Transitioning your family from a summer schedule to a decidedly hectic school schedule has the potential to make even the most seasoned plate spinners whimper in anticipation. While adapting to the rigors of jam-packed schedules can cause stress levels to spike, it only takes three simple words to send me over the edge – brown bag lunches.
When I was a kid, my siblings and I walked home for lunch where we’d dine on white bread, butter, cheese, and liver sausage sandwiches, prepared by our well-intentioned German grandmother. While I can feel my arteries harden at the memory, coming up with enticing and healthy options for my children’s lunches is about as easy as lifting a pick-up truck with a spoon. Between the ever-confusing food pyramid, touting all things healthy, and the junk food infiltrating the media, hot lunch programs and vending machines, our lunch bag menus have become, well, rather rigid.
My lunch prep plate has traditionally spun around a pantry stocked with fruit cups, snack bars, animal crackers and not one, but two types of peanut butter – crunchy and smooth. In the frig, there are always plenty of cheese sticks, baby carrots and fresh fruit. Not especially trade-worthy, but a veritable cornucopia of nutrition. Yet, when consumed on a daily basis, it elicits yawns in each one of my boys. Not averse to variety, I’ve occasionally peppered their options with bananas instead of jelly, graham crackers instead of animal crackers and sliced cucumbers in place of carrots. But, still, they yawn. Pressured to come up with some real change, I waited for the opportune moment. The last day of school.
Food choices notwithstanding, our routine during the last school term worked like a well-oiled machine. Before the boys headed off to bed, we transformed our kitchen table into a lunch bag-stuffing, sandwich-making assembly line that would make even the busiest sandwich shops envious. The older, taller boys would bring items down off the shelves while the younger ones would lay out slices of bread and open the peanut butter and jelly jars. At one end of the table sat the heavier objects – fruit usually, and at the far end, open lunch bags into which they would deposit their choices. In between, they’d make their sandwiches and squeeze them into plastic baggies. On the last night, when the glumness with which they normally faced this task was pleasantly outweighed by their euphoria over the approaching break, I casually asked them what they would like for lunch during the next year.
Despite the absence of confetti falling from the ceiling, you would’ve thought they had just won the lottery.
Suggestions ranging from “anything but peanut butter” to “pepperoni slices” were volleyed back and forth, but none had the promise of peanut butter’s easily stockable, buildable and repeatable solution the plate-spinning project manager in me yearned for.
With the start of new school year, just days away, I am turning to you, kind readers. Post your ideas here.