by Laurie Nigro
I'm a planner. I've always been a planner. My father likes to tell people that the day after my childhood birthdays, I would tell him, "It's only 364 days until my birthday!"
In that vein, I have already shopped for all of my children's back to school folders, pens, markers and calculators. They've tried on their new uniforms and shiny new shoes are waiting in the boxes. I've spent hours researching and ordering lunchbox items and I'm in the midst of finalizing the fall schedule.
Last year, I wrote a blog about packing healthy school lunches. I think it holds up, but in reality, I had never had to shop for and pack lunches on a daily basis before September of 2012. I was a wide eyed idealist who thought I'd be able to make different, creative and healthful meals for every day of the week.
Though I was able to keep it mostly healthful, the different and creative kind of went out the window. But I did discover an awesome option; my kids love leftovers. I don't think I would have made it without the insulated stainless steel thermoses that graced their lunch boxes each day. In the morning, I would heat up whatever we had the night before and load up the container. It was the main meal each day and left me feeling like I had accomplished at least giving them something that could keep them going through the afternoon lull.
Great leftover choices include soups and stews, stir fry dishes over wild rice, homemade macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with meat sauce. I make the foods extra hot when I re-heat in the morning and the kids reported back that it's a perfect temperature by lunch.
The rest of the packed bag definitely lacked diversity. Every day, each child had a tube of frozen, organic yogurt, a piece of fresh fruit (usually an apple, pear or banana), a cup of applesauce or other fruit and a container of nuts or trail mix. There may have been a little variation here and there, but for the most part, that was it. I found myself begging them to come food shopping with me so they could select something different. Usually the only variation was which fruit they selected and the type of nuts.
I was so surprised at their complacency with such a repetitive meal. I wondered how they could be happy with the monotony, as I packed my own lunch with greek yogurt, fruit, a granola bar and trail mix, exactly the same lunch I had been packing for months. OK, so maybe there's some comfort in repetition.
Regardless, I am aiming for a little more of a mix in this year's school bag. We've tried cheese sticks with some success. There are several varieties to choose from and they pair nicely with crackers. Late in the year, we started experimenting with chopped salads. I offered the additions of grilled chicken, feta cheese, nuts, apples, strawberries or pears and a simple homemade dressing. I'm hoping to incorporate more of these into this year's box.
Though I packed lots of fruits for snacks, I'd like to put in more vegetable matter. Both kids love cucumbers and especially enjoy them seeded and sliced into sticks, rather than circles. They also like baby carrots and cherry tomatoes, a quick add to any bag. Another favorite is sweet peppers. The multi-colored options of this great veggie brings a little sunshine to the day. My children are also big fans of kale chips and loved finding them in their lunch. And it's easy to put vegetables into smoothies and then pour it into a re-usable water bottle.
It's too easy for me to get caught in a lunchbox rut. It makes shopping a breeze and packing their bag a no-brainer. But even if I just switch up one or two things a week in this year's lunchbox, I think the change will do them good. My son asked me to make this smoothie we found on www.wholeliving.com, a great lunchbox addition!
Pineapple, Kale, Almond Milk Smoothie
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup packed chopped kale
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup diced pineapple
Puree ingredients in a blender until smooth.