Sunday, June 28, 2009

More lunch box thoughts

I know that a lot of you mamas out there are getting ready to send the allergic munchkin off to school. And that means packing lunch. We just completed our first year of packing lunches, and I learned so many things! Let me share the knowledge, so that you can go into your school year feeling like a seasoned pro.

First, lunchtime is finite. This is new to kindergarten kids if they have previously stayed home with mom. Up until now they have had as long as they need to finish eating. No more. Lunchtime is brief. Often even more so for kindergarten because they are so new to cleaning up the classroom and lining up to go to lunch, and that means it takes them longer to get ready. Which, in turn, means they are sometimes late to lunch. And they don't get extra time. For those of you with dawdlers, start practicing now. Set a timer. See how your slowpoke does. And don't forget to account for the friends factor. As in, my kiddo is sometimes so busy chatting with her friends that she forgets to eat. Or only takes a few bites. Ay-yi-yi!

Second, those handy little packaged fruit cups? Not so handy. They are wonderful in that you can send them to school several days in a row. Waiting for your child to have time to eat it. And it won't go bad while traveling back and forth all week. Of course, if it is traveling back and forth only because it is too hard for little fingers to open...well. My allergic kiddo was too shy to ask for help. At the end of the week I asked if maybe she didn't like the peaches and would like Mom to find another choice. No, she answered, she likes peaches. She just couldn't get them open. So, moms, please make sure your kiddo has the moxie to ask for help opening packaged snacks, or open them ahead of time and put them into a container that is easier to use.

Personally, I don't like packaged food. It is more expensive, and usually not in the right portion size for my little darling. What to do? When I am making dinner, or lunch, or whatever....I scoop out a portion before serving it. Really. I know the mandarin oranges are going to be inhaled. There won't be any left. There may be injuries suffered trying to decide who will eat the last one in the bowl. If I wait for leftovers, they may not come. So, get out your itty bitty container and put in a portion that is perfect for lunch tomorrow. Fruits, veggies, main dishes. Whatever. Save it, then serve it. And now you have at least part of tomorrow's lunch packed. Save money, save time.

Now for an unavoidable truth: school lunch tables are covered with unknown variables. The bus students may sit there in the morning. Breakfast may be served there. The cafeteria may double as an art room. Lunch might come in two shifts, with the kindergarten eating second shift. Who knows who was sitting there and what lovely residue they left behind. Sticky syrup, paste, peanut butter slime, maybe even a little 'I'll just wipe it here since I don't have a tissue.' Nice. You can pack a wipe so your kiddo can wipe the table first. We all know how thorough those kiddos can be. You can pack a placemat to unfold and eat on. You can teach your kiddo to eat over their lunchbox. Whatever fits your comfort level. Please establish, though, that food that touches the table should be treated as if it magically turns into brussel sprout pudding. That is to say don't eat it. Ever. Because you just never know.

One more thought for now: bring it all home. That's right. Even the trash. Those first few weeks your new student is learning the routine and how to use time wisely. You will be learning how much food actually goes into that body. If all of the trash, the half-eaten and the not-even-touched food comes home it helps the learning curve. What is the right portion size? How many types of food should you pack? What foods seem like a good idea but don't get eaten? Once you get a feel for what actually is consumed, certainly encourage your kiddo to find out where the trash can is. Because lunch boxes don't take long to get smelly.

Hope that helps a little bit. I'll try for a few more morsels of wisdom as the summer moves on. Stay tuned!

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