The Village - The school lunch formula

Helping to raise parents with our own blend of parenting stories, advice and cool finds.
The village: helping raise parents with our own blend of parenting stories, advice, hacks and cool finds
Apple, sandwich, crackers, baby carrots and a granola bar.

CREATE

The school lunch formula

By Adam Frost

When my daughter started kindergarten, my wife and I agreed that I would be responsible for making lunches in the morning. She is now in grade 5 and my son is in grade 3, so while I’m not an expert, I do have some experience. In the beginning, I had visions of being that parent that made cutesy shapes and wrote little notes that would remind them of their father’s love right when they needed to hear it. That didn’t happen. Mostly, I have found that my kids really couldn’t care less for fun shapes and sizes and the only note I really want to write is “EAT YOUR CARROTS!” With that said, my children consistently eat most of what I give them and I don’t feel like I’m taking too many shortcuts. Over the years I’ve developed a formula that we all seem to be pretty satisfied with. So, I’m sharing it hoping that it helps takes some of the stress out of preparing daily lunches for you.

“Repetition isn't a bad thing.”

First off, I’m guessing your school may have some kind of catering option. If this is something that you can afford and feel will make life more manageable – go for it. Honestly making lunches every morning is not the favorite part of my day. I don’t use the catering option because I kept forgetting to place our order before the deadline and since I still have to send them to school with their snacks. I figure I might as well make their lunch too and save some money. If you are more organized than I am, you might consider choosing the catered meal even if it’s only once or twice a week.

Secondly, repetition isn’t a bad thing. These are the same kids who could watch Frozen 50 times in a row. They actually enjoy getting the same thing most of the time. I initially felt I had to prepare a variety of lunches and spent hours researching different blogs looking for recipes or for inspiration. Turns out my children hate new things and trying something new takes twice as long as doing something familiar, especially at 7:00am. A random Wednesday morning is not the moment to spring a new concoction on your kids. Save the new recipes for the weekend before adding it to the rotation.

Thirdly, you are going to need some gear. Some schools offer microwaves to heat up lunches but my kids prefer using thermoses so they don’t have to line up to use the microwave and waste precious free time hanging out with their friends. Click here for the list of products that I use. (Full disclosure: Nobody is sponsoring this).

Finally, your kids are not going to eat their entire lunch every day. They know how much they need to eat so trust their guts. If they consistently don’t finish or complain they are still hungry, adjust the portion sizes. I have an ongoing battle with my son regarding fruits and vegetables. Our precarious truce hinges on the idea that if he doesn’t eat them, he will get lunches that consists of only those things. So far, the threat is working, but he is getting trickier with each passing year so we’ll see.

The formula:
1 x MAIN COURSE, 2 x SNACKS, 1-2 x FRUIT,
1 x DESSERT + BOTTLE OF WATER.

Main courses

SANDWICH

My kids never liked wraps but I figure that they also belong in this category. When I realize too late that I’m out of bread, I slice the cheese and meats up into nice rectangles so they can make cracker sandwiches themselves. Figure out a few different sandwiches/wraps your kids enjoy and stick to them. My son prefers sandwiches so he usually gets this as his main twice a week while my daughter only once.

PASTA

Boiling up some pasta first thing in the morning takes some practice but this is actually one of my favorite lunches to make because my kids always love it and when I’m done, I actually feel proud of myself…like I belong to that club of super parents that I often read about on the internet. This can simply be penne tossed with left over tomato sauce and some cream for a rosé. I’ve found 50-60 grams of pasta per kid to be the perfect portion size. I’ll share my go-to quick Lunch Pasta recipe that I make nearly every week. Both kids get pasta once per week, twice if it is a leftover.

SOUP

For my son its tomato and for my daughter chicken noodle. Occasionally I make different soups from scratch, but I actually love just opening up a can of Campbell’s cause it’s easy and there is a certain amount of nostalgia. Is it the healthiest option? Nope. But I give myself a pass on it cause overall I feel we are doing a pretty good job on the nutrition side of the equation. My kids get soup once a week, every week and I always include a portion of crackers to eat with their soup.

LEFTOVERS

This can be tricky. Basically, you need to schedule at least one dinner a week that you know you can give your kids the next day. More often than not this is a pasta dish because they are the easiest to reheat. My daughter enjoys left over fried rice and shepherd’s pie. Both kids enjoy left over mashed potatoes with gravy and roast chicken, chili, etc. My son rarely wants leftovers so often he gets his second sandwich on a left-over day, while my daughter usually gets two leftover days per week. I like to schedule one leftover day for Monday using either Saturday or Sunday’s supper.

“ I try my very best to not use individually packaged goods. First because its expensive and second because I feel guilty about all that packaging.”

