This week, in the Back-to-School Eats series, I’m going to talk Brown Bag Lunches. From planning to execution, purchase to lunchroom-feast I’ve got tips, tricks and ideas to make healthy, mostly local lunches quick, easy and attainable for even the busiest families. But before we get started on lunch, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the Back-to-School Eats: On The Go Breakfast Edition for four wholesome ways to kick off your school-kid’s day. Because breakfast is the most important meal, one that sets the tone for success and health and if your child hasn’t had a good breakfast the quality of his lunch isn’t going to be able to make up the difference.
Have a System – When my oldest started Kindergarten I was still one of those really good parents. I was expending an obnoxious amount of time trying to Do It All and I was succeeding. Most of the remnants of that time are now long gone, ancient history, but a few usable bits and pieces still remain. One of those things is a lunch planning spreadsheet I created. Or, rather, several of them. They’re divided into four categories; main dish, fruit, vegetable and treat. Those categories are color coded and each spreadsheet represents a different season, a different part of the school year. In each of the categories, on each of the spreadsheets, are several items that we usually have on hand during that time of year. Some items make an appearance in more than one season — peanut butter and jam sandwiches and apples, for instance — but many are seasonal with temporary availability — like asparagus in the springtime, peaches and pears in the late summer and early fall. Each day my girls pick one item from each category to make up the lunch of their choice. You don’t have to use my system, though it works very well if you’d like to, but have a system in place to make everything from purchase to packing easy.
Start Big – It’s contrary to everything your mother ever told you — “Start small, deary! Work your way up! — but hear me out. What I mean is not to start big overall, but to start with the big things. To have the biggest impact start with the largest portions of the meal and work your way down to the condiments, the toppings, the little treats. If sandwiches are a common component of your kids’ lunch look for good local sources of bread (or the grains to make it in your very own bread maker) and lunch meat. Worry about the condiments later, for instance.
Understand Your Law of Supply and Demand – And obey it. If you have one child who eats an apple a day, chances are you don’t need a bushel of apples every week. It’s just as easy to overdo it at the Farmer’s Market as it is to not go at all. Buy what you need, eat what you buy.
Plan Ahead – Unless you’re fortunate enough to be in a temperate climate where the growing season and the Farmer’s Market go year-round, you’re going to have to plan ahead for winter. Last year, in On Year Round Appreciation, I alluded to the importance of asking your local growers about year-round product availability now, before the market closes, but that is doubly important when you’re trying to get three meals a day out of the local food scene. Remember, some products don’t have a set season. Meats, eggs, preserves, breads, and even some produce that keeps well in a root cellar like potatoes, onions, apples, hard squashes and garlic can be had in the dead of winter without trucking it in from miles out. Start planning how you’ll access these goods before the cold sets in. You may be able to buy them farm direct, you may need to stock up. Now is the time to know which it’ll be.
Whatever the system you choose and foods you pack here’s to happy, healthy, local and — most important — stress-free back-to-school lunches!