[Photos via bleubird; boxes by Goodbyn
Hudson is only halfway through his second week of nursery school and already it’s becoming clear to me that I need some help shaking up my lunchbox routine. He eats a packed lunch there three days a week, and so far I’ve sent him with almond-nut butter-and-jelly sandwiches (wow, that’s a hyphenation nightmare—did I get that right?) enough times that he now says the name of his school when he sees a jar of nut butter out on the counter!
We’re lucky that his school is fairly flexible (while he can’t have items containing peanuts this year, he can have all other nut derivatives; and there are no rules against things like grapes or baby tomatoes). But even if I don’t expect to ever receive a note judging the contents of Hudson’s lunch, this post on the New York Times’ blog “Motherlode,” “The Lunch You Packed was Nutritionally Inadequate,” does have me wondering: what would they think of me if I just kept sending him to school with the same sandwich all the time?
(The funny thing is, I only ate one sandwich all through school, as far back as I can remember until the time I was buying my own lunch in high school: chicken salad on white with the crusts cut off. I used to call them tuna, until I learned I hate tuna salad. My mom wrote little love notes and I got a dessert every day!)
Being that Hudson is two (just barely), most of the contents of his lunch box seem to return home with him. I try to include some protein, good fat, and fruits and/or vegetables with whatever starch I know he’ll surely reach for first, but the nut-butter and jelly staple is the only thing he always eats. He also gets a small thermos of milk (or occasionally a yogurt drink).
Here’s my goal:
Start with a protein—could be meat, but could also be eggs, nut butter (if allowed), strained or greek-style yogurt (check the label for protein content), beans, soy, or cheese (including cottage cheese). A pre-made quinoa salad could be good, too.
Add fat, if necessary—most protein will already have some already (especially items like nut butter, hummus, and whole dairy), but there’s also the option of adding fats like avocado or whole-fat sliced cheese.
Add nutrient-dense starches—I often reach for items like apple-sauce and pretzels out of convenience, but I’d like to choose snap peas, blueberries, carrots, and the like more often.
At this point, my idea of “suitable toddler lunches on-the-go” includes mostly finger foods, items that I would actually be able to throw together the morning-of and which can be out of the refrigerator for a few hours or served without heating.
What are your go-to, packable lunches? What did you have in yours growing up?
P.S. I love learning about what people had in their lunchbox growing up. Anne Lamont has a great chapter in Bird by Bird about practicing writng by talking about the funny details of school lunches. And I once heard a great NPR Marketplace Money story about kids using their fire-hot Cheetos as playground currency. Also, can you imagine the pressure if you had to always make cute Bentos? (like these trendy, adorable Bento lunches