A new lunch plan for DC1

Getting DC1 to make hir lunch last year was an exercise in unpleasantness, so in the end we gave in and just had hir do cafeteria lunches.  It worked out relatively well.  This year at the middle school has been a bit worse– DC1 has been enjoying cafeteria lunches, BUT the cafeteria lunches are no longer healthy.  Basically DC1 gets cheese, pepperoni, or sausage pizza and fries, unless zie remembers to specifically request something other than fries.  Fries are the cafeteria server’s default.  In THEORY there are three different lunch stations, and in theory one of those stations is entirely salads (the third station has more traditional not-that-healthy cafeteria fare).  DC1 promised to try to choose healthier food options, but in the end just ended up eating cheese pizza and fries and the occasional fruit cup or carrot sticks for lunch 5 days a week.  Zie says zie doesn’t want the traditional cafeteria food (which usually isn’t any healthier than pizza– think chicken patty sandwiches without condiments, corndogs, or breadsticks and baked potato) and zie hasn’t been able to find the salad station.

Since school started, DC1 has become much more picky about not eating healthy food at home as well.  Which is annoying.  DH and I suspect the monochrome meals at school are contributing to skipping the vegetable portion of dinner.  We don’t like it.

So we’re trying something new.  Since we’re now higher income and pre-made healthy things are “in”, we’re letting DC1 pick out a bunch of overpriced healthy meals like pre-made salads, guacamole packs (which are like fruit cups, but with guacamole instead), and, of course, our standard applesauce/fruitcup/crunchy legume sides.  We also have a bunch more adorable lunch containers because I put a bunch on the amazon wishlist after writing this post and my mom came through with them at Christmas.   The hope is that this will produce less lunch-making angst than did actually making zir own salad/sandwich/etc.

I vaguely recall when I was in middle school, the lunches I made were mostly packaged orange-colored crackers with peanut butter (or better, the packaged sticks with dipping cheese), Doritos, and an apple.  Sometimes I would even get a Little Debbie snack-cake.  There are a lot healthier packaged options these days for those willing and able to pay for them.

How do/did you deal with middle schooler lunches?  How healthy are/were the school lunches you know or remember?

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Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , . 46 Comments »

46 Responses to “A new lunch plan for DC1”

  1. Solitary Diner Says:

    For some reason, I think school lunches are much less a thing in Canada than they are in the States. I didn’t even have an option of buying lunch at school until I was in high school (grade 10).

    It appalls me that publicly funded schools serve such terrible food. And then people decry “the obesity crisis”. Why is anyone surprised that we have food-related illnesses when we teach our kids to eat crap?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Part of this is the roll-back of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s move” initiative. Part of it is being at a school for older kids.

    • crazy mama, PhD Says:

      That was my experience in Canada, too—there were no cafeterias at my schools. In elementary school, a sizable fraction of kids would walk home at lunch to eat hot meals prepared by their stay-at-home mothers. In high school, we sometimes bought lunch from a local shopping center.

      I mostly brought a packed lunch of sandwich + fruit + [something else like pretzels] + dessert.

  2. Shannon Says:

    We have lots of issues with our kids eating health at school. But then I remember that like you, I ate total crap when I was in school. Pretty much every day I had a sugary lemonade and french fries for lunch. Ultimately, I turned out pretty okay eating wise – there’s not much I won’t eat these days. So we’ve somewhat decided to let it go and focus on reinforcing the concept of healthy eating at home – which doesn’t always work. One thing we are focusing on is budgeting. We give them a set amount of money to eat at the cafeteria each month. Once they overspend that, they can either dip into their allowance or pack a lunch. After our oldest had to dip into the allowance a few times, he has started packing his lunch more frequently. Win win.

      • Zenmoo Says:

        That was also the approach my parents took. I had to prepare a budget to justify how much I would get for my weekly pocket money that indicated how much various things I might want to buy (e.g. cassettes, magazines, school lunch cost) and we negotiated a “reasonable consumption” of items (e.g. a couple of magazines a month) and if I wanted to spend outside those categories I could economise or trade off. So if I wanted to spend all my money on music one week, I could- but I’d be eating popcorn or packing my lunch as a trade off. It was actually really good as a 12 year old to be making those trade offs.

