My children are deep into the school year, and so my quest for great lunch ideas continues. But before we get into our ideas, and hopefully hear yours, let’s put this whole school lunch thing into perspective.
I, like a lot of Moms, spend a lot of time and energy on my kids’ lunch. It is usually late at night and I’m tired but I want them to have a good, healthy lunch and to give them a little extra love with a special sandwich or surprise treat. Sounds great so far, but when I pick them up at school the next day, they get in the car tired, hungry and a little cranky because THEY DIDN’T REALLY EAT THAT EXTRA SPECIAL LUNCH I TOOK EXTRA TIME PREPARING. But what is a Mother to do? Send them to school with a can of Pringles and large Gatorade (yes, I may have done that at some point – don’t judge – I had the flu; not really but let’s pretend I did).
I have tried everything to solve this puzzle: made lists with “likes” and “dislikes”. I read cookbooks, trolled supermarket aisles looking for healthy, delicious snacks. I quizzed other Moms and Dads, but most are as baffled as I am. However, I did talk to a Mom who looked at me like I was crazy and said, “I always pack little Thoreau steamed broccoli and he loves it.” So about a year ago my friend and babysitter, Dana Armbruster and I decided to get MISSION IMPOSSIBLE on its ass (does a lunch box have an ass?) and here are some of our simple and not so simple solutions to that constant complaint: “MOM I HATE MY LUNCH”
#1. Build your own Taco or Burrito (I do this the night before when I have some time and energy). This one is fun for your kids because they love using their fingers and doing it themselves at school. The one thing you need other than the ingredients is some good BPA/PVC free lunch containers. I will give you some great websites at the end to check out if you are running low, because lunch containers seem to disappear like socks.
Hard Corn Taco shells or soft Flour Tortilla Shells
Boca Meatless Crumbles (we like this to cut down on how much meat they eat and because it tastes great after being in a lunchbox all morning).
Black beans or refried beans (my kids like refried beans better).
Onion – can be white/yellow/ red – this is an equal opportunity burrito
Garlic, cumin, salt, teeny bit of chili powder (this is all to taste)
First cook the rice, because it takes so darn long (we use the “Near East” brand of Rice Pilaf mix, Spanish Rice flavor). It comes with a spice packet that is great, but only use half of the packet otherwise it is too salty and spicy. Okay, while the rice is taking its jolly old time, in a frying pan heat up some olive oil, cook the onions and garlic and add a dash of cumin and let this cook for a few minutes, then add the Boca Meat, the beans and the rest of the seasonings to taste. We use equal parts beans and Boca meat. Then you are done.
#2. While this cools, shred the lettuce, grate the cheese, then put everything (shells/tortillas, meat, rice, lettuce, cheese, salsa, sour cream) in separate containers. Put the meat/bean combo in a thermos. Do this part the night before, otherwise you are in your pajamas trying to make breakfast, get kids dressed, feed the dog, and cursing my name.
Of course, you can alter this to your children’s tastes. Feel free to add corn, cilantro, potatoes, or… marshmallows (just kidding).
Here are some great sites for lunch containers. Some of these sites sell the containers within a set, but if you look carefully you can buy them separately. We aim for a “no waste lunch” at my house. I try to use as few disposable items as possible (zip lock bags, etc).
Thinkbabybottles.com (not just bottles)
Thermos.com (we love the insulated 10 oz. Silver Food Jar)
Cute lunch sacks – The Originals
Bamboo utensils – To-Go Ware, you can wash them and re-use them and you don’t use plastic or lose your silverware!
Silicone baking cups – www.wilton.com, great to separate things inside of the Tupperware
Your turn, tell me how you are solving or struggling with the whole school lunch thing?