School Lunch Envy: Worrying If What I Pack Will Get Eaten

I can’t be the only mother in the world who agonizes over school lunches. Surely there are millions of others spending all kinds of energy and anxiety on this relatively straightforward and necessary parenting task. These are the questions that would swirl in my head every morning:

Did the dentist say all dried fruit should be avoided?
Is this enough food for a growing child?
Is she getting enough protein?
Is gluten really that bad?
How much salt is she allowed per day?
What’s on the food pyramid again?
Does this look appetizing enough for her to try?
What percentage of this lunch will be consumed today?

I would do just about anything to make this an effective and healthy experience for my daughter. At the moment, I create cute little menus, hoping they would be fun for her as she opens her lunchbox at school. Look! Mom made an adorable menu (decorated lovingly with hearts and flowers) for me so I should eat everything inside my lunch! Unlikely.

Of course, I’ve tried including her in the lunch-packing process; but dehydrated strawberries and seaweed snacks do not rank high in the nutrition department. So, on any given morning, between coffee and getting dressed, I often look for inspiration on the Web. That’s when I get even more depressed.

Apparently, there are children in the world who eat beautiful, handcrafted and healthful meals every day of the week. There are apples that have been meticulously carved out and filled with nuts and soft French cheese; homemade bento boxes filled with animal-shaped fruit and vegetable kabobs; and mini wraps of star-shaped zucchini, shaved carrots, and green/yellow/red bell pepper wedges. One busy blogger writes that she spends several hours a week getting prepped for 6 am lunch-packing sessions. Superhero sandwiches and carnival-themed foods are her specialty. Sigh…

And then there are the “sneaky” moms who puree all kinds of pumpkin and squash, bake them in loaves of bread or cookies, and claim that their children are none the wiser. Genius? Maybe. It’s amazing how crafty mom-chefs can be!  Until recently, I had never even thought about creating a park and duck pond scene with avocado spread, olives, and blueberries! My mind has been blown over and over again!

My daughter is not exactly a picky eater. She’ll try anything once, like rice with squid ink, pickled vegetables, and exotic Chinese vegetables that look like mini jellyfish to name a few. But all bets are off at school. When I have been adventurous enough to try packing something different and unordinary, like a tortilla wrap stuffed with sundried aioli, seasoned vegetables, and fresh roast turkey, the entire meal was returned— tortilla roll still intact. This in turn, made me feel unskillful at the most basic parenting task: feeding my child.

But it’s not my fault, is it? In truth, it has little to do with the actual food and everything to do with the environment. At school, the amount of time most students actually sit and eat rarely exceeds twenty minutes. After that, they are all off and running to play, gossip, or meander. My daughter is no exception. She skips the snack during first recess so she could have more time to play, eats for maybe ten minutes in the cafeteria during the lunch break and hits the monkey bars. So I’ve decided to let go of this notion of a proper lunch.

In my own childhood, lunches were rarely eaten; unbeknownst to my mother, the full brown paper bag never even made it to the lunch tables. I regularly tossed them in the garbage (or donated them to classmates who preferred my mother’s Nutella and honey sandwiches to ham and cheese) and opted for play instead. I had dodge ball games and tetherball!

I eventually just gave in. Now, I pack small (healthy-ish) snacks for her lunch, like sliced fruit (no cookie cutters required), crackers or biscuits (sometimes covered in chocolate), and tortilla chips with hummus. She’s obviously not getting all the calories that she needs in the earlier part of the day, but that’s okay; I make her a hearty meal right when we get home from school. The bulk of the nutrition she needs is consumed between 3 and 7pm and according to her doctor, that’s just fine. 

The mommy-chef bloggers continue to inspire, however. Occasionally, I’ll be successful at putting something new in the lunchbox rotation. I think I’ll try making pan-fried seitan and turmeric roasted cauliflower tomorrow.

What do you usually pack for your kiddo’s school lunch? Ever attempted to pack a full-on bento box – cartoon characters and all? How well did that go? Share your stories with us!

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Tags : confessions   motherhood   school lunch   

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