School Lunches

iStock_000009011003XSmallI’ve had several requests to talk about school lunches, and always, I’m here to serve up your daily dose of information and entertainment, so here goes.  In the past I’ve been fortunate.  My son would eat PB&J till it comes out his ears, and sometimes it looks like it is doing exactly that.  But that’s another topic.  Ahem.

So for the past few years, I have only had to pack lunches for him, and I send a PB&J and an apple every. single. day.  Even my husband eats this.  I know.  It’s crazy.  But it’s easy so I can’t complain.

In the past, I allowed my son to buy a school lunch once a week (which usually ended up being more like twice a week because I’m lazy) and he bought milk every day.

But this year I will have two kids eating lunch at school, and the family budget cannot afford daily milk or weekly lunches for two kids.  Since I’m spending more on milk and meat and eggs, we’re trying to cut food costs where ever else we can.

Besides that, school lunches are pure junk, which is something that always bothered me in the past, but now I just can’t tolerate it.  So packed lunches it is!

Unfortunately my daughter is a bit more choosy than her brother when it comes to lunchtime, so I’m going to have to get creative.

When we were at Target last week, I let each child choose a thermos, and I informed them that I would be sending milk from home to school every day.  I also told my son that I’m going to do my best to pack his lunch every day and that school lunch will be for the days that I forget or don’t have time.  He was remarkably agreeable.  In fact, I must say, he’s been agreeable every step of the way, which was a pleasant surprise.  I figured he was going to be cranky about having less junk in the house, but as it turns out, he is the most supportive.

As far as what to send in their lunches, all three of my kids love homemade chicken noodle soup, which is fast becoming a staple in our household because I’m buying more whole chicken than chicken pieces now (the farm where I get my pastured chickens only sell them whole, and I haven’t learned how to cut up my own.)

And also, if I roast a chicken, I get enough meat for dinner, plus I get enough to go in a pot of soup.  And I boil the bones and make my own stock, which is absolutely divine.  I thought homemade chicken stock was good when I made it from the grocery store chickens, but it is infinitely more tasty from a pastured chicken.  Seriously.  It’s amazing.  I never expected to taste a difference.  So that’s two dinners out of one chicken.  Score!

But back to school lunches.  My kids told me that they would love to take chicken noodle soup in their lunches (which means buying a second thermos, but that’s an investment I’m happy to make) so I plan to send that a few days a week.  And they will likely be getting a lot of PB&J.  Or, in my daughter’s case, PB.

Tuna is always a hit in my house so I can try to send that once a week.  Although the more I read about the mercury content, and how the FDA has been holding back on their warnings about albacore tuna (the only kind I buy) because of politics (more on that in another post), I’m not sure that I’ll even be feeding tuna to my kids as often as once a week.

In addition to the sandwich or soup, I usually send an apple, and I can always throw some carrots in there, but I have a feeling they won’t get eaten.  I’d rather save the raw veggies for snack before dinner, when I know my kids are desperate enough to eat them, and I can make sure they don’t go to waste.

Oh!  They love the local yogurt I’ve been buying, so I can always send some of that.  But again, that’s another thermos.  I guess I can use the soup thermos for yogurt on the days they take sandwiches.

Speaking of yogurt, for the love of all that’s nutritious and wholesome, PLEASE read your labels.  Most yogurts are FULL of sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings, thickeners, and fillers.  Really, there are so few wholesome yogurts available at the grocery store, you really have to dig.  Trader Joe’s makes a good one, I hear, if you’re fortunate enough to have one close by.   And at the conventional grocery store, I don’t know what to tell ya.  Basically, if it’s marketed to kids, it’s probably junk.  It’s a sad but true state of affairs, unfortunately.

The best way to eat your yogurt is to buy it plain (without artificial anything, pretty please) and add your own fruit.  Sweeten it with a bit of honey or maple syrup (not Log Cabin; REAL maple syrup) and you’re SO much better off.  My kids eat the vanilla flavor that is sweetened with just a hint of maple syrup, and they think it’s dessert.  The only ingredients are whole milk, vanilla, maple syrup, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus and living yogurt cultures.  The end.  Amen.  Now THAT’S yogurt.  (Am I the only one who feels a yogurt post in the works?)

What To Pack

Here’s a list of healthy lunchbox ideas. Feel free to leave more suggestions in the comments.

  • Peanut butter and honey or banana (or jam, but honey is better) sandwiches on whole wheat bread
  • Tuna salad on whole wheat bread.  But feed your kids tuna sparingly, the mercury concerns are very real
  • Egg salad or chicken salad
  • Chicken noodle soup.  For canned soups, read your labels and avoid cans that are high in sodium; better yet, make your own
  • Carrot sticks
  • Red pepper strips
  • Cucumber slices
  • Grapes
  • Apple slices (a tsp of lemon juice in the baggie will keep them from going brown)
  • Yogurt  (but watch for additives)
  • Cheese sticks (I try to find whole milk cheese sticks, and organic is nice, but it’s so pricey I usually get the conventional.)
  • Water or milk.  (Juice is just empty calories, and it makes you thirsty; soda…  do I REALLY need to tell you what’s wrong with soda?)
  • Homemade Granola Bars
  • Air popped popcorn or popcorn popped in coconut oil on the stove top with sea salt
  • Leftovers (I’m not big into this, but if you have homemade dinner from the night before, heat it up and put it in a thermos.  It’s a great quick hot lunch, and it gets rid of your leftovers so you don’t have to eat them.  😉 )

What To Avoid

Even if you aren’t a food freak like I am, if you are concerned for your kids’ health, here are a few modern day lunchtime staples to avoid at all costs:

  • Lunchables.  I shudder to see kids eating these.  They have a ridiculous amount of sodium.  And practically no nutritional value whatsoever.  You’re better off buying the good lunch meat from the deli; by good, I mean the stuff that’s not so processed and has no added nitrates.  I love Boars Head Oven Gold Turkey Breast and so do my kids.  Throw a few crackers and some cheese slices or a cheese stick in there, and you have a homemade Lunchable that is cheaper and healthier.
  • Snack packs.  These offer no nutritional value, and most have high amounts of sugar or sodium or both; skip them and throw in some fresh fruit or veggies or yogurt instead.  It will save on your grocery bill too.
  • Juice boxes.  Again, these have no nutritional value, and it’s just adding onto your grocery bill.  Send milk or water.  They’ll survive.  I promise.
  • Pop Tarts.  Do I REALLY need to add that one?
  • Fruit snacks or Fruit Roll-ups.  I have avoided these for years.  My dentist always asks if we have then and warns that they are the single most cause of cavities in children.  It’s just one more junky food product masquerading as good for you.  There is little to no fruit in them.

What would you add?  What do you pack?  What do you avoid at all costs?  How often do you allow your kids to “buy lunch”?