Lunch Box Rules: Adventures in Packing Kids' Lunches

Lunch Box Rules: Adventures in Packing Kids' Lunches

Elisabeth Wilborn
Sep 15, 2014
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

This fall, after three solid years packing preschool lunches, I thought I'd surely gotten it down. I ordered new insulated containers, decided to go nearly 100% stainless, and had my rotating "recipes" for good nutrition on stand by. And then I got an email...

The email from a new teacher explained the do's and don'ts of lunch boxes. The children were to take all their food out and place it on a plate for a civilized sit down meal. I applaud that, but it was not without ramifications. All foods had to be in separate containers, limited to 3 or 4. Check. Each item should be isolated in its own container, no bento boxes or compartments allowed. Check. There were to be no pre-packaged foods, i.e., no string cheese. Check. This lunch was to consist mostly of protein and fresh fruits and vegetables. Check. (I concur, but what about beans, hummus, and yogurt, which has been our daily staple for protein when leftovers weren't to their liking?) Liquid-like foods can stay in their containers as it turns out, but by the way, no leftovers. No rice, no corn, no spaghetti, nothing messy. Everything I thought I knew about my child's eating habits had suddenly gone out the window. So I guess we're eating salami sandwiches every day now? (The only cold cut the child will touch).

My head was spinning. I thought we were finally pros at this!

A previous school, a French immersion program, was confused when I sent my daughter to the first day without — wait for it — dessert. Perplexed, I asked the exquisitely dressed French teacher what the children ate for dessert, and the answer was a yogurt or a cheese (it's new to me that cheese constitutes as dessert, so we went with Yoplait). I spent the entire year giving a pre-packaged yogurt to my kid so she could have dessert, only to find at our next school, no sugar was allowed. Oh, and by the way, those French kids? They received a hot lunch from home every day for each of them. They probably got a hot breakfast too.

We're used to the no peanut butter rule, so much so, that I've completely switched over to almond and sunflower seed butters. Yet I got in trouble at camp this summer, because the counselors couldn't tell the difference and wouldn't take my word for it. Their solution was no nut butters at all.

Then there was the school that we visited but did not attend that rents its space from a synagogue. There, the only lunch rule, it seemed, was for there to be no pork in the lunch box.

Each of these sets of rules has its place, and is trying to establish a culture of both community and healthy eating. But I've been flabbergasted by how different the rules have been at various institutions, especially when the task is trying to get finicky toddlers to eat a healthy and complete lunch voluntarily on their own.

I'm curious, have any of you had to contend with any surprising requests from school regarding lunch? Were you able to accommodate them? Were they able to accommodate you, and most importantly, your child?

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