  3. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    My oldest child is not yet in middle school, but the big ones both insist on packing a lunch every day. Pb&j (our district has a pb-free table), veg, little one also takes a banana and some crackers.

    My mother packed me the crunchy-granola-est of lunches as a child in the rural South. Cream cheese and sprouts! Tahini and honey! Homemade yogurt! Hummus! Pine nuts! Weird vegetarian nut loaf! Whole wheat peanut butter cookies and the infamous carob prune orange brownies! There was a lot of incredulous staring. Most of those are pretty mainstream now but not in rural VA circa 1988. (And the carob orange brownies are an abomination.) The spouse & I live in a small college town now though, so nobody blinks at your kid having leftover tofu spring rolls for lunch.

    What we tell our kids is that their bodies need a balance of food (I had a lot of healthy/ unhealthy propaganda growing up and I prefer a different approach). And especially they need to pay attention to vegetables and proteins because they usually get enough breads and fruits.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DC2 can’t take any nuts, but DC1 is allowed to take nuts but still not peanuts. So we have sunbutter, but they only like sunbutter when it is packed with sugar and more like a creamy suncandy.

      Back when I was in elementary, my father would pack me a European lunch– usually a roll and a hunk of cheese with a piece of fruit (he grew up in Europe during the depression and WWII, so he never got over how amazing it is that the US has fresh fruit available year round). People would make fun of me for not having a sandwich. But today there’s all sorts of crazy bento options!

      Carob is wrong.

  4. EB Says:

    My kids (all skinny, so some issues did not arise) ate a healthy breakfast and a healthy dinner, so I didn’t stress out about lunch. Which I’m not sure they ate that much of anyway, since they only had 20 minutes to get to the caf, eat, and get back to the classroom area. In K-5, I made their lunches. The thought of 3 of them trying to make lunches and get out the door on time was what did stress me out.

  5. Lucy Says:

    I remember freshly-cooked meals in the school cafeteria that included appetizer, entree and dessert. So it would be some vegetable/soup/pasta for appetizer and meat/fish+salad for entree. Now, flavor was not always the best. My brother was a picky eater, so my parents had us take a thermos with home-cooked food. This was in Europe.
    Now that I am in the US I am appalled by food choices here. I will never eat in my univ cafeteria. Everything is so salty/spicy/greasy that I home-cook my lunch (which is more of dinner for me, as my dinners are very very light).

  6. bogart Says:

    In 2nd or 3rd grade, the kid realized that on Mondays the cafeteria served pizza on Mondays and asked to eat school lunch on Mondays. I said OK. I prepare all other lunches, as the quality and nutritional benefit of the school lunches strike me as extremely suspect, and doing the prep myself allows me to have significant, though not absolute, control over what goes in the school lunch. In general at present that is (a) ham sandwich on store-bought sourdough bread (loss of control, here — if I were 100% in charge, it would be store-bought whole wheat bread and PB&J); (b) smallish tupperware containers of two of the following: grapes, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, cuke squares, melon cubes, raspberries. Or a tangerine, which requires no container. I’d like the (scrawny, active) kid to eat more lunch, period, but as for @EB, they only get 20 minutes and that seems to be about all he can/will eat in that interval.

    If I lose (more) control over what goes in the lunchbox, I’ll hand over responsibility for fixing the lunch to the kid. For now I’m willing to do it, to the extent that I can control/limit what goes in there.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I wish it were only once a week! Or that they put veggies on the pizzas…

      DC2 has started refusing raspberries. What is up with that? (Zie is taking in two bags of tangerines for snack tomorrow!)

    • NessieMonster Says:

      Good grief, your kids only get a 20min lunch break?! Is that common in the US? We always had an hour for lunch in the UK, from starting school aged 5 and finishing at 18. And had 1 or 2 20min breaks in addition!

      School lunches weren’t great so I always made my own. Think I started making my own sandwiches aged 8 or 9. Ham sandwich, salted crisps, cucumber or cherry tomatoes, a yoghurt, and a small chocolatey snack. Not the healthiest but I was a picky eater as a kid.

