back to school

3 Things Great School Lunches Have in Common

I don’t know about you, but now that it’s back-to-school time, I find myself on lunch duty. It’s the least I can do. I mean, my kids have been cleaning up after themselves, doing their own laundry, dishes, and general household chores since they were seven. Yes, you read that right. My daughter was nine, but my son was tasked with the job of doing his own laundry at seven. Not only did it make me proud to watch him, it made me chuckle to see him leap up onto the washing machine to turn the dials. Such an athlete!

Now some of you are probably wondering how I managed this feat, or why I’d even try. I’m a stay-at-home Mom. I have the time. Eh, maybe I should do all the chores, maybe I shouldn’t. That’s a discussion for another day. (Way, way into the future!)

According to my kids, it’s my lifelong quest to become known as the Meanest Mom Ever. I beg to differ. I look at it as my job to teach them independence. One day they’ll be out on their own and must be able to do things for themselves. That, and they went through a wholly “ungrateful” spell treating me like I was put on this earth to do their bidding.

Not. But now that we’ve worked through that period of time, we’re on good terms. I make their lunch for them every morning, and they say “thank you.” Wunderbar. And it’s off to school you go!

With that settled, what makes for a great school lunch?

#1 ~ Enviability. (Is that even a word?)

Kids want to be the envy of their friends when it comes to their lunch offerings, because at some point, they invariably become just that: offerings.

“Hey, I’ll trade you my bag of trail mix for that blueberry muffin.”

“Wanna trade my blackberries for your peanut butter sandwich?”

While I’m thinking my kids want food that tastes great, they’re thinking value, as in, What can I get for the stuff my mom packed me?

#2 ~ The “Cool” Factor.

I’ll never forget the day my kids took carrots from our garden to school for lunch, then were amazed by the curious stares they received.

“What’s that?”

“Duh. It’s a carrot.”

“No, I mean, what’s that green stuff on the end of it?”

“The leaves.”

Had these children never seen a carrot in its natural state?

Sadly, the answer was no. Many of them had not. But how would they? While we gardeners enjoy gardens in our backyard, our patios and window sills, others don’t. They only enjoy what the grocery store stocks for them to enjoy. On the bright side, the discussion did serve as the catalyst for their first school garden!

#3 ~ Variety

With a backyard garden bursting with bounty fall through spring, we never lack for variety. From blueberries to tomatoes, broccoli to zucchini, there’s something for everyone to eat. My son prefers carrots. My daughter prefers broccoli. Both pack well into a lunch and combine deliciously with peanut butter or ranch dressing. But my kids get bored easily, so I’ve learned to rotate the offerings. Some days it’s fruit and yogurt, other days it’s veggies and dip. Sometimes we go with a sandwich, other days they prefer a salad. But always, always, always, I pack enough to eat and share and keep it interesting.

Because like it or not, I’ve found their friends to be very interested in “tasting” what my kids bring to school for lunch. I’ve even garnered a few compliments over the years.

“Mom, Sarah loved your oatmeal-carrot cookies.”

“Awesome!” I replied, knowing full-well that my daughter does not prefer these delicacies due to the raisins I include in the mix. But she knows that others do and like the smart cookie that she is, she requests them to be included in her lunch. And anything else I might like to experiment with, because for her there’s no downside. Someone will eat it, even if it’s not her. (We gardeners do love to share–it’s half the fun!)

In fact, my neighbor just called me to deliver a bucket full of limes. Yep. She has too many to eat for herself and hates to see them go to waste. I concur. And in the rare instance when my kids do bring home lunch leftovers, they summarily toss them into the compost bin. Leftovers make excellent dirt.

Waste not, want not!

Going Back to School

Kids head back to school next week which means I as garden coordinator head back with them.  While we didn’t spend a lot of time in the garden over the summer (peanuts are fairly low-maintenance), we have BIG plans for the year ahead, beginning with our pumpkin patch.  As you may recall, last year our pumpkins hit a rough patch of fungus and did not produce the orange beauties we were expecting.  Why not?