SNACK #1

Gold Fish, e-v-e-r-y d-a-y. I skipped a day once, and I’m still haunted by the memory of the ensuing rage. I expect some other cracker substitute could work here; I’m just not brave enough to try.

SNACK #2

Vegetable – Baby Carrots, Cut Up Cucumber, Cut up Red Pepper, Little Grape Tomatoes. My son goes through bouts of only carrots for two months, then only cucumber. He also rarely eats this at school, and it almost always becomes his afterschool snack before his preferred afterschool snack when he gets home.

FRUIT

Berries, Grapes, Apple, Orange (peeled and pulled apart early on), OR if your kid is as stubborn as my Henry, apple sauce in a reusable squeeze pouch. As a special treat I’ll occasionally purchase fruit roll-ups or that candy that says it might have some juice and Vitamin C. But this is in addition to their regular fruit ration and I usually eat it all before it can make its way into my kids lunches anyway. My daughter who tends to eat more than my son always gets two portions of fruit.

DESSERT

I try my very best to not use individually packaged goods. First because its expensive and second because I feel guilty about all that packaging. I give myself a pass on dessert. Occasionally we make something on the weekend that lasts until Monday. Muffins (try this recipe), brownies, squares, cookies, etc. However, mostly they get a granola bar. I feel that once you accept that a granola bar qualifies as a dessert you don’t really need to go for the “healthy” option. I have a few varieties that I like to cycle through to keep them guessing. If they have been especially good, I give them those chocolate dipped granola bars. Click here for my wife’s homemade recipe when we realize Sunday night that we are out of granola bars, hopefully at 10pm on a Sunday night you’ll make yours with love and not resentment.

DRINK

Bottle of water. We have some stainless-steel reusable water bottles from Littlebluehouse.com that the kids use every day. I don’t like the idea of juice boxes because of the packaging, but if it makes you and your kids happy – go for it. For us, it’s never been an option. They often have a glass of juice or milk with their breakfast and the option is also there at supper so I don’t feel compelled to give them anything but water at lunch.

So that’s the formula that has worked for me these past 6 years. Takes me 20-30 minutes every morning. My kids seem pretty healthy and as far as I can tell, they love me still.

About the Author: Adam Frost started working for Hatley right out of university 20 years ago. Along the way he got married to his wife of 15 years Annie and they have two kids: Emalyn and Henry. Both children have played integral roles as Hatley product testers and enjoyed short but successful modeling careers back when they were cute and well- behaved.

CREATE

The school lunch formula

By Adam Frost

When my daughter started kindergarten, my wife and I agreed that I would be responsible for making lunches in the morning. She is now in grade 5 and my son is in grade 3, so while I’m not an expert, I do have some experience. In the beginning, I had visions of being that parent that made cutesy shapes and wrote little notes that would remind them of their father’s love right when they needed to hear it. That didn’t happen. Mostly, I have found that my kids really couldn’t care less for fun shapes and sizes and the only note I really want to write is “EAT YOUR CARROTS!” With that said, my children consistently eat most of what I give them and I don’t feel like I’m taking too many shortcuts. Over the years I’ve developed a formula that we all seem to be pretty satisfied with. So, I’m sharing it hoping that it helps takes some of the stress out of preparing daily lunches for you.

“Repetition isn't a bad thing.”

First off, I’m guessing your school may have some kind of catering option. If this is something that you can afford and feel will make life more manageable – go for it. Honestly making lunches every morning is not the favorite part of my day. I don’t use the catering option because I kept forgetting to place our order before the deadline and since I still have to send them to school with their snacks. I figure I might as well make their lunch too and save some money. If you are more organized than I am, you might consider choosing the catered meal even if it’s only once or twice a week.

Secondly, repetition isn’t a bad thing. These are the same kids who could watch Frozen 50 times in a row. They actually enjoy getting the same thing most of the time. I initially felt I had to prepare a variety of lunches and spent hours researching different blogs looking for recipes or for inspiration. Turns out my children hate new things and trying something new takes twice as long as doing something familiar, especially at 7:00am. A random Wednesday morning is not the moment to spring a new concoction on your kids. Save the new recipes for the weekend before adding it to the rotation.

Thirdly, you are going to need some gear. Some schools offer microwaves to heat up lunches but my kids prefer using thermoses so they don’t have to line up to use the microwave and waste precious free time hanging out with their friends. Click here for the list of products that I use. (Full disclosure: Nobody is sponsoring this).

Finally, your kids are not going to eat their entire lunch every day. They know how much they need to eat so trust their guts. If they consistently don’t finish or complain they are still hungry, adjust the portion sizes. I have an ongoing battle with my son regarding fruits and vegetables. Our precarious truce hinges on the idea that if he doesn’t eat them, he will get lunches that consists of only those things. So far, the threat is working, but he is getting trickier with each passing year so we’ll see.