  7. chacha1 Says:

    My home-packed school lunches were either PB&J or baloney & cheese sandwiches, with maybe a sliced apple. All these magical convenience packages did not exist in 1977. :-) Kids today, with their choices!

    Our cafeteria had a rotation of very bad pizza, “Salisbury steak,” with maybe meatloaf, fried chicken & “mashed potatoes,” (these would be the ones that come in a box) or burger mac & cheese? Very much starch + cheese + processed meat product. I can’t really remember after all these years … except that being a kid, the very bad pizza was fine with me. The Salisbury steak was abominable. I actually can remember the sense of betrayal of tasting something labeled “steak” that was THAT BAD.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I used to really like bologna, but I’m not sure if my kids have ever even tried it. (I also used to really like sardines, which my kids have both since grown out of.)

      Your cafeteria sounds like ours! I was the only kid who didn’t like the very bad pizza and I never ate it. I liked the Salisbury steak ok. My favorite was always the breaded chicken patty on a bun. We always had a little thing of heated canned margarined veggie or cooled sweetened canned fruit.

  8. hypatia cade Says:

    For all that school lunch seems unhealthy, someone reminded me recently (in a conversation about whether or not there should be school release following a major sporting win for the region) that for many kids school lunch is about nutrition. So the (high) calorie and fat lunches conform to guidelines assuming that lunch might be the only meal you eat that day. I don’t know why that means no/nasty vegetables are required but it helped me reframe the healthfulness of school lunch in my mind. My kid isn’t old enough for the allowance/packing tradeoff but I like that suggestion and am filing it for a future year.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It was a lot better a couple of years ago when our school district won a “Let’s Move” grant (at least based on the online menus and pictures). You can still have calorie packed food that’s nutritious!

      Jamie Oliver had a really informative program about school lunches a few years back.

  9. jasonedwards57 Says:

    Well, I don’t have a middle schooler, but I remember brown bagging it because that is what most of the cool kids did and also the school lunches, including the pizza wasn’t that good. However, I remember we didn’t have stations like they do today. That is way different. But I think your choice of premade items isn’t a bad thing at all. I mean you could also branch out into super market sushi if you stop before the school day or something, but that requires more planning and the like. I like your idea though.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think we started having the stations option at the middle school back when I was a kid.

      That’s a great idea re: sushi (though about 2x as expensive, so maybe I shouldn’t mention it as zie likes sushi even more than pizza! We could probably use hir sushi-making kit more often. DC2 definitely likes it when we send a couple sliced pieces of veggie rolls.)

  10. M Says:

    We didn’t really have school lunches growing up. In high school, there was the option of pizza or poutine (Canada :)) but it was pretty obvious (to everyone) that this was junk food and not a real lunch, so my friends and I would usually only buy this once a week as a treat. I packed my own lunch since forever, and it wasn’t great relative to my standards now, but in the grand scheme of things, was pretty decent. My mom’s rule was that you had to pack one fruit every day (real fruit), we had real fruit juice boxes (obviously not the healthiest, but it was the 90’s), a granola bar, and then usually one other treat-type food (I loved jello puddings). Then the “main.” I had sandwiches sometimes (always whole wheat), but wasn’t a huge fan so typically brought soup in a thermos (usually campbell’s) or salad or crackers/cheese/lunch meat was a favorite.

    We dealt with my stepkid’s lunches for a long time and it was a challenge. We tried the “you can buy one meal a week and pack the rest” thing and I personally liked that option a lot for balance. I made a big list of suggested “healthy options”, including fun/creative ones. And I bought fancy bento lunch boxes. The problem is that they didn’t like eating home lunches (obviously school lunch is much more gratifying), and eventually their mom thwarted our healthy lunch efforts by giving them money to buy school lunch everyday, against our wishes. That was really frustrating. They are fat kids at heart since their mom is overweight and doesn’t seem to care about nutrition, so it’s pretty hard to push a healthy eating agenda when the other parent is making fun of us and calling us hippies and health nuts, or whatever (and we’re really not that extreme), and allowing/encouraging the kids to eat large amounts of junky things. Now we’ve pretty much given up, and basically just encourage any sort of balance we can get.