Well, we could chalk it up to ambitious gardeners, seed crowding, Florida humidity, the normal stuff–but this year we’re doing things a bit differently.  We have moved locations, giving the pumpkins ample space to stretch out and spread their vines.  We also plan to put mulch beneath them to ward off grass growth.  Kinda hard to cut the lawn around the pumpkins and vines which caused some of the problems.  But no worries.  We will master the art of pumpkin growth this year!  We’ll also harvest our peanuts and generally prepare the garden for our fall crop. 

As to our lessons, we will coordinate garden and classroom for a seamless and common sense approach to education.  Translated:  what they’re learning in class will correspond to what they’re learning in the garden.  Easy enough when it comes to botany and chemistry.  It’s life science in middle school that will prove a bit more, “challenging” shall we say?  Oh yes, we’ll be talking reproduction in the garden, 101. 🙂

If anyone has any suggestions for curriculum or craft ideas, I’m all ears!  On the current agenda we have:   art in the garden to express their creative side, journaling to practice their power of observation and writing skills, science projects with our attempt at building a solar oven, measuring and graphing for a slice of math among the beds, the power of self-sustainability beginning from seed to harvest, then learning to save their seeds for next season, and of course cooking.  We eat what we grow which makes everything taste better.  For added fun, we’re incorporating Spanish into our garden, with bilingual plant signs to vocabulary lists.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Oh–and don’t forget the field trip to the worm fun.  Talk about a good time, worms are it.

So follow along with us as we share our garden lessons and crafts and by all means–share some of yours.  We’ll consider it a coop garden of sorts, albeit virtual in nature.

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,

Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;

He put her in a pumpkin shell

And there he kept her very well.

Well I don’t know about Peter, but the kids have started their pumpkin patch and something tells me they’re going to “keep it” very well.  Woo-hoo! We’ve got ourselves a pumpkin patch!  (It’s that dark patch of dirt beyond the main garden.)

And let me tell you, these kids deserve a round of applause and a pat on the back because it took some serious weeding work to get this garden in shape.  Two months of summer break took its toll.  (Yes, I was in charge of upkeep but a gal gets busy over the summer–and it was hot.  Very hot.)  But not to worry–the weed warriors were here! 

They came–they saw–they weeded something fierce and now we can see dirt again.  Unfortunately most of them were wearing it back to class (though I don’t remember hearing any complaints).  Wait until they get home, right?  But parents, take heart.  This garden is gorgeous! 

Isn’t it wonderful?  And our new pumpkin patch.  First a quick lesson on the growth habit of a pumpkin and how deep we plant the seeds.  Got it?

Got it. Seeds in hand, the kids went to work planting and covering and most certainly dreaming of harvest.

Come fall, we’ll have both Jack-o-lantern and Early Sweet Sugar Pie (yum) pumpkin varieties–one to carve and one to eat.  Pumpkin pie, anyone?  We’ll also be saving the seeds, though one clever youngster kindly pointed out we could roast them.  True.  But don’t we want to save some for next year?

Remember:  we’re organic and self-sustaining which means we’re healthy and we produce our own seeds.  And fun.  We are all about producing our own kind of fun so this year we plan some totally awesome additions to the garden. 

Cooler than a pumpkin patch? 

Oh, WAY cooler.  How about a pole-bean fort, big enough to hideout in?  And speaking of hideouts, why not a sunflower hideaway?  Love it.

So stay-tuned and get your garden growing!  We’ve got big plans this year and for you kids interested in learning something new along the way, check the Kid Buzz section our website.  This week’s lesson for upper elementary was “Planting an Organic Garden” while lower elementary took it slow with “Know What You Grow color page.”  We don’t want to lose any first graders and the older kids always enjoy a review.

Test next week. 🙂