Enviro Girl had the unique experience of sending two of her sons to public school and one of her sons to parochial school last year. At the large public school hot lunch was mostly reheated food–beans from giant cans heated and served, chicken nuggets from giant freezer bags heated and served, pizza from giant pallets heated and served. The public school serves 800 students, so Enviro Girl understands they labor under constraints. That said, her youngest begged her to pack a cold lunch since he hated the hot lunch.
Meanwhile, Enviro Girl put in service hours at the parochial school’s lunch room since she’s not Catholic and wanted to get to know people at her oldest’s new school. She watched the head cook prepare beans using olive oil and different seasonings, whole chickens roasted on trays, fresh fruit chopped daily for the salad bar offerings. The parochial school serves 120 daily and her son avoided hot lunch when it involved gravy.
A lot of schools are making an effort to serve fresh, local produce in season and reduce the fat and salt kids eat. Changing school cafeteria food is a cumbersome process, as convoluted as congressional budget debates since FDA requirements are completely out of sync with healthy diets and many school cafeterias don’t have the staff trained to prepare food, they have workers trained to operate can openers and ovens.
The best way to insure your kids will eat a healthy meal at school is still, in most cases, to send that lunch with them. Here are a few tips on making that lunch environmentally and kid friendly:
1. The Bag: Reduce your waste by investing in a good lunch box or bag. Enviro Girl’s kids like using their Eco Lunchbox (pictured below). Made from stainless steel, this is heavy duty, resuable and dishwasher safe. Other good lunchbox options include The OOTS! Lunch Box and Land’s End lunch bags. Recycla mentions many great lunchboxes in this post, too.
2. The Wrapping: Ditch the plastic sandwich baggies and cling wrap. There are plenty of plastic-free, reusable ways to wrap your kids’ food in their bag lunch. Dainty Baby has cute reusable sandwich wraps and Enviro Girl found similar ones at a local “green” store. Stainless steel water bottles and containers can be found nearly everywhere now at low cost–it’s ridiculous to shell out for disposable packaging when buying reusable costs about the same. The only trash in her kids’ bag lunch is the napkin and the occasional Twinkie wrapper. It’s a cinch to put a fistful of raw veggies or fruit into a reusable tin and fill a small water bottle with juice or milk. It’s just as simple to toss these containers in dishwasher or wash them up by hand each night. Since she has boys, Enviro Girl really likes the sleek look of these Small Sidekick To-Go tins:
3. The Stuffing: Okay, you’ve acquired a plastic-free lunch bag with PVC-free tins and sandwich wraps. What will you pack in your kid’s lunch? Enviro Girl finds her kids like to keep their lunchtime meal simple and filling, but they require nutrition to keep their brain functioning at full-throttle until the end of the day. This means a good portion of protein and carbohydrates with some crisp and crunchy texture followed up by something sweet. She will pack something from each of the categories below:
* Sandwiches on whole-grain bread–turkey or peanut butter, Nutella or tuna salad, egg salad or roast beef. She’ll sometimes roll up sandwiches using tortillas to create wraps.
* Fresh veggies–carrots, grape tomatoes, celery, broccoli and sweet peppers all go into those tins. Her kids don’t like to dip food, but Enviro Girl suggests adding a light dressing on the side for the reluctant veggie eater.
* Piece of fruit–apple, banana, pear, peach, orange. Grapes, berries, pineapple and kiwi also travel well. For kids requiring sliced food, sliced apples will stay crisp and “white” if you dunk them in saltwater.
* Drinks–100% juice (NO JUICE COCKTAILS–that’s code for “sugar water”), milk, water. A few ice cubes will keep things cold on a hot day.
* Something extra–yogurt, pretzels, trail mix, granola, Goldfish crackers, raisins, nuts, chips, cookie, dessert bar, pudding, cheese or crackers will add some crunch, some sweet, some “different” to the mix. She buys or makes this stuff in bulk and reduces her use of packaging by not buying “single pack” things for her kids’ lunches.