school lunch

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!

Back to School Lunch

Today is our first day back to school after a brief winter break and my daughter surprised me by requesting fresh carrots in her lunch. 

“Carrots?”

“Yes.   I want to get some from the garden.”

Really…  Well, well, well, I thought.  What do we have here?  A new year’s resolution?  A change of heart?  I mean, this is the child who would live off sweets, if you’d let her!  But not one to argue with healthy good sense, I said, “Well have at it!”

“I want some,” her brother piped up. 

I looked at him.  Busy emptying a few packets of artifically-flavored oatmeal into his bowl, I thought, really?  “You want carrots?” 

“Yes,” he said, followed by a bare shrug of his shoulders.  “Sure.  Why not?”

I think someone wants what his sister has, but if that’s what it takes to fill his belly with vegetables, than I’m all for it.  “Will you grab some for him, while you’re in the garden?”

“Sure,” she replied.

“And shoot, how about grabbing a couple for me while you’re there.  I’ll put them–”  Oops.  Almost said put them in the meatloaf which is a bad idea.  The minute these two hear I’m sneaking carrots into their favorite dinner I’ll have a rebellion on my hands!  “–in my salad,” I smoothly finished.  And smiled.  We mothers do need to keep one step ahead of these little darlings.

“Okay!”  And off she went with a friendly reminder from her father:  don’t wear your school shoes down there!  They’ll end up wet.

What a great dad.  Returning to my morning business of preparing lunches, I marveled at what a wonderful day this was beginning to be.  Carrots in her lunch!  Carrots for his breakfast!  Woo-hoo!  It’s a party!  And you thought New Year’s Eve was reason to celebrate.

A few minutes later my daughter bounded back into the house.  “Look at these!  They’re picture-perfect!”

Did someone say picture-perfect?  Hold on a second while I get my camera–we need to capture the beauty of those golden babies for eternity!

Not one to miss out on a photo opportunity, my son vied for his position in front of the lens.  “Take a picture of me, Mom!”

Of course, my sweet.  Everyone needs their moment in the limelight.  “Okay.  Lights, camera, action!”

Doesn’t he look interested in that carrot?  Good enough for me.  In fact, it warms a mother’s heart to see my kids take to fresh vegetables (for whatever reason).  And while they moan and groan on occasion about the required work associated with the garden, it is nice to know they enjoy the harvest.  Vegetables never tasted so good as when you grew them yourself!

Sure there’s something to be said about bragging rights and showing off your homegrown carrots to your friends at school — although these kids are growing their own beautiful carrots behind the classroom — but they do taste better than store-bought.  Same with potatoes and fresh herbs.  When it comes to taste, there’s simply no competition between the vegetables you buy and the vegetables you grow. 

Don’t believe me?  Try growing some yourself! 

 

How can you resist these gorgeous specimens?