Secrets to school lunch success

With summer’s last days, parents
breathe a collective sigh of relief for the return to routine that school
brings. With it comes an end to the patchwork of child care and frantic day
camp pick-ups that characterise summer for the majority of moms and dads.

But there’s one school-week routine
that hardly anyone relishes: the monotonous task of packing lunch boxes – day
in, day out, from September to June.

So how do you get on top of that
task while providing healthy lunches your kids will actually eat?

Food-savvy parents say that
planning ahead, a little inspiration and a realistic view about how much kids
can eat in a limited time frame are key to minimising frustration and keeping
everyone from getting sandwich bored.

Lianne Phillipson-Webb, a
registered nutritionist who teaches parents how to cook healthy meals, and the
author of Sprout Right: Nutrition from Toddler To Tummy sees many parents who
dread the task of filling lunch boxes each day.

“I think that dreading comes from a
lack of creativity, or maybe not knowing what is healthy and how to change
things up and feel good about what you’re putting in their lunch,” said the mom
of two girls, 7 and 5. “And when you come up with something different and get a
full lunch box back at the end of the day, you’re more likely to think, ‘well,
I tried,’ and go back to the bologna sandwich.’”

Ms Phillipson-Webb usually packs
leftovers for lunch. “It could be a bit of chicken with potatoes or rice.
They’ve got used to having leftovers in their lunch. Or if I’m really stuck,
they’ll get a muffin and some cheese to balance the carbs with protein.”

“I either buy Organic Oven’s carrot
muffins, otherwise I make them myself. Muffins are tricky because they are
often cupcakes masquerading as muffins.”

Involve your children

Even for an expert accustomed to
whipping up things like kale-oregano pesto to add greens to grilled cheese
sandwiches, it took the better part of a year to find a lunch-making hit with
her eldest daughter.

When some lunches were coming back
almost untouched, she decided to involve daughter Logan in the process. “I
said, ‘We’re going to do this together. I’m going to give you a choice of two
things and you’ll know what’s in your lunch box because you’ve been a part of
it.”

Emma Waverman, co-author of Whining
and Dining, blogger at Embracethechaos.ca and a mom of three, ages 10, 7 and 4,
agreed that involving the kids is key.

“When kids pack their own lunch
they eat more of it,” she said.

When her son started school, she
had to adjust her expectations about how much food can realistically get eaten
during a 20-minute lunch break.

“There isn’t enough time usually
for most kids to eat what we pack them, and I had to let go of my anxiety when
he came home and three-quarters of his lunch was still there,” said Ms
Waverman.

Now she focuses on two
kid-appealing but nutritionally dense items that will fuel her children through
the afternoon – whole-wheat pita triangles with hummus and veggies, plus an
oatmeal raisin cookie, for example – and hopes to achieve more variety by day’s
end.

Another thing to keep in mind: “A
lot of kids don’t really like sandwiches and probably haven’t eaten a lot of
sandwiches until we ship them off to Grade 1.”

Banana bread and some nut-free pea
butter is a good alternate, said Waverman, as is a mini-pizza made on an
English muffin.

Get them to try leftovers

“If your kid will eat leftovers,
then you’ve won the jackpot, because you can get a Thermos and send those,” she
said.

That’s what Michael Forbes has found
when making lunch for his two children, 7 and 5. “A wide-mouth Thermos is the
best way to get around sandwich-centric lunches,” he said. “We make pasta,
chili, soups, curries and biryani.”

Bulk-buying is helpful for Vicky
Weiss, whose two children are 14 and 10.

“I stock up on the things that they
like – buy five boxes of granola bars at a time, make double batches of
muffins,” she said. “And I make lunch the night before because otherwise I
start panicking.”

To really cut down on work, copy
the ingenious school-lunch cheat arrived upon by Sheila Keenan and four other
parents at her son’s school.

“Five moms got together to form a
lunch club. Each of us was assigned one day to make lunch for all our kids,”
explained Keenan. “The rationale being, it’s easier to come up with one
creative lunch idea per week, rather than trying to come up with a new lunch
idea day after mind-numbing day.”

FEATSchoollunchesSTORY

Parents need to be creative and realistic when it comes to planning school lunches.
Photo: FILE
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