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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

School Lunches

From Carmen:

I'm trying to find great kid friendly lunch ideas as well, but with a twist. My challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to create a lunch for a child with food allergies, who doesn't eat peanuts, nuts, coconut, and thinks that any kind of meat is vile and disgusting. He also won't eat soup of any kind, and I try to avoid anything that needs to be heated up. He also can't eat lots of food coloring, since is causes migraines.

My question is, what is a good thing to pack him for lunch, meeting all of those criteria? I get pretty sick of packing a soy butter sandwich long about December...........

From Kathy:

The first day of school is almost upon us, and I could use ideas for bagged lunches to pack that are reasonably healthy and stand a chance of getting eaten. Any ideas would be a great help.

 I have a long-standing hate relationship with school lunches. When I was a kid, my mom made all of my sandwiches using Pepperidge Farm Enriched White Bread. That stuff was NASTY. It was dry and flavorless. (But it had vitamins!) The sandwiches were usually bologna, salami or chicken roll, never PB&J because I hate that stuff. Most of the time, I'd throw out the sandwich and just eat my two Oreos and drink my 100% fruit juice. Good times.

When Dylan started Montessori three years ago, I was excited to send her a packed lunch. That excitement lasted about a week. Though her teachers told me that she brought a bigger variety than anyone else, I couldn't help but think that I was sending her terribly boring stuff. I think part of my problem is that I judge school lunches on MY standards. I, personally, need variety in my daily lunches. Small children do not. Small children are happy with Mac and Cheese or PB&J every day. Please, please, please remember this when making your lunches. The goal is to make your kids happy, while providing nutritious meals. The goal is not to win a school lunch award. I have a hard time remembering this. Don't make the same mistake I do.

OK, lecture over. Let's get going with some ideas.

First, there are some fabulous resources online for kids lunches. Please check these out:

Vegan Lunch Box - Yes, these lunches are vegan. No, not all kids will like this type of food. But, hear me out. There are some fabulous ideas within this blog. Jennifer is no longer blogging Shmoo's daily lunches, but the archives are chock full of ideas and inspiration. Lots of dips, wraps and food that's fun to eat. Things LOOK good. Each lunch has multiple courses. Read and be inspired.

Parent Hacks - Asha just posted a query on favorite school lunches (inspired by Melissa's Buzz Off column), and the comments section is filled to the brim with awesome ideas. (Melissa's comment section has some good ideas too.)

Want Not - Pretty, pretty Mir has some great snack and lunch ideas, and not only are these tasty, but they are AFFORDABLE. Leave it to Mir...

And now, for some ideas of my own:

  • I posted this in the comments section of Mir's post, but here it is again. Homemade Lunchables are a great way to get interesting and nutritious food into your kids' lunches. Think about why Lunchables are popular (beyond the overabundance of commercials on Cartoon Network). They have little compartments. They involve preparation on the part of the kid. They are fun to eat. You can do that. Really, you can. Make some pizza dough (or buy a Boboli and use cookie cutters to make it into 2-inch circles) and shape it into small disks. Cook them up and then freeze 'em. The night before school, pull out two disks, fill one small container with marinara and another with grated mozzarella. Add a small baggie of toppings if your kid is into that sort of thing (pepperoni, sliced olives, etc.).
  • Let's talk about the thermos, shall we? I love the thermos. You need to get the stainless steel kind. Like this, or for bigger kids; this. This type of thermos will keep food hot enough for a kid's lunch, provided you let it sit for a while with hot water before filling it with the hot food. I have put a huge variety of foods in my thermos. We've done mac and cheese, soups, leftover dinner, quesadillas, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, meatballs cooked in barbecue sauce, and Dylan's favorite; chili. When we do chili, I also send a small container of grated cheddar, a small container of sour cream, and a few saltines for crumbling on top. It's all about the garnish, folks.
  • Another favorite around here is chicken salad (you could also do tuna salad, depending on the tastes of your child). I don't serve it as a sandwich, though. I put it in a small plastic container and serve it with crackers for dipping.
  • Antipasto makes a great lunch. Small chunks or slices of cheese and salami, roasted peppers, olives, cornichons (or baby pickles, as Dylan describes them)... Anything goes here. It all depends on the tastes of your child.

I hope these help! And please feel free to add more suggestions in the comments.

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