    One thing I have learned with these guys is that variety is good. Whenever we found something that they were super happy to take in their lunch (e.g., ham sandwich, certain type of yogourt, etc), the enthusiasm was always short-lived. So novelty of “exciting yet still healthy” foods was important.

    My youngest gets lunch at daycare, and it’s not as healthy as what I would want, but at least there’s always a fruit, always a veggie, always a protein (for lunch… not necessarily breakfast), no juice, and generally at least some “mainstream” healthy choices.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Poutine! If you’re gonna have french fries for lunch, they should at least have cheese and gravy!

      It has been getting harder and harder to pack things for DC2 because hir span of liking things seems to have gotten a lot shorter! Today we sent a little can of bumblebee chicken salad with crackers (that we had initially gotten for DC1) we’ll see how that went over. But I’m sure if we send it 3 times within a 6 month period it’ll get sent home uneaten even if zie loved it the first two times.

  11. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I had both reduced price hot lunches and brown bagged a lot – quality was pretty iffy and I’m sure I did myself no favors with my middle school and high school diets. So much box cake and Dominos. But I ate lots and lots of home cooked meals that were healthy until I went to school so I learned early to choose healthy foods almost as much as I did unhealthy foods.

    This effect is why I am aggravated at being forced to pay for school lunch in daycare later this year – their offerings stink! If I wanted my kid to be eating pizza and corn dogs at age 3, we’d feed zir that. And honestly, if it was just one unhealthy meal a day, I wouldn’t fuss about it but I know my kid and ze likes patterns. If ze gets unhealthy food for one meal, ze wants that over and over and ignores zir veggies at meals thereafter. I don’t appreciate being forced to pay for an option that’s going to ultimately make our lives harder.

  12. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I don’t remember what my son ate at different ages, but I remember it as always being a rather limited repertoire (still is at age 21). One that worked well from ages 0.5 to about 15 was cold kinugoshi (silk) tofu with soy sauce.

  13. Anne M Says:

    The lunch at Child’s middle-school seems to be OK if you eat from the changing menu, but you can also buy pizza, burgers, and chicken patties every day. Child was getting very upset at having to wait until Child’s table was called up to the cafeteria line, so I started making lunch to bring from home (Child isn’t ready to take over this task yet). It had to be something that needs no refrigeration, so the main part is sunbutter & jelly sandwiches.
    Milk is an individual UHT box, chilled for flavor.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DC1 seems incapable of choosing anything other than pizza if pizza is available. At least zie is honest about it! DC2 will eat a sb&j sandwich about once every 2 weeks– any more frequent than that and it comes home uneaten.

  14. Cloud Says:

    I think I ate a bagel and cream cheese almost every day in middle school (bought at the cafeteria). This was at least better than my friend who got a milkshake and french fries almost every day. At that phase in my life, my fruit and vegetable intake was almost non-existent.

    My 5th grader packs every day. My 2nd grader packs every day except Friday, when they have chicken nuggets. The school lunches are pretty balanced (they even highlight local produce!) but there’s no way to guarantee my kids would actually eat the healthy stuff, so I just don’t worry about it. If they follow my path, they’ll eventually find their way to healthier eating on their own. We set the example and limit the really junky stuff and support them in anything they want to try… and beyond that I try not to care. I won’t make them something special for dinner, but they’re both getting old enough now to go get an alternative on their own if they won’t eat what we have.

  15. becca Says:

    Kiddo the elder brown bags about 4 days a week and eats pizza lunch on Fridays. Ze is still elementary school though, so I think that helps me get away with that.

    I make the lunches- always the same format (fruit snack or other treat, fresh fruit, fresh veggie if I have it and think ze will eat it- usually requires ranch dressing, and a turkey and swiss sandwich). Ze usually drinks milk at school, but sometimes they have Capri Sun which makes me Grumpy. They also sometimes have ice cream. Zir *average* consumption of ice cream is fine, but it is very lumpily distributed.
    Kiddo eats at the PB free table, so we don’t pack PB sandwiches even though ze likes them.

    To the degree my child is “easy” (and in the grand scheme of things, ze is), it’s all to Dad’s credit. Dad will eat anything (except tofu) and expects the same of the kids. So far it’s working really well on the 15 month old (making allowances for what ze can/can’t chew) and kiddo the elder is still FAR less picky than I.

