Friday, September 13, 2013

What Your Kids Don't Tell You About School Lunch

School has been in session for a little while, and already even I am tired of packing lunches. Not for any little kids, mind you, I have to pack one for me because I work in an elementary school. While I'm in the kitchen it makes sense to just pack one for my 17 year old as well, and while I know that he is perfectly capable of packing his own lunch, it just seems to be easier.

Mostly it's easier because he also catches a ride with me and the very last thing I want is to be fighting for lunch making space in our small kitchen during a busy morning when I have to get to work. I can pack lunches faster, too. Oh I know it's an important life skill and all that, but he knows how to cook. I'd rather just get it done in the morning, you know?

I work as an educational assistant, which kind of means I'm a Jill of all trades these days. I can be found helping out with breakfast programs, supervising lunchtime, working with students, helping out with an after school program, and more. In my travels I get to see what your kids eat for lunch...


Last year I loved having the opportunity to chat with the kids about food, and a bunch of six year olds were surprisingly vocal about what their parents packed them. Here's the main points about what they had to say:

1. They love fruit and veggies more than the packaged stuff.

When asked what their favourite food was, almost every kid listed some form of produce. I was shocked because seriously, I expected them to list some of those sugary food coloring laden treats and not ONE CHILD mentioned them. Their favourites seemed to be things like strawberries, apples, cucumbers, and more. So before you reach for those boxed and packaged lunchbox items that I *know* are easier to pack but are full of stuff your kid doesn't need and doesn't even like as much, try taking them to the produce section and let them pick some snacks for their lunchbox. You'll be surprised! Berries seemed to be the hands down favorite.

2. You sometimes pack things that are too hard to eat

More than once I've seen a kid try to eat a gigantic, sloppy sandwich. They nibble the edges, valiantly try to actually get a bite before it falls apart and makes a mess, and eventually they just give up. Little kids have small hands, and something big is just too time consuming, messy, and difficult to eat. The same goes with whole fruit. It may be a delicious, juicy peach but if it's huge and they are little, plus it drips all over their desk, often they will manage a few bites before they just throw it away.

Try cutting things into smaller bites-sandwiches into 4 pieces, muffins in half, fruit into bite sized pieces. Or just make things a bit more mini sized, such as little bagels, pitas, or wraps. If they can hold it and eat it easily, they'll be more likely to not give up on it. Also, lay off the sauces in sandwiches. It just makes them soggy, and kids all really hate soggy bread.

3. Those really sweet love notes even make the lunch monitors tear up.

When a little person asks me to read them a note that you wrote, I always get a little lump in my throat. You are so awesome. They know it, too. While they may not share your note with their friends, they always smile and have that bit of sparkle in their eyes.

4. They really don't want to hurt your feelings, but man they HATE mustard/butter/mayo and are hurt that you keep forgetting!

Almost every day a child is standing in front of me, looking wounded, holding out a sandwich.

"But she KNOWS I don't like (insert various sandwich spread here)." I encourage them to eat the bread, pick out the cheese, and then to go home and say to the adults,

"Thank you for making my lunch. It was great. Could I please have a plain ham sandwich next time, without mustard?"

They really don't want to upset you. They know that packing a lunch is hard work but damn, those little faces are so disappointed when they discover that you forgot because if you didn't put (insert various sandwich spread) on it,they may have actually eaten it.

5. They love those cheese and cracker lunch packs but there's a catch

Yep those things are fast and easy to shove in a lunchbox, and the kids love them. The thing is, for small kids, they already don't have a lot of time to eat and assembling little pizzas or hot dog things takes them most of their eating time. By the time they actually start eating, the bell goes. The nature of the packaging makes it virtually impossible to pack up the uneaten leftovers, and often half of it ends up on the floor.

Bottom line? They usually eat the treat, barely half of the actual meal part, and toss the rest. I'd save your money and pack them your own.

Last, bonus secret!

6. The cookies are always eaten first

Don't fool yourself. Recess always means cookies or the other treats, and to be honest, I'm 42 and I do the EXACT same thing when I'm outside with them. In fact, we often compare cookies.

I can't help it. Hopscotch, sunshine and cookies?

Total win.
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