Friday, November 19, 2010

What my sister taught me about school lunches

Historically, this has been the point in the school year where making school lunches officially becomes my nemesis. If I didn't start packing a few things the night before or, at least, preparing mentally for the morning lunch chore, I would literally wake up filled with a sense of dread that would lead to me stalling in bed, staring at the ceiling whilst willing my husband to make the lunches that day.*

I'm happy to report that this year my attitude is much more positive. And I have my sister to thank.

She doesn't know this, mind, but she said something to me when we were on a road trip together in September that I keep going back to when I feel resentment towards the school lunch preparation: Making my kids a nice lunch is one small thing I can do for them when I'm away from them all day.

Like many working parents, my sister and her husband commute a distance to their jobs every day. She is showered, and dressed, all lunches made and out of the house before my alarm clock even goes off. So when she made the one small thing comment to me in passing, it really stayed with me, you know? I get to work at home. I can wear a hat and sweats when I drop my kids off at school and shower when I come back home. Unless I have an early client meeting, most mornings all I have to do is get up, make their lunches, get them breakfast and nudge them along so they aren't late for school.

In short, I have nothing to complain about; I have no business feeling resentful about school lunches.

If you still hate making school lunches, that's okay: I would never judge you. It does get monotonous. It does for a lot of kids, too. While there are definitely kids who will only eat a small number of reliable favourites, most kids crave variety. In fact, I know several adults who really can't stand sandwiches to this day, so scarred are they from the all-sandwiches-all-the-time theme of their own primary school existence.

One easy way to mix things up is to just swap out the type of bread. So if your kid only likes ham on their sandwiches, you don't always have to serve it on crustless white bread. Last week my kids had sandwiches three times: once they had ham on sliced bread; once they had ham on mini whole wheat dinner rolls; and once they had chicken salad, made from leftover chicken breasts, on a croissant.

Here is a list of different bread products that I use in lunches:

1) Mini bagels
- Spread on your kid's favourite flavour of cream cheese
- Spread on free-nut butter
- Use as a base for mini-pizzas

2) Whole wheat tortilla wraps
- Throw in some flavoured cream cheese and veggies, roll up tight and refrigerate overnight, slice into little rounds in the morning
- Add leftover chicken or steak, shredded cheese, salsa, lettuce and you have a fajita
- I haven't tried this yet but thought of it the other morning: scrambled eggs and ketchup, maybe a little shredded cheese if your kids are into it, wrap up tight while hot and put in tin foil for a breakfast burrito!
- Spread on free-nut butter, cut a banana in half, wrap the tortilla around the banana

3) Croissants
- Cut in half with a little jam inside
- As bread for any kind of sandwich: cold cuts, tuna, veggies and cream cheese
- Slice it, sprinkle some chocolate chips inside, toast in toaster oven for a minute or two: chocolate croissant! (note: I would count this as a treat in their lunch)

You get the idea, right? Scour the bread section of your grocery store and look for anything that takes you away from plain old sandwich bread. Naan for dipping in curry, mini dinner rolls, submarine buns. If it breaks up the monotony of school lunches for your kid, they are more likely to eat their lunch. If they eat your lunch, maybe even (gasp!) tell you they loved something you made for them, it's going to feel more rewarding to make the lunches.

Positive reinforcement, baby. Pavlov would be proud.

*This has never happened.


  1. M loves it when I send plain naan in her lunch. I usually send along some veggies w/ dip as a side. She also loves pita bread: mini pita sandwiches, with a side of hummus, or stuffed with chick peas and black olives.

    Re the cream cheese wrap rounds: M loves wrap medallions made with plain cream cheese, a spinach leaf or two and a mini dill pickle in the middle. She LOVES them. Which means, of course, the kids at her lunch table told her they were disgusting. Grrr. In fact I had thought of writing a post about that. Maybe I will some day.

  2. School lunches are atrocious these days! Why cant the school systems do something and offer healthier meals?