    So far this year we’ve spent $220 on school lunches/milks/ice creams. I think that will take us through the end of the year. I feel this is kind of a lot, considering how many groceries we also buy. I don’t understand how in 1990, milk was $2.78/gallon, and in 2017 milk was $3.17/gallon and in 1990 school milk cost $0.25 and in 2017 school milk costs $0.50. I blame Republicans and/or USDA. It’s certainly not going to the dairy farmers, I can promise you that!!!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Easy is good!

      It looks like the cost of (subsidized) school milk kept up with inflation but milk production has gotten less expensive. That makes a certain amount of sense.

      • becca Says:

        Average milk production may have gotten cheaper as farms have gotten larger to harness economy of scale. I think production costs for smaller farms are not down enough to explain much, but most farms are getting larger.

        I think demand for drinkable milk is down at the supermarket, not sure about schools?

        To my mind the most likely explanation is a change in priorities by the USDA. If that’s because the USDA has expanded school breakfast and so there is more subsidized milk out there, just differently targeted, it’s fine. But if we’re just propping up dairy farming less and letting schools substitute Capri Sun for milk, I am Grumpy.

      • chacha1 Says:

        Now I think we’re propping up the almond and soy farmers who produce all that fake milk (gag).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Soy farmers represent!

  16. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    Some of you may be interested in the school-lunch history at http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodschools.html

  17. Calee Says:

    I ate a “Chilito” (Taco Bell chili-cheese burrito) almost every day in 8th grade and loved to tell the tale.

    I’m still making my kids lunches and we have a pretty regular rotation of
    -Bagel bites
    -Sandwich or meatballs
    -hot lunch only on weds at school (pizza or chick fil a)
    – cambells chicken noodle soup with extra chicken added
    – Costco potstickers

    It’s not pretty, but they have 15 minutes to eat and we make sure snacks at home are veggies and they eat lots of no processed things at dinner.

  18. anandar Says:

    We make our 4th and 1st grader make their own lunches the night before, while we’re cleaning up from dinner. They are required to pack at least one in each of these categories: protein (e.g., hummus/hard boiled egg/salami/cheese sandwich/edamame), fruit, veg (v picky, currently their only tolerate carrots, cherry tomatoes, cukes), dairy (cheese stick or yogurt), and snack (crackers, dried fruit, seaweed, fruit roll-up). I like that we enforce variety (plus we are in charge of the options available) but that the kids have agency over the specifics– much less whining than when I made lunches myself.

    I would be happy to occasionally pay for school lunch, though they are not v healthy, but it is assumed that noone who is not on free/reduced lunch would ever pay out of pocket, and so they have never explained to me how a parent would go about paying.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DC2 right now takes FOREVER to decide on what to pack if we give hir agency. I think zie is trying to optimize. Maybe in a year!

      • anandar Says:

        Yeah, our 4th grader is pretty speedy but the 1st grader requires excessive quantities of coaching and redirection– only tolerable because we do it at the same time as general dinner cleanup. In her case, she’s not an optimizer, just easily distracted!

  19. Cloud Says:

    I have to report back in to say that this morning I got a text from my 5th grader telling me my 2nd grader left her packed lunch at home. I think the 5th grader thought one of us would drive home and deliver the lunch. Ha! I replied that 2nd grader could eat from the cafeteria… So later tonight, I’ll hear how that went. I think a quesadilla was an option today, and she usually likes those, so she was probably OK with buying lunch. But if not, perhaps this will help her remember to pack up her school bag in the morning before she starts doing other things.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Dc1 “forgot” hir lunch the day before yesterday and did not mention it to us until I asked why there were still 3 salads in the fridge. Zie had pizza instead. That was nice of big sister!

    • Cloud Says:

      2nd grader did not buy a lunch. There was a sunbutter and jelly sandwich instead of a quesadilla and she was suspicious. (Other options: teriyaki chicken or a BBQ chicken drumstick.) A friend had an “extra” (???) lunchable and gave her that instead. I told her next time she should be brave and pick one of the options to try. I think in practice she will just be much more careful not to forget her lunch!


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