It’s January, which means it’s almost time to start wrestling with school lunch anxiety again. It’s a thing.
There was a time when school lunch was a devon and tomato sauce white bread sambo, with Meadow Lea (obviously), shoved into the empty Tip Top bread bag, tied in a knot. We could get a few dollars for a fried till pumice-like chicken patty, on a white roll, with limp lettuce for a Friday lunch order. Maybe some Ovaltinees and a Ribena if things were really good.
Fast forward to now and there are thousands of Instagram pages devoted to school lunch prep. It’s a lot of pressure.
We don’t pack our school lunches; we plate our school lunches. We don’t have lunch boxes; we have Bento boxes. They are naked. They are bespoke. They are artisanal. This is 2020.
I boarded the Bento box train late. It was only last year I splashed out on some, I would call, Industrial Chic, style boxes, with vintage inspired metal clasps and retro, gender neutral, cartoon images on them.
I was hooked. And I’ve mostly loved building pretty lunches ever since.
There are days when I have to peel, or perhaps whittle a carrot to the very core so it will no longer be floppy. Or those 10pm lunch packing sessions when I wonder if raw, green tinged potato could be considered Crunch and Sip. And the times where I’ve had to soak flat bread under the tap and then microwave it because it’s become a crumbling frisbee (lazy parents life hack #1). Then smear it with Jam, roll it up real fast and hope for the best.
But generally, I do pretty well. I like putting blueberries and oranges and grapes together, imagining little gasps of delight as my children open their Bentos and see fruit salad tumbling out, little seaweed crackers and tiny containers of hummus shimmering in the recess sun.
And then I fantasize about their teachers think, who I really want to like me, when clocking my creations. My favourite goes along the lines of SIGH. WHAT A GREAT MOTHER.
This daydream carries forward to my ex-husband opening the lunch box after school on change-over day and seeing nothing left in it, because it’s been gobbled down by grateful, healthy, well fed children and him exclaiming, my goodness, she is an OUTSTANDING HUMAN. And then everyone in the world just stops and thinks HOW DOES SHE BE SO AMAZING EVERY SINGLE DAY SHE IS EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE AND SHE IS THE KWEEN OF THE EARTH.
The reality is, I don’t bake healthy muffins, nor do my kids express glee when they see fruit. My kid’s teachers are lovely, but also busy and probably don’t care what they eat. The lunchboxes are undoubtedly empty because my kids throw half of the contents out, and my ex will never think anything nice about me (but I’m FINE).
In this world of intense parenting pressures, I do ok.
Basically, I think, a good kid’s lunch should have some fruit, a bit of veg, something to fill them up, not much sugar, stuff they like, and food that won’t go gnarly in a few hours.
I asked some parents and carers I know to share their lunch box highs and lows, and a give us a sneak peek into what they send to school.
Kristen: Kids aged 7 and 9
Lunchbox high: Discovering my kid likes olives and pickles, and finding pickles that were the exact height of the lunchbox. (drool)
Lunchbox low: Packing cooked broccoli and my kid being teased because ‘it smelt like fart’
Lunchbox hack: My kids get sick of sandwiches so sometimes I buy brown rice cucumber sushi from the supermarket and put that in.
Amy: Kids aged 2 and 5
Lunchbox high: Using reusable pouches to put yoghurt or pureed fruit in
Lunchbox low: Accidentally leaving the plastic wrap on the cheese in the middle of the sandwich
Lunchbox hack: Flavoured tuna! My son loves it! He won’t eat the regular stuff but add a bit of lemon pepper in and he is a huge fan. Aldi do a great sun-dried tomato tuna and crackers that I stock up on.
Mimi: Kid aged 8
Lunchbox high: At the beginning of kindy, when making lunches was the funnest, most creative thing I could think of. I loved spiralling carrots and cutting sandwiches into shapes. Another mum told me I would one day get over it. I didn’t believe them.
Lunchbox Low: Getting over it.
Lunchbox hack: Lunch orders! And occasional Cheezels.
Kennedy: Kids aged 7 and 9
Lunchbox high: Getting the kids to pack their own lunches – it took a few months but now I lay everything out and they choose and make what they want and put the other stuff back.
Lunchbox Low: The day one of the kids smuggled a watermelon chuppa chup for Crunch and Sip and getting a note from the teacher.
Lunchbox hack: Cooked chicken sausages wrapped in kitchen paper with a little tomato sauce – one of my kids is gluten free but they both love them.
Reece: Kids aged 8 and 10
Lunchbox high: Celery sticks with cow cheese – an unexpected winner!
Lunchbox low: Frozen berries that melted through everything and looked like a crime scene. I thought the bag was sealed.
Lunchbox hack: I like leaving notes in my kid’s lunchboxes. When they are at their mum’s place, I miss them so I try and let them know how much they mean to me as much as I can.
Rin: Grandkids aged 9 and 11
Lunchbox high: All the other kids being envious of their Japanese style lunches. Lots of colour and variety.
Lunchbox low: Sending soup that was too hot and burnt my baby’s mouth!
Lunchbox hack: The kids love dumplings and Gyoza in their lunch boxes. I make my own but the frozen ones are good and easy too. I send the little fish shaped soy sauce containers with them. And also, some cut up cucumber for the vegetables.
Veronique: Kids aged 4, 6, 9
Lunchbox high: My kids actually like healthy food! They don’t want burgers or sandwiches; they like a proper meal for lunch.
Lunchbox low: It’s kind of a high, but also a low – I always cook fresh for them and it’s time consuming!
Lunchbox hack: Cooking the night before – otherwise I have to get up at 5.30am to make their lunch.
Michelle: Kids Aged 9 and 11
Lunchbox high: My daughter loves to bake so on Sundays so I give her the kitchen and she makes lunchbox snacks for the week
Lunchbox low: Giving the kids the wrong lunches and creating a sibling war at school when one of them went to swap their lunch and the other had already given it away.
Lunchbox hack: A little thermos with warm pasta and sauce on cold days!
Some kids lunch food inspo – from lunch boxes ideas to simple cooking for fussy kids.