This morning I packed my last school lunch for the year. The last school lunch for R as a first grader, and the last school lunch until late August. Phew, I needed this break.
If I had to give a title to this, my first year of packing a school lunch every day, it would be: School Lunches: The Journey from Perfect to Reality. I began this year excited to get creative with R’s school lunches. Heck, I went on local television to share my ideas, did a whole list of creative school lunch box ideas and even went out of my way to research lunch boxes, containers, thermoses and more. I began this year with visions of my child eating nutritious, perfectly balanced, creative meals at school. I began this year writing notes every day in his lunch box.
Now at the end of the year, only the notes have been consistent.
R is a great home eater, and while he is like any young child in that he has his strong preferences and definite foods to avoid, he likes to eat. So it was somewhat of a surprise that after the initial phase-in of school lunch time, during which his teacher would sit with his class and direct them to eat, R’s eating at lunchtime plummeted. He would return home with only a pittance eaten, and in frustration, I started trying to figure out why his eating was abysmal at school.
Throughout the school year, I gleaned some clues. The first clue came in the form of R, running out to recess, a mere 10 minutes after his lunchtime began, when I was volunteering for his school’s Walking Club. He knew I was going to be there, and in his excitement he rushed and was the first of his class outside. It was then that I learned his school only requires 10 minutes for the students to sit before they are allowed to go outside and play. What child wouldn’t rush their eating to go outside and play with their friends?
The second clue came when he started asking for Lunchables, Kool-Aid, Doritos and chocolate bars. R was watching what others were eating and decided his vegetables and/or fruit were not as exciting as this exotic food that isn’t in our kitchen cabinets (okay, we do get Trader Joe’s version of Doritos and we definitely do have chocolate, but I am certainly not sending him to school with a full size chocolate bar in his lunch). I stepped up my lunch game, with treats that were also nutritious--this helped a bit, but still didn’t help the overall lunch picture.
My final clue came a few weeks ago when R came home with his whole entire lunch eaten. I praised him profusely and then asked, “what do you think was different today?” He responded, “we were able to eat in our classroom today, Mom.” Translation? A less-noisy, less-chaotic, less-crazy eating environment meant lunch was less rushed.
All of these clues have lead me to talk to other parents, both within our school and school system and outside our system, about how their children eat lunch. The consensus seems to be that the first year of eating lunch at school can be challenging, and that it does get easier as the child gets older.
Still, I have to think that there are ways for me to help address these lunch time issues as a parent. First, I am going to talk to our school about extending the minimum eating time before the children can go to recess. Second, there has to be a way to make the lunch room a little less chaotic. Lastly, I will continue my quest to come up with new, school-friendly lunches this summer. But for now, I am going to enjoy a bit of a respite from the school lunch packing days.
After all, after this school year, we all need a bit of a break from the routine...and isn’t that what summer break is all about?
Life is sweet,