The lovely Melissa provided the fodder for this second part of our riveting lunch-related series:
Mir— Thank you for you wonderful blog— I always look forward to checking in and saving some money! Now that school is back in I have a question for you…. I have two kids attending elementary school this year and they want to get school lunch. School lunch is $1.50 per kid coming out to $7.50 a week and with the two of them $60 a month. This makes me sigh and wonder why they have to eat so often! 🙂 I feel like our schools do a pretty good job with lunch and my kids eat it really well. Their sandwiches usually come back home not touched— so I worry that they are hungry all afternoon.
So is it worth it to fork over for school lunch or should we stick with the lunch boxes? What do you think? Thanks!
This is one of those eternal questions, right up there with do you believe in life after death. Bag it or buy it?
To my mind, there’s an easy list of considerations to run through in deciding whether or not buying lunch makes sense for your kid(s). Answer them all and you should have a fairly clear-cut decision on your hands.
1) Do you feel that the provided lunch is nutritious? In this case, Melissa says yes. Each of us needs to sit down with the lunch menu and make that determination for ourselves. Although there are state guidelines, I’m here to tell you that it’s not at all difficult for a school to meet the requirements and still serve utter crap. Sad but true.
Although I live in what is supposedly one of the best school districts in my area, I have been singularly unimpressed with the fare they are passing off as balanced meals. The end result is that my decision is pretty much made in answering this question alone; I allow my daughter to buy lunch occasionally, as a special treat. (My son has no interest in hot lunch.)
2) Can you afford the cost of school lunch, and/or do you feel that it’s a good value for your money? Again—to use Melissa as our guinea pig—$1.50 for a balanced meal including milk is pretty good. I estimate that the average packed lunch probably costs between $1 and $1.75, depending on what you pack. When you look at the monthly figure, sure, it sounds like a lot. Maybe sit down and calculate what you spend when you pack a lunch; you may be surprised.
Where we live, hot lunch for a kid costs $2.60. This represents an increase over last year’s price, which I already thought was too expensive. Again, it’s a no-brainer; I can pack for much less.
3) What will your child actually eat? Melissa says her kids like hot lunch but often shun the sandwiches she packs. The good news is that if they buy, they’re eating the food, which is great. The bad news is that apparently Melissa isn’t very good at packing lunches. Heh. This is slightly afield, but bear in mind that there’s no law saying packed lunch has to involve a sandwich. If your kids aren’t sandwich eaters, pack what they will eat. Buy thermos containers and send your own hot food, or send sliced cheese and meats and veggies (or whatever) without bread. Please don’t tell me they can’t bag it because they don’t like sandwiches. There are other options.
My daughter will eat pretty much whatever you set in front of her. My son’s picture appears next to the word “picky” in the dictionary. That would certainly be a factor in my decision if I hadn’t already ruled school lunch out due to cost and inadequate nutrition.
Lastly, here’s the one you may not think to consider:
4) Is time an issue? Schools across the country are shortening lunch periods. Regardless of the food involved, a kid who doesn’t have time to sit down and eat it is going to be hungry. I have been hearing a lot of stories lately about how the kids who buy never actually have time to eat. If your child is a dawdler, and lunchtime is short, hot lunch may be a poor choice.
There you go. Four questions to help you make your decision. Bear in mind, too, that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Maybe you decide to let the kids buy a day or two a week. Last year I had a standing deal with my daughter that she could buy twice a month. When the monthly menus came home, she would sit down and pick her two lunches and circle them, and then if she was lucky I would remember to check the calendar and remind her to buy. A friend of mine always lets her kids buy on Pizza Mondays. You’ll figure out what works for your family.