As I celebrated the end of the school year, I was asked to share my thoughts on Kindergarten. By no means am I an experts, and everyone’s experience (and child) is different, but today I shall start a series that I shall unceremoniously call “Kindie Survival 101.” Part One shall be all about the dreaded school lunch.
The novelty of the hot lunch
In the beginning, there was excitement for packing lunches. I happily remember opening my lunch box when I was a kid and seeing all the delicious goodies my mom packed for me and rolled with that feeling. Fresh fruit, healthy sandwiches … Isla ate some pretty awesome meals, IMHO. I always made an effort to pack a healthy lunch without being too ridiculous because kids have their limits. (More on those “limits” later.) But lunch making gets old and the fun wears off in a damn hurry. Enter the amazing Hot Lunch program! Our school has a great one, and by partnering with various restaurants in the city I have the option to opt out of making her a lunch once a week throughout the school year. Except it’s DAMN EXPENSIVE. As in, $7-8/week expensive, depending on what’s up for grabs that week. While I felt compelled to let Isla have a hot lunch so she didn’t feel left out, there was no way, Kyle and I both agreed that we weren’t going to cough up that much for a weekly meal.
Our solution? We sat down with Isla and let her pick one meal for each month. (We had to preorder 3 months at a time.) We rattled off her choices for the month, and she picked out of the bunch. The beauty thing was that she felt involved and she actually looked forward to her hot lunch days. (And really, I did too because all I had to do was throw a recess snack into her bag and call it a day.) I don’t know how long we’ll be able to make this system work, but for her young, easily-influences mind, it worked like a charm!
Packing it up
I honestly didn’t do anything special in regards to how I packaged up her lunch, my main goal was to just keep things cold or hot. I even used the lunch kit she had during preschool and never really ran into any issues.
The best investment I made when it came to lunch kit gear was this LunchBlox system by Rubbermaid.* It fit perfectly in Isla’s lunch kit and the sizes worked great. I will, however, be searching for an alternative for her drinks as the popular reusable drink containers by the same company have silly rubber components that are very hard to clean. That being said – I do highly recommend using some kind of reusable drink container as tiny hands sometimes can’t manage straws & drink boxes.
I also bought a little Thermos for her to put the odd hot lunch from home in. Isla’s favourite? Ichiban! I broke a puck in half and cooked it slightly at home before transferring it to her container and she loved it.
Another note: Have your little practice opening and closing their containers at home before sending them off to school with them! While classrooms usually have helpers during lunchtime, it doesn’t hurt to check!
I understand COMPLETELY the severity of food allergies, so packing an allergy-aware is completely understandable. Thankfully, there was no school-wide ban on any kinds of foods, but the school was nut-aware this year. There was a student with a nut allergy in the school, so while other classes could have nut products parents were asked to be mindful just in case. I did my best to make sure I bought peanut-free snacks for Isla, and never sent a PB&J sandwich to school. (Much to my laziness’s dismay.) The kindergarten kids were also explicitly told that they were NOT allowed to share food just in case.
If you’re not sure what your school’s policy is – just email your kid’s teacher or principal and ask. And if you’re still not sure, err on the side of caution anyway.
When they suddenly decide to stop liking certain foods
You know what’s great? When your kid, who has liked everything under the sun, suddenly decides that lettuce is gross and mustard is nasty. Kids will, without a doubt, become picky eaters and packing lunches will become that much more difficult.
Packing for picky eaters gets a lot more difficult if coupled with allergy bans on foods too. When I was a kindergartener a girl I went to school with ate only PB&J sandwiches. In today’s world, she’d probably starve. I think the thing to remember is, just pack things so they’re at least eating. If they only want cheese & crackers, then so be it!
Other things to note
- Don’t ever think like you’re being judged for what’s in your kid’s lunch. Remember that other parents don’t see what you pack, just other kids. Isla came home one day and told me that Jimmy** had sushi for lunch “all the time.” I was impressed, mostly, but after chatting with Jimmy’s mom I learned that his dad is a sushi chef and can make a California roll in his sleep.
- Start off packing more than enough food. They’ll burn lots of energy during the first couple of weeks and will likely be starving. When you start to see that food isn’t being eaten, dial things back and pack less.
- Don’t get mad if they don’t eat. Kids get distracted talking with their friends and forget to eat, especially if they’re already slow eaters. I often had Isla eat the rest of her lunch after school if she was hungry. (Cold packs are a life/food saver!)
- Make things easy to eat. Cut up fruit if you can, pre-peel oranges, etc. They don’t have much time to eat so any time spent on unpacking/peeling food is less time they get to actually eat before being kicked outside. Isla’s class ate their recess snacks inside before going out to play.
- Toss drinks in the freezer for a 1/2 hour before throwing it in their lunch kit. It keeps the liquids nice and cold plus helps keep everything else cool too!
That’s all the advice I can think of – Feel free to ask questions in the comments below!
*Full disclosure: Opinions on products mentioned are my own and I was not compensated in any way.
**Name has been changed