The very pretty Beth writes:
I have not seen anything on this in a while and wonder of you or your readers have any ideas for us. My son is in 1st grade this year and sort of eats lunch at school (it is not officially lunch but they get 2 snack breaks and he does much better with a sandwich or real food). The dilemma is his room is a nut free room (no peanut butter at all, and avoid any nut contaminated stuff as much as possible). He also is good friends with the little one with the allergies so we try to avoid all nut stuff before and during school anyway. He needs to have a decent lunch that is not messy (he eats at his desk while he’s working), can be left in a lunch box all morning, and no nuts at all. We’ve been doing salami sandwiches and grapes but he is getting tired of them already. Any other nut free ideas?
Allow me to start this conversation by throwing myself prostrate in front of Beth and saying “Thank you for not complaining about the nut ban.” I know it’s a hassle, particularly for folks who have kids who live on peanut butter, but as a mother to a child who used to have a deadly allergy to nuts, I want to say thanks. You’re pretty!
Now: What to eat.
We’ve talked about this before, a little bit. Check out this post (and be sure to read the comments, too; lots of great ideas there) that was more of a hot lunch vs. bagged lunch kind of thing, but has some pointers. Basically, if your child is bringing food to school, you want something that’s going to be quick and easy and enjoyable and not too big of a mess. In other words, you want something he’ll eat.
And it can’t involve peanut butter.
I’ll start, and then hopefully others will chime in. I pack my kids lunch and a snack, every day. For snacks I generally give them a baggie of homemade trail mix (out of favorite cereals, dried fruit, and mini-pretzels) or banana bread (because I bake that regularly) or either a granola or cereal bar.
For lunches themselves, I make sandwiches sometimes, sure. They both like cheese, or cheese and ham, or cheese and turkey, or cheese and salami, or cheese and cheese. Did I mention that they like cheese? I think I may have. Ahem. They also both like it when I give them “homemade lunchables,” which is simply slices of cheese and some sort of lunch meat cut into quarters and placed in stacks, and packed with crackers (like those horrid little things by the same name that they sell for way more money at the store).
They also both used to be very big on peanut butter alternatives, like sunbutter (in my opinion, the closest taste to peanut butter out there) or soybutter. And when I’m feeling very nice, I might pack cream cheese and jelly (on multigrain bread, so I can pretend it’s healthy).
Both kids also really like wraps, so I will often make them any of the foregoing on a spinach wrap instead of on wheat bread. Easy (and fun).
That’s the “entree.” Along with it, I will pack some sort of fruit—a banana, cut-up apple, fruit cup (one of the few pre-packaged convenience items I’ll splurge for, on sale), box of raisins, or similar—and one other item. That other item will either be some sort of “snacky” thing like chips/pretzels (always purchased in large bags and then portioned out into snack-size bags by me) or a small assortment of veggies. Both of my kids love baby carrots, celery sticks, grape tomatoes, and bell peppers. And because my kids are weird, when we eat edamame the night before they fight over who gets to take the leftovers for lunch!
The trick to keeping preparation from being a hassle is to do lunch prep on the weekends: Take an hour to portion out chips and such into smaller bags, to cut up veggies, to make your own trail mix, and to count out how many juice boxes need to be thrown in the fridge for the coming week.
Don’t view “nut-free” as an impossible hurdle. Think fresh: Veggies, fruits, and most grain items (that means crackers, pretzels, etc.) are nut-free and nutritious.
And the bottom line, of course, is that you should pack whatever you think your kid will eat. My son has gone to school with a baggie full of baby spinach and a hunk of cornbread and a cold hotdog, before. He ate it, too, so I’m not apologizing. Heh.
Readers? Share your school lunch tips and tricks, please!