Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lunch Packing Angst?

As I prepare to dash off to the Elementary School open house for my older sons this afternoon, it hits me like a ton of bricks: lunch packing begins next week! Now I've always been a fan of the brown bag concept, whether for me or my husband while working outside the home (goodbye $9 super-sized sammies!) or the children, there is a certain level of organization, preparation and, well, work involved in the whole thing. But as I opened up today's Washington Post, I read with curious interest about the concept of lunch-packing angst. Angst, really??

But then I thought back to my early school lunch packing days, especially when I was working full-time AND had travel, and how horribly I felt when the kids got a plain old sandwich or worse, pre-packaged lunch items. The horror! I mean, isn't there some sort of lunchtime parenting judge out there determining my parenting worth across multiple factors including healthiness of lunch, packaging "greenness" and pediatric gastric satisfaction? The answer is of course, no, but that doesn't mean that packing a lunch day-in day-out is a breeze, either.

Over the years, I've learned a few tricks, mainly:

  • Streamline the process: I make lunches on Sunday and Wednesday nights, putting the "parts" in a special bin in the fridge to be inserted the night before into our lunch bag.

  • ALWAYS the night before: There's no quicker way to kill a lunchbox routine than trying to slap together a bologna sandwich while simultaneously feeding a baby and screaming for the kids to hurry up or they'll miss the darned bus already!

  • Get creative: Any sandwich made onto a tortilla, rolled and cut like a spiral is instantly new and fun. Put in parts for a pita pizza. But don't stress yourself out making food art; if the kids are hungry, they'll eat it.

  • Solo Packing: The same person that makes the lunch should empty it out at the end of the day. That way the packer has a sense for what's popular, what comes home, and when the kids are just too busy goofing off at lunch to eat.

  • Use good products: After destroying the nylon lunch bag from Target before week 3 of school last year, we upgraded to the LL Bean Bags that are not only tough but come with a lifetime warranty. We use reusable water bottles (BPA free, but more on that later) and usually Gladware or other reusable containers.
Let me take a moment to address the Green lunch phenomenon and the companion level of stress this has added to lunch packers everywhere. We're making lots of earth-friendly strides here at the Folsom household but there is a limit to what you can do. Yes, try and find plastics and vinyl that don't contain BPA or other toxins, but don't throw out the old stuff into the landfill in the process. You don't need to use 6 ziploc baggies for each lunch, but if you put Triscuits in the same Gladware with your PB&J they will all be mushy, use that ziploc!!! There are schools of thought for using aluminum foil and wax paper, but neither can be recycled (though you can buy recycled products). I am intrigued by the Bento Box concept, though I haven't taken the plunge. Check out this great Bento Lunch Box blog for tips, recipes and fun lunch ideas. You can pack hot and cold foods, get lots of variety without everything getting all squished together, and it's a "green" way to go. I know I'm inspired!

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