Are you ready for back to school and school lunches? You probably know how to pack a school lunch, but do you know how to pack a fast school lunch your kid can actually eat?
I don’t mean how long it takes you to pack it. I mean how long it will take your kid to eat it. Lunchtime in most schools is startlingly short, like 10 minutes short. So whatever kids have for lunch needs to be able to be eaten quickly.
Wonder why lunchboxes come back full of food? According to the School Nutrition Association, lunch can be as little as 20 minutes. This fraction of time includes getting in line for lunch, walking to the lunch room, washing hands and standing in line to get food. By the time they sit down, kids only have about seven to nine minutes to eat.
Did you catch that? 7 to 9 minutes to actually eat lunch!
I can’t even find where I put my coffee cup down in 7 – 9 minutes.
This is why your child gets home from school STARVING. And why any carefully packed lunch you sent in the morning is usually thoroughly rifled through, but not much is eaten. You’d shudder to know what percentage of school lunches get thrown away.
(I’m gonna tell you, brace yourself: upwards of 85% of fruits and vegetables get tossed off the hot lunch tray and an estimated 37% of food overall.)
To avoid so much food waste and one of the giant time sucks at lunch time, have kids bring a packed lunch to school.
Don’t panic–this doesn’t have to be one more thing to do on your to do list. But the benefits of packing a lunch for your child (or better yet, having them back their own lunch!) are really substantial. (Also, before you get sucked into a Pinterest black hole on how to do this, there are some good resources on my pin board.)
Skipping the hot lunch line gives them precious extra minutes to gobble up a sufficient amount of food to get them through the rest of the school day. And if they help pack it, their lunch will include foods they are familiar with and more willing to eat. And you can teach them how to think through what a balanced diet looks like and all that, which will get you some parenting bonus points.
But all packed lunches are not created equal. At least from a speed-of-eating perspective.
4 Tips: how to pack a fast school lunch your child can actually eat
Here are some ideas to help your child get food in their tummies in the fast-paced, chaotic environment of a school lunch room:
1) Small bites
Sliced meat, pickle chips, etc. A whole apple is easy to toss in, but it takes precious minutes to eat. Core and slice it instead. Tangerines are faster to peel than oranges. In fact, peel fruit beforehand and put it in a small, reusable container to keep it yummy. Grapes and bananas are quick options. (Pro tip: teach your child to peel bananas like monkeys do: pinch off the bottom end and eat the banana upside down. I don’t know why it doesn’t led to a mushy banana end, but it doesn’t.)
2) Use a thermos
Leftover soup and pasta make great, easy-to eat lunches. Heat the food in the microwave in the morning while you let the thermos warm up with boiling hot water in it. Dump the water out, add the heated food and it should stay warm until lunch (Pro tip: metal thermoses work best to keep foods hot). There are some great ideas on my Resources for People Reading my Blog pin board on ideas for foods to put into a thermos.
3) Finger foods
Veggies with humus, nuts, cooked cold beans or veggies, leftover chicken nuggets, and fruit or yogurt tubes are fast options. (Pro tip: take chewing time into account and you’ll understand why a whole sandwich may not work as well as crackers and slices of ham or cheese.)
Younger kids might struggle with opening packages. (Pro tip: don’t send scissors in your kids lunch to open things. Schools don’t like scissors at lunch and you’ll get to chat with the principal.) The lunch room monitors are helping hundreds of kids, so there may be a line to get assistance. Consider putting the food into containers that your kid has demonstrated they can actually open easily (quickly is implied here).
Ask your child for suggestions and get feedback about what works and what doesn’t. If you have an opportunity, pop by the school lunch room and just watch what happens. I think you’ll find it a pretty horrify–, er, enlightening experience. #feedingfrenzy
And then set a timer for 20 minutes at dinner so you get an idea of what your kid is up against.
Honestly, knowing who you are going to sit by is stressful enough for kids at lunchtime. Let’s give them a fighting chance to get calories into their little bodies.
If it isn’t easy to eat, it isn’t going to get eaten.