The first day of school is just a few weeks away, and that means it’s time to start thinking about cold lunches.
Oh, how I miss the days when we only had one child in school and we could easily afford the $2.25-a-day hot lunch program.
But those glorious days – a.k.a. “the mommy who’s too busy to deal with cold lunches because she has a full-time job, a toddler and an infant and not enough time to grocery shop” days – are long gone.
School lunch prices have inched up, all three of our kiddos are in school full time, and I can’t justify spending about $40 a week on hot lunches.
So, to prepare for this school year, I clicked around on Pinterest for some cold lunch inspiration.
No surprise – within 30 seconds I was reminded once again why I’ll never be a serious contender for “Mom of the Year.”
I love my kids, I really do, but I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those moms with the time, desire and creativity to turn their lunch into an artistic scene or a character from an animated movie. (Props, though, to the mom who created an edible version of Mike Wazowski from “Monsters Inc.” with a granny smith apple, cheese slices, a hard-boiled egg and an olive. I could probably handle that, but my kids would probably only eat the cheese slices and olive, and cry from a tummy ache for the rest of the day. And if I tried to create a one-eyed monster with a Fuji apple, it wouldn’t be the same.)
I do love some of the Bento Box lunch ideas on the site, including “Momables,” which include lunch meat, crackers, cheese and fruit that are packed on Sunday for the entire week. I could probably make those work, if I can get my hubby and kids to avoid eating them for dinner or as after-school snacks.
What I really need are lunch ideas that are quick, easy, inexpensive and healthful.
That’s why I sought advice from Dr. Keith Kantor, a Norfolk, Georgia-based nutritionist who serves on the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award Committee. He has been conducting interviews with media outlets all over the country to share his back-to-school lunch tips. Here are some of the ideas he shared with me.
1. Get organized.
“You just have to try and plan it,” Kantor said. “You can make them the night before so it’s not a crazy rush in the morning.”
2. Cut out the convenience foods.
“One of the things I would try to avoid is processed foods that have all of the additives, preservatives, dyes and everything else you can think of,” Kantor said. “Too much sugar; too much salt. If you make it yourself, you know what the children are getting.”
3. Send water as your child’s beverage.
“Even if it’s juice, there’s extra sugar in it, or high fructose corn syrup,” Kantor said.
And if your kiddos aren’t a fan of straight water, he recommends flavoring it with lemon or other fresh fruit.
4. Create a lunch that includes these four components: a protein, a fruit, a vegetable, and a whole grain or gluten-free option.
5. Try a different take on peanut butter and jelly.
Kantor recommends combining a tablespoon of almond butter or sunflower butter with fresh berries or a natural fruit spread on two slices of gluten-free bread or thin-sliced whole wheat bread. He suggests pairing it with an apple, some carrot sticks and a serving of hummus. “The kids sort of think it’s cool to dip,” he said.
Another menu item Kantor recommends is almond crackers with a cup of tuna or homemade chicken salad, an ounce of cheese and some mustard. He recommends pairing it with a banana and a cup of cucumber slices with guacamole for dipping.
6. Keep your child involved in the process.
The more input they have in the food that goes into their lunches, the more likely it is they’ll eat it, Kantor said.
View more of his tips and additional menu ideas at Dr. Kantor's website.
Staff writer Lisa Pemberton is one busy mama with three young children. Reach her at 360-754-5433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.