    Fortunately, in the last month or so, both boys have started eating cold cuts. So cold cut sandwiches are now an option that I am grateful to have. I would have loved the PB&J option, but we don’t keep any nut products in the house because of food allergies. I’ve thought about buying Uncrustables when they’re on sale and keeping them in the freezer, but I have this fear that they’ll end up being given to the wrong child in an absentminded moment.

    I’ve got Price Protectr tracking the price of a Ms. Bento thermal lunch jar*for me (see Lunch in a Box for more info on thermal jars). I’m intrigued by these because they keep food warm, and it would be a way for me to pack pasta, pizza rolls or chicken nuggets for lunch.

    But that brings to another concern – whether little hands can open the containers I pack the food in. I have a variety of bento boxes that I currently use, but at preschool, the teachers transfer all of the food onto a paper plate, which the children must throw away when they are done. But starting in August, I plan to practice packing kindergarten-appropriate lunches and asking the teachers to serve them as is, without transferring the food to a paper plate. It’ll be a trial and error experiment to see which bento boxes work best for us as we transition to a whole new phase of life.

    *affiliate link

    Works for Me: Use masking tape to label plastic containers


    The boys’ daycare asks that all food containers be labeled with the child’s name, and most parents write the name right on the container with a Sharpie. From the earliest days, when my oldest was just a baby starting on solids, I’ve been extremely hesitant to write directly on the container – I have visions of the black ink rubbing off in the dishwasher and specks of it getting on everything.

    Instead, I affix a small piece of masking tape to each container and write the appropriate child’s name on it. When I’m doing dishes at night, I simply pull the tape off and put the container in the dishwasher. Masking tape comes right off and there’s no residue, plus one roll lasts for over a year – my oldest has been in daycare for about three years, and I’m just finishing up my second roll of tape.

    The masking tape works great on any plastic container that goes in the fridge, too. But it tends to peel off in the freezer so I don’t recommend it for that.

    Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.

    Works for Me: Saving takeout plasticware and condiment packets


    As I’ve mentioned previously, we’ve been eating a lot more takeout than I would like. It’s been getting better since my resolution to buy more convenience foods instead since they’re more economical, but we still get fast food and takeout sometimes.

    And when we do, I save the plasticware and condiment packets for brown bag lunches. The ketchup packets are particularly handy because little kids really like ketchup! I generally use at least a couple of these every week for the boys’ school lunches.

    Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.

    A typical lunch for the boys: Fried mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, grapes and a vanilla wafer


    I pack the boys lunch when they go to daycare, partly because I don’t want to pay $3.50 per meal, and partly because I fear they wouldn’t eat the food and I’d be wasting my money.

    The bento pictured here is a good example of what I pack most days. The lower, shallower tier contains two halves of a fried macaroni and cheese ball, and two frozen chicken nugget balls. The macaroni and cheese was left over from the previous night’s Cheesecake Factory takeout, and the chicken nuggets are Ian’s brand. It turns out neither of my kids cared for the Ian’s chicken nuggets so I’ll have to find another brand that uses organic chicken. (Any suggestions would be appreciated.) I packed the chicken nuggets in a doubled paper cupcake liner to keep them separated from the mac and cheese.

    The upper, larger tier contains two silicone cupcake liners with organic grapes, and a Trader Joe’s vanilla wafer. There are probably a couple of Trader Joe’s animal crackers tucked under the wafer, but it’s hard to tell from the picture. I would prefer to pack a fruit and a vegetable, or even two different types of fruit, but my oldest in particular has rejected just about everything I offer lately. I would have used a silicone liner in the bottom tier for the nuggets, but the container is too shallow and it’s easier to crush the paper ones down.

    I get a lot of great tips on packing lunches from Biggie at Lunch in a Box, which is where I learned to use the silicone cupcake holders as separators. I use them almost every day no matter what I’m packing. Biggie also turned me onto Ichibankan, a discount Japanese store that sells lots of bento gear at very reasonable prices. They have a varied selection of two-tier bento boxes, as well as other supplies like sauce containers and picks. If you’re looking for bento gear, you may also want to check out Biggie’s Bento Store Locator to see if there’s some place local where you can pick some things up.