The formula:
1 x MAIN COURSE, 2 x SNACKS, 1-2 x FRUIT,
1 x DESSERT + BOTTLE OF WATER.

Main courses

SANDWICH

My kids never liked wraps but I figure that they also belong in this category. When I realize too late that I’m out of bread, I slice the cheese and meats up into nice rectangles so they can make cracker sandwiches themselves. Figure out a few different sandwiches/wraps your kids enjoy and stick to them. My son prefers sandwiches so he usually gets this as his main twice a week while my daughter only once.

PASTA

Boiling up some pasta first thing in the morning takes some practice but this is actually one of my favorite lunches to make because my kids always love it and when I’m done, I actually feel proud of myself…like I belong to that club of super parents that I often read about on the internet. This can simply be penne tossed with left over tomato sauce and some cream for a rosé. I’ve found 50-60 grams of pasta per kid to be the perfect portion size. I’ll share my go-to quick Lunch Pasta recipe that I make nearly every week. Both kids get pasta once per week, twice if it is a leftover.

SOUP

For my son its tomato and for my daughter chicken noodle. Occasionally I make different soups from scratch, but I actually love just opening up a can of Campbell’s cause it’s easy and there is a certain amount of nostalgia. Is it the healthiest option? Nope. But I give myself a pass on it cause overall I feel we are doing a pretty good job on the nutrition side of the equation. My kids get soup once a week, every week and I always include a portion of crackers to eat with their soup.

LEFTOVERS

This can be tricky. Basically, you need to schedule at least one dinner a week that you know you can give your kids the next day. More often than not this is a pasta dish because they are the easiest to reheat. My daughter enjoys left over fried rice and shepherd’s pie. Both kids enjoy left over mashed potatoes with gravy and roast chicken, chili, etc. My son rarely wants leftovers so often he gets his second sandwich on a left-over day, while my daughter usually gets two leftover days per week. I like to schedule one leftover day for Monday using either Saturday or Sunday’s supper.

“ I try my very best to not use individually packaged goods. First because its expensive and second because I feel guilty about all that packaging.”

SNACK #1

Gold Fish, e-v-e-r-y d-a-y. I skipped a day once, and I’m still haunted by the memory of the ensuing rage. I expect some other cracker substitute could work here; I’m just not brave enough to try.

SNACK #2

Vegetable – Baby Carrots, Cut Up Cucumber, Cut up Red Pepper, Little Grape Tomatoes. My son goes through bouts of only carrots for two months, then only cucumber. He also rarely eats this at school, and it almost always becomes his afterschool snack before his preferred afterschool snack when he gets home.

FRUIT

Berries, Grapes, Apple, Orange (peeled and pulled apart early on), OR if your kid is as stubborn as my Henry, apple sauce in a reusable squeeze pouch. As a special treat I’ll occasionally purchase fruit roll-ups or that candy that says it might have some juice and Vitamin C. But this is in addition to their regular fruit ration and I usually eat it all before it can make its way into my kids lunches anyway. My daughter who tends to eat more than my son always gets two portions of fruit.

DESSERT

I try my very best to not use individually packaged goods. First because its expensive and second because I feel guilty about all that packaging. I give myself a pass on dessert. Occasionally we make something on the weekend that lasts until Monday. Muffins (try this recipe), brownies, squares, cookies, etc. However, mostly they get a granola bar. I feel that once you accept that a granola bar qualifies as a dessert you don’t really need to go for the “healthy” option. I have a few varieties that I like to cycle through to keep them guessing. If they have been especially good, I give them those chocolate dipped granola bars. Click here for my wife’s homemade recipe when we realize Sunday night that we are out of granola bars, hopefully at 10pm on a Sunday night you’ll make yours with love and not resentment.

DRINK

Bottle of water. We have some stainless-steel reusable water bottles from Littlebluehouse.com that the kids use every day. I don’t like the idea of juice boxes because of the packaging, but if it makes you and your kids happy – go for it. For us, it’s never been an option. They often have a glass of juice or milk with their breakfast and the option is also there at supper so I don’t feel compelled to give them anything but water at lunch.

So that’s the formula that has worked for me these past 6 years. Takes me 20-30 minutes every morning. My kids seem pretty healthy and as far as I can tell, they love me still.

About the Author: Adam Frost started working for Hatley right out of university 20 years ago. Along the way he got married to his wife of 15 years Annie and they have two kids: Emalyn and Henry. Both children have played integral roles as Hatley product testers and enjoyed short but successful modeling careers back when they were cute and well- behaved.

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