Oct 13, 2012

How to do school lunches

It's the start of a school term, so it's time for magazines and newspaper lifestyle sections to publish articles with ideas for school lunches. Traditionally these articles are accompanied by pretty pastel images of salad wraps tied up with paper and string, and cute snack boxes filled with grated cheese and carrot.  (At least I believe they are, because I stopped opening the links to all these articles quite a long time ago).

Beautiful, healthy and generally very impressive lunchbox,
courtesy of aJ GAZMAN GucciBeaR at Flickr 

When I was a kid my school lunches looked like this:

  • wholemeal bread sandwich with margarine, Vegemite and cheese
  • 2 homemade biscuits
  • apple

Canteen lunch (allowed once a week):
  • meat pie
  • packet of chips (crisps)

No water bottle was supplied; we drank from the drinking fountains. I'm not saying this was good - drinking-fountain water was warm in summer and could taste metallic, and one of my perpetual memories from childhood is being thirsty and hankering for water in situations where no water was on offer. (I used to wish you could buy a drink of water from a shop - I used to picture it in a soft drink can, and I thought it was one of those useless fantasies that could never really happen, like jet packs and robot dogs).

But I don't remember being overly bored or dissatisfied with lunch. The apples were sometimes bitter, or bruised, or contained unexpected caterpillars (ah, organic food!). No doubt I was sometimes bored or dissatisfied, or jealous of the inevitable kid that came to school with Nutella sandwiches and a giant bag of crisps, but I don't remember it. I always ate all my lunch.

This solid, middle-class, suburban life lunch has definitely influenced what I give my kids for lunch.

Here is what my kids have for lunch, these days:

  • a sandwich. A: rice wrap with margarine and Vegemite. M: white bread sandwich with margarine and either jam, honey, cheese or tomato
  • a "brain food" snack - usually a cheese stick for A, and cheese and crackers for M. Or sultanas, rice cakes, carrot sticks, etc
  • a sweet snack: mini pack of Scooby Doo biscuits, or 2 Coles mini lamingtons, or a muesli bar, or occasionally, 2 homemade biscuits
  • fruit: cut up in a little box (as A is put off by whole fruit but will happily eat it cut up): usually a mix of two of apple, orange, mandarin, banana, strawberries and grapes. Or a peeled whole mandarin in a different shaped little box (the transparent square box means cut up fruit. The opaque cylindrical box means possibly a peeled whole mandarin)
  • water bottle

Lunch order - they have on Fridays:
  • hot food: A: hot dog or nuggets; M: macaroni and cheese, or spag bol, or nachos
  • a snack: usually a packet of crisps or a muffin
  • a drink: usually Quench or Focus or Just Juice

The teachers definitely encourage "healthy choices" in lunch boxes which is both helpful and annoying. It's mostly helpful, as the kids come home and ask for this stuff, and eat it. Plus I can quote school policy as backup when I tell them they can't have Nutella sandwiches and lollies for lunch.  It's slightly annoying because on the occasional day when the kids don't have the correct 'brain food' in their lunchbox they feel all anxious and ashamed at having the 'wrong' food even when what they have is still perfectly healthy. And also, because my daughter M who has a perfect (lucky) attitude to food, and eats very healthily and well, she should be able to eat a jam sandwich for lunch without me wondering if I'm doing something wrong.

My girls are only in grade 1, so I know it's early days yet, but so far they seem OK with what they get. They have the odd complaint, and their tastes will suddenly change on occasion, which is evidenced by the kinds of comments they give me on their lunch:

"MUM! I TOLD you, I HATE jam now!"
"MUM! I can't EAT Vegemite in a sandwich, it makes me VOMIT!"
"MUM! I HATE flat cheese, I only like GRATED cheese!"
"Ryan gets sprinkles in his sandwiches EVERY DAY."
"Taylor has money for the canteen EVERY DAY."
"Amelia gets a lunch order EVERY DAY."
"I LOVE sultanas. How come you NEVER give us sultanas?"
"I HATE sultanas, don't give them to me EVER, ever again. Ever, Mum, OK?"
 "I didn't like my cheese and crackers and Nicki was hungry so I gave them to her."
"Tomorrow can I have extra cheese and crackers?"
"Ew! Why'd you give me HAM?"
"MUM! My orange was yucky. It was SO GROSS."

And so on.

But overall, lunch is not too tricky, and I feel no need to trawl magazine articles for "lunchbox ideas", cook savory muffins or make up sandwich fillings with cooked chicken, ricotta, grated carrot and walnuts.

As if life isn't hard enough.

What do you do for lunch boxes?


  1. My kids make their own lunches for school; if they don't like it well it's their problem. "Like it or lump it".


    1. Good approach! Mine "help" get lunches ready, sometimes. But then they find out what's going in them ahead of time which is not always helpful to me!

  2. YAY! Agreed! Rory takes a ham sandwich on wholemeal bread, something like a piece of cheese or a cheese spread and 2 crackers, some form of fruit and a little fromage frais yoghurt thing. I do not feel the need to make my life hard and miserable by making competitive lunches!

    Lisa @ http://www.howtobeadomesticdisgrace.blogspot.com

    1. We're on the exact same wavelength Lisa! Amen to that.

  3. You tend to find too that the gorgeously stylised and photographed 'lunch box ideas' don't travel at all well in reality. Those cucumber stars and the love heart slices of cheese pictured above would be joggled and rattled around in the school bag until - hours later when it was time to eat - it would look more like a jellyfish had thrown up in a laundry basket.

    1. I love that! "like a jellyfish had thrown up on a laundry basket". Rock on, Vegemite sandwiches!



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