Lunch, like homework, is such a preoccupation for today’s parents of school-aged children, it’s like a second job. Or, I mean, third job what with homework policing already taking up the second job category…
But I will say this. I DEFEND the bento box.
Now, having said that, I don’t mean the cutsie, colour-coordinated, pinnable bento boxes that are all over the web. I certainly don’t cut food into animal shapes, or purchase a lot of fancy (aka expensive) containers that will just get stolen or lost or crushed or thrown out.
I do however highly recommend, based on personal experience, the idea of all the food laid out in one box (or container, or tub, or thermos) for a variety of reasons, with the main objective being that the lunch gets eaten by the child at lunchtime, no less.
Kids have a million reasons why they don’t eat their food, or can’t finish their food, and some of their excuses or explanations may even be true. But when the hungry child exits the school at the end of the day complaining of headaches, my first question is always ‘did you eat your lunch?’ followed immediately with ‘you’re probably dehydrated, have some water’, handing her the still completely full-to-the-brim bottle of water I packed this morning with a squeeze of lemon juice and some ice cubes. (eyeroll)
These are some of the things that pop into my head on the topic of school lunches:
“There’s not enough time to finish all the food before they kick us out for recess!”
That’s the main reason my kids don’t finish lunch. No matter how much time is designated to letting them finish their lunches in the lunch room (and I have confirmed this with the lunch staff), most kids, my kids especially, will always choose outdoor play over finishing lunch. This is the primary reason why I like the bento box style lunches – all the food is there, like on a plate, so just pick it up and eat it. The more containers they have to open, the less likely they will actually eat the food. And then, by all means, head outside and run around.
The food is boring
Well, yes. Lunch can get kinda boring if you serve the same thing over and over again. This is true for us adults too. One way to combat this issue is to serve hot food in a thermos (which throws out the bento box style lunch idea). But the dilemma here is that they actually eat the food, right? So a bento box of cold food may be less appealling to some whereas one thermos of hot food plus one more container of cherry tomatoes, for example, may actually get eaten. Right? Well, we’re experimenting with this idea, and it seems to be working for now…
No matter how much of a growth spurt my kids are undergoing right now, they will not eat a large lunch at school. They are much more likely to eat small portions and then come home and eat the contents of the fridge before dinner. So, half a thermos of yesterday’s spaghetti and meatballs for her, 3/4 for him, and a few crunchy carrots, and maybe a little candy for dessert and PLEASE DRINK AT LEAST HALF THE WATER and I’m happy.
The case for omitting fruit
Look. Whole fruit is easy to pack, and good nutrition, but how many kids actually eat their whole apple at school? Not mine. They do however eat apples when they get home…so I tried to cut them apple slices, lovingly swiping them with lemon juice to prevent browning, and wrapping them in airtight containers but alas, the fruit comes home untouched. Eventually, I just figured, eat fruit at one point during the day, I don’t care when, and so they do. Usually after school. But not for lunch.
Back to the bento box
Even if they have hot food in a thermos, and not a bento box style container, I try to keep in mind that all food is accessible quickly and at one glance. So open the thermos and eat your roasted potatoes and then open the second container and all the rest of the food is right there in one place: cherry tomatoes, carrots and some green grapes. So what if the fruit and veg is mixed together. I want them to eat, not think about what not to eat. I even sometimes throw a prepackaged lifesaver candy in that same fruit and veg container just because.
There was one more thing that hovered on my brain, which I saw posted by Jeni for the YMC. You can read it here, or you can read my shameless paraphrasing, below. She said something to the effect of:
While you make the kids’ lunches, make one for yourself, too. You are much more likely to eat a decent lunch if you can just reach into the fridge and grab the food, rather than pick at the bowl of Halloween candy strategically placed near the laptop.
(Ok, I made the last part up, she didn’t say that. Point is, you could make your lunch at the same time as the kids’ lunches to save you from some irritability, later.)