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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 09/30/2009

Packing School Lunches for Picky Eaters

By Valerie Strauss

My mother was a magnificent cook invited into the kitchens of the finest chefs in France. Every dinner was a delicious experiment. But she insisted that my two sisters and I eat the lunch served at school.

Why? She said they were nutritionally balanced and that we should eat the same food that the other kids ate. She ignored us when we told her everybody else brought their lunch because they hated the cafeteria food.

I realize now that my mother didn’t pack us lunches because she didn’t want to. It was too annoying a task--especially for the picky eater that I was when I was young.

And now I have my own picky eater who needs a lunch packed every school day, along with a daughter who has a wide-ranging palate. Their school doesn’t have a cafeteria, so I can’t tell them that the meals are nutritionally balanced and they must eat them.

The bane of my mornings is packing their lunches and, on the weekend, figuring out what I need in the house to give them.

Today’s Food Section of The Washington Post devotes the entire front page to school lunches, with some suggestions that you should check out.

There is also a fine story by my colleague Jane Black about healthy lunches and a new company offering them to schools.

For kids who like to eat a wide range of foods, there are some great suggestions for main meals and side dishes.

One is carrot and daikon salad, which sounds good to me. Curried chickpeas too. And what I wouldn’t do for a green salad with jicama matchsticks and creamy cumin-lime dressing right about now.

But my 13-year-old? She wouldn’t touch any of that unless force-fed.

For years I tried to find a new way to pack the five or six things she does eat.

And indeed, one does resort to tricks. Slicing the bread diagonally instead of down the middle counts as a different sandwich. Substituting American white cheese for American yellow cheese counts, too.

I stopped trying to get cute when she stopped pretending she was eating her lunch and brought home the lunchbox almost untouched. Only the cookies were missing.

I asked her pediatrician what would happen if she ate the same things every day. As long as she gets the vitamins and nutrients over the course a week that she needs, he said, it doesn’t matter how she gets them.

So her lunch box, day after day, looks pretty much the same, with a yogurt, some cereal, fruit, milk, cheese, and cookies.

I can live with it. In fact, it makes my life easier. And I know she will eat something along with the cookies.

Readers: What do you do about school lunches? Is the lunch served by your school edible? How much time does your child have to eat lunch?

By Valerie Strauss  | September 30, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Parents  | Tags:  parents, school lunch  
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My kids' school posts a monthly menu. We have the kids look at the menu on a weekly basis and decide which of the days they want to pack lunch and which days they will buy lunch. If they decide they want to have any packed lunches during the week, we have them think about a well rounded menu and make out a grocery list. Of course we don't greenlight every food they want to buy but at least this gives them input. We make lunches on Sunday (or at least set aside the components so that it is easy to gather up before school). The kids are responsible for packing their lunches, I review them so that I can make sure that it isn't all dessert. This works out pretty well. They exercise a limited amount of control and it's easier for us. My kids are in elementary school in 2nd and 4th grade.

Posted by: soleil2000 | September 30, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to mention that both my kids have less than 30 minutes to eat and my 4th grader has lunch so late (after 1pm) that her teacher asked each kid to bring a healthy snack to get them through to lunch. Overall the cafeteria food seems okay not great. The kids are pretty aware of which menu days are actually pretty good at school and which ones are not so good.

Posted by: soleil2000 | September 30, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

At 27, I still consider myself a picky eater. And I still pack my lunch, and it looks same most days: peanut butter and jelly, chips or carrots, applesauce or yogurt, and cookies or chocolate. It is nutritionally sound and saves a lot of money.

Posted by: marisag82 | September 30, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

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