School lunch plans… keeping it real

June 6, 2016

Have you ever seen those images of “school lunch at beginning of year” versus “school lunch at the end of year”? In honor of the last week of school, I’m posting one of my beginning-of-the-year-ones here. Check out the homemade taco cups with turkey breast picadillo, fruit, cucumbers drizzled in a balsamic vinaigrette, and a cheese stick! The end of the year lunch… well, there’s a reason why I’m not taking any pictures.

The lunch in the picture was inspired by a PDF cookbook I ordered that offered several weeks of meal plans for healthy lunches for your kids. The basic principle is that you buy everything on Sunday, do a lot of weekend prep work, and then trot out your child’s homemade falafels and chicken nuggets as the week goes on, accessorized by fruits, homemade protein bars, and vegetables. I intended to follow the whole scheme to the letter and dutifully purchased the first week’s ingredients sometime last August. The recipes were tasty, but we hit road blocks almost immediately when my daughter refused to eat some of the things that were in the meal plan. She is good with vegetables but picky about meat/chicken/etc, with the end result that much of the cute little child-sized entrees were returning uneaten at the end of the day.  Sometimes the meal plan had you revisit foods that were used earlier in the week, such as roasted vegetables that were delicious the first day but by Thursday had become shriveled and unappetizing. I’m not sure how many people have kids who can eat cold, three-day-old broccoli, but my second grader isn’t one of them.

The other problem was simply that the recipes, while claiming to streamline your life, involved way too much preparation on the weekends. On some weeks, when I’m feeling organized, I try to plan the week’s meals for the family on Sunday and get the shopping done then, but this added a whole new level of planning and organizing both school lunches that came home uneaten, plus family dinners. So in the end, the cookbook didn’t work out that well for us, and it became one of those documents on my overcrowded computer desktop that stared at me reproachfully, with its slick photos of a gorgeous family full of helpful children munching happily on sliced peppers while organizing the next day’s lunch into colorful Bento boxes. The casual, yet military-like discipline involved in such a life is something I admire without honestly wanting to aspire to.

The end of the year reality, not pictured here, was a six a.m. excavation through the freezer in search of the last remaining prepackaged PB&Js while the baby cried. That’s not to say I won’t be full of inspiration again in August, stocking up on metal Bento boxes and planning a week of vegetarian lunches for my third grader, but for now I’m just glad it’s the end of the year and I can focus solely on what’s for dinner.

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