Back to school is upon us and of course so is the lunch box frenzy. Anxious parents are everywhere, searching for the perfect solutions. Preschool in particular can be harrowing, as it is their first time eating away from you and it means ceding a little control. I remember sobbing as I packed that first lunch, mindful of how much my baby was growing up. I wanted it to be flawless, and labored accordingly. In the end, it is just lunch, and the most important thing is that kids learn to have it together.
Getting them ready to eat at school is also a challenge. You can have a rehearsal play date to help kids transition. Reading about lunchtime at school is another effective strategy; my favorites are Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban and Morris Goes to School by B Wiseman.
Below are some tips that served me well for my first year of preschool lunch. Be brave, good luck, and enjoy every moment. Feel free to comment below and tell me all about your own experiences.
On the outside:
- Avoid metal lunch boxes. They are heavy, easily damaged, hard to clean, and readily re-purposed as weapons. Personally, I prefer the cloth ones with an insulated lining, which you can wipe with a damp cloth. The bento boxes are cute but come with lots of pieces that are easily lost. Brown bags get smashed and easily confused - a big deal if you have kids with allergies or other food concerns.
- Get a back-up or two. We went through four lunch boxes last year, all of which mysteriously disappeared on the way home. Trying to buy a lunch box in April is like trying to get pregnant in your sixties - it's a little late and probably not such a good idea. Although if you do find yourself in this pickle, Amazon.com did have some slim pickings available.
- Given the above, do not spend more than $15 on a lunch box. $12 if you can manage it.
Rules and regs
- Assuming the school has a microwave, try not pack to anything metallic that needs to be reheated. Glass is great but make sure it is shatterproof. Plastic is fine if you can live with the risks.
- Try to avoid peanuts, sesame products, and anything on the allergy alert list. Kids swap lunches and then some; it is a nice courtesy to the other parents and school.
- Anything messy will end up all over the kids and their teachers. Avoid the unnecessary drama.
- Do not pack candy. The kids get crazy and their teachers will be annoyed. Give them a small treat like a handful of graham crackers or one cookie. Anything else is over the top.
On the inside
- I love little thermoses (thermi?). Not only can you save money and mother earth by packing them water instead of a juice box, but in the winter you can also pack some warm soup.
- Keep healthy side staples on hand, like cheese, crackers, Cheerios, and yogurt. Rotate them, and toss in one or two in every day.
- Always pack a fresh fruit or vegetable. My best luck has been with celery, carrots, apples, strawberries, melon, and grapes. Clementines are a big hit when they are available - they love to peel and eat.
- My best success entrees include basic grilled cheese, hard boiled eggs, pasta wheels with cheese, rice with vegetables, tomato soup, and pizza.
- Try to make it fun. Make eyeballs out of egg slices. Put fruit on a stick (with dull edges) so they can pull it off piece by piece. Throw in a small package of bubbles.
Recipe: Basic grilled cheese sandwich
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 slices of bread
1 oz of cheese (any)
- Brush both sides of bread with butter.
- Place cheese in the middle of the slices.
- Add sandwich to a frying pan and heat on medium for 2 minutes.
- Flip, and heat again for another 2 minutes.
- Cool sandwich.
- Slice and wrap in wax paper.
Tip: Make it fun by cutting it into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Place the cookie cutter in the middle and press down. Slice the outer edges into equal pieces.