Some school lunch advice from an expert
When it comes to creatively doing drudge work like packing lunches, no one has better advice than our colleague Janet K. Keeler. As the Tampa Bay Times food and travel editor, she has raised her own "wolverine" of a son and taught thousands of readers how to cook with panache. But when it comes to school lunch, she says, parents have to admit that despite the best hatched plans, by cafeteria cooks and bagged lunch queens, it can sometimes end up in the trash.
If you’re packing lunch for your kids, keep a few things in mind to make the process go more smoothly for both you and them. Impress on them that it’s important that they tell you when they don’t like something. Tossing or trading solves the immediate problem but the empty lunchbox indicates everything was eaten and enjoyed. In other words, they will get that tuna-on-rye again.
It’s their right to not like certain foods.
One strategy is to focus more on breakfast and dinner, and hope the lessons taught there spill over to the noon hour. If children start and end their days with nutritional food, a lapse at lunch doesn’t take on disproportionate significance.
If you’re sending lunch, think about the different food groups and how you can sneak them in. A high-carb lunch could lead to an afternoon crash and a super crabby ride home. That could result in a trip through the drive-thru, adding more fat and carbs to the day and spoiling a nutritious dinner.
Insulated bags and containers
What you pack their lunch in might be just as important as what you pack. Soft-sided carriers have plenty of room for frozen packs to keep food and drink cold. You’ll want to make sure to prevent any spoilage by keeping certain foods — mayonnaise for instance — the proper temperature. Insulated bags help to keep the packs frozen.
Don’t forget insulated containers — generically we call them Thermoses — for chicken noodle soup or leftover chili or lasagna. To get the most out of your insulated container, fill it with boiling water to heat it, drain and then spoon in food that’s been heated on the stove or oven, not the microwave. All insulated containers lose some heat so you want the food to be much hotter than you would actually eat it to start with.
There are lots of empty calories plus carbohydrates in sugary drinks. Flavored waters are a good choice, but the best of all may be low-fat chocolate milk.
Shop in season
In August when school starts, there are lots of fresh fruits in season including strawberries, cherries, plums, apricots, peaches, watermelon and nectarines. Pack what your child likes. Later in the year, look for tangerines and other easy-peeling citrus.
Get the tools
Stock up on plastic utensils and containers in various sizes for salads, dressings, dips or other foods that need more protection than a plastic bag.
Enlist their help
Most important, get your children involved with the planning and packing. If he eats sushi for dinner, what’s to say he won’t at lunch? Same with asparagus spears (with dipping sauce) and grilled chicken salad (pack the ingredients separately.)
The more they are invested, the more likely they’ll be eat what’s been so lovingingly packed. And that’ll be a big load off your mind.
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