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What's for Lunch? The Sequel

Is Laptop_lunch_2it that time again?  Last year, there were tons of great suggestions for lunch box healthies, but we think it's time to renew the coffers of the lunch box treasures.  This year, we are packing one lunch each for our girls, a first-ever in this household.  Our littlest girl is excited to join the ranks of other older kids, and we have just let her pick out her new butterfly PVC-free lunch box.  What are you packing in the kids' lunchboxes this school year?  What are guaranteed hits or guaranteed bombs?  How about books?  Any books with recipes for lunch box success?

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I like to take a cookie cutter to the sandwiches every now and then. That way when Connor pulls out a star shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a snowman shaped turkey and cheese, even though its the same food, it still "mixes it up" a little bit for him. I always put the entire sandwich in the container (it fits together almost likea mini puzzle) and to make sure he eats everything...

I was a preschool aide for long enough to realize that young children will spend 2/3 of their lunch talking rather than eating so...since we're not there to supervise this is what we do.
I put a SMALL treat in Connor outside lunchbox pocket three or four days a week. A sticker, a picture of him at the zoo or one of his friends or family, a note, a new eraser for one of his pencils, something like that. Sometimes its also an oreo or a handful of popcorn or something like that. Therefore, the rule is that he has to eat his WHOLE lunch before he is allowed to check his 'suprise' pocket.
So far its worked like a charm. I've never had him eat/use his surprise and bring home ANY food in his lunchbox. I HAVE had him bring home food a few times but, suprisingly, the suprise treat was always left untouched.

Anyway, thought I'd throw that out there. Have fun with the new school year!
PS- Are there any urbanmamas out there with young ones at the far out David Douglas School District elementary Gilbert Park? :-)

Oh boy ... I don't have a child old enough for lunchbox meals yet, but my memory of lunches lends this advice.

Don't put jelly on the sandwiches. It soaks through the bread by lunchtime and is reeeallly gross. (Or, ask your child if they like the soggy factor - there was one kid who liked how it sort of crystalized in the bread. You never know!)

If your child can handle whole apples, don't cut them into slices. The brown surface? Too gross. Same for pears, peaches, etc. - anything that turns brown once cut.

That said, go ahead and peel the orange or cut it into wedges. Peeling an orange is too hard for little fingers.

Chips ALWAYS get eaten. So if you have a semi-nutritious version, go for it. Same for cold pizza. It'll get eaten, and you can hide some veggies in there.

In older groups, sending food that could be considered "weird" might not go over (though perhaps this has changed since the early 80s! Maybe kids are more aware of different foods!). I brought the very first bagel to school, no one had ever seen one - for crying out loud! I was teased mercilessly. I'd hide the weird stuff and then toss it.

Speaking of throwing away the lunch items - you won't have a way of measuring this, but kids will toss entire lunches into the garbage rather than deal with the questions from parents later, and will subsist on Oreos and potato chips from their friends. So whatever you do, make that lunch as yummy as possible!

Hope this isn't discouraging - this just brought back some intense memories of elementary school lunch hour for me! (-:

We have a 3 year old who is incredibly allergic to nuts, so pb&j is out for us. We do soynut or sunflower seed butter with jam quite a bit. Also, we roast kale in bite size pieces in olive oil (with garlic for grown ups, without garlic for Ella) and put that with her lunch often. They are crispy just like chips, but completely made out of vegetables!

Some lunch ideas out of my thankfully not-very-picky 2.5 year-old's lunch bag:

black beans, frozen corn, w/ chunks of crispy red pepper--I just rinse the black beans, and throw in the frozen corn and pepper chunks. The corn thaws by lunchtime (although he loves frozen corn). I usually throw in crackers or a stick of string cheese in the bag for variety. Sometimes I substitue edamame or pinto beans for the black beans

baked tofu or regular tofu with a bit of soy sauce on it with cut up raw veggies. I usually throw in crackers or brown rice as a separate item

shells & cheese w/ vegetables (broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, green beans, etc.)--I often just throw in frozen peas...they keep the whole container cold, but thaws by lunchtime.

pesto tortelleni (pesto is on the inside, not the outside) with cut up veggies. tortelleni is fun finger food.

These are our mainstays. PB&J is a special lunch item--though I think that's more because I'm not a big fan.

We LOVE our laptop lunch box: http://www.laptoplunches.com/
It even comes with a recipe idea book. THere is an website of a woman who makes the most amazing meals (she must have been a gourmet chef at one point in her life). I don't have the energy to do what she does, but it gives me some great ideas. I believe she even wrote a book: http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/

When my sons are old enough for lunchboxes, I fully intend on trying bento lunches!

http://bentolunch.blogspot.com/

http://www.bentoyum.com/

http://lunchinabox.net/

My son just marched off to third grade this morning and we have had some ups and downs over the years with lunches. He'll quite happily eat peanut butter sandwiches for two weeks and then refuse to take a bite. Ditto for sourdough rolls and salami, bagels and cream cheese, graham crackers and peanut butter, saltines and cheddar cheese and all the other "main dishes" we've been able to dream up. They're all a hit, but not for long. So I guess aiming for variety is my advice (unless you have a child who finds consistency comforting).

Also, I have come to realize that whatever lunch I pack is just a snack. He eats a good breakfast at home, there's a second breakfast served to all kids at his elementary school, and at lunch time, he'd much rather talk and then run outside for recess than eat. After school, we pull out his lunchbox again, and he eats what's left as a snack while playing on the playground or on the way home. If he's still hungry when he gets home, we do another snack. So I've stopped trying to pack a balanced meal in his lunchbox with fruit and veggies as well as a main dish. Occasionally I put in dried fruit, but fresh fruit goes over much better at home when it's fresh and not browned or banged up.

I think the only reason to worry about a child not eating enough at lunch is if the teacher notices problems with behavior and concentration in the afternoon that don't occur in the morning. Otherwise, leave it up to the kids to determine how much they put in their mouths.

Two quick things:
A) I completely agree with Janice about kids' school lunch being more like a mid day snack, supplemented by a late morning snack (if your school does that) and an-immediately-after-school-snack. :-)

B) You can keep the apple wedges and other pale fruits from browning by squeezing A LITTLE bit of lemon juice on them right after you slice them up.
Also on that note you can keep PBJ from going soggy by putting peanut butter on both sides! Keeps the jelly from soaking into the bread!

Because I teach healthy cooking classes to children, I have had loads of people asking me about school lunch ideas lately.

I just started a new blog, and thought it would be a good home for my thoughts on this topic. Forgive my blogging clumsiness - I am new to the blogisphere :-) Take a peek:
http://whatscookingblog.wordpress.com/2007/09/03/luring-your-kids-into-eating-healthy-school-lunches/

Have a great school year!

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