Choosing What Goes in the Lunchbox (and How You Pack It)

by Leighann on April 16, 2010

I know from Facebook and Twitter that many of you have been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Watching what children are served at school has made a lot of parents reevaluate school lunches and return to packing them each morning.

While I had been sending lunch with my daughter almost every day except pizza Friday and the rare day that there was a vegetarian meal, ironically we made a recent decision to allow her to eat more of the lunchroom fare.

For us there are several issues that are making us turn more to hot lunch. Packing a lunch each morning including counting, weighing, and measuring, was getting a little stressful on top of the other stressors in our lives (we just sold our house and are moving to a new one); we seemed to be running late each morning. Second, and this is ironic, the lunches I packed were quite expensive because I was buying the best quality ingredients I could. Hot lunch is only $1.75 and even when I sent a lunch bag I was still forking over 35 cents each day for milk (which is not antibiotic and growth hormone-free like the milk we serve at home). Third, I can look at the school district’s website on a weekly or monthly basis and write down the carb count for each day’s lunch. It really has made my life easier the past month or two.

We are a mostly vegetarian family. I say “mostly” because my children and husband eat fish occasionally. I rarely do, but it is an option. My husband might eat meat when we dine out, but it’s never prepared in our home. After years of being an on-again, off-again vegetarian to some degree, I decided in 2001 to eliminate meat from my diet after reading Fast Food NationFast Food Nation and Mad CowboyMad Cowboy. I am not vegetarian because of a particular need to uphold the rights of animals, rather it is the environmental impact of large scale meat production as well as a disdain for the politics which subsidize meat production as well as low industry standards that make meat packing dangerous to employees and fail in it’s effort to ensure the safety of the product to consumers. I am all for consumption of meat grown locally using organic methods. We’ve just never chosen to purchase locally produced meat.

So it is incredibly ironic that I have allowed my child to begin consuming poultry at school. But weighing the pros and cons, as well as her constant inquiry about others who eat meat, I made a concession. She is now allowed to eat chicken at school, though we we will not be purchasing it for home cooked meals.

Once we move I hope to return to home cooking and less processed foods. And by next school year I will begin packing better lunches on a more frequent basis. If only Jamie Oliver would come to our town! (Though it is my understanding that nothing is fried and they always have a fruit and vegetable.)

I really made an effort as my daughter began kindergarten this year to make her lunch as waste-free as I could. She is one of the few children who gets a cloth napkin each day. And I use reusable containers to portion out her foods and a wrap mat for her sandwiches.

I guess when it comes down to it, I really am following my philosophy:

Do what you can. Don’t sweat what you can’t.

I recently found out about the Green My Lunchbox campaign. They state that:

The average school lunch generates 67 pounds of waste during one school year (

If 15,000 families commit to packing waste-free lunches, one million pounds of waste can be eliminated from our landfills.

As Earth Day approaches and I think about the areas where we do well for the planet and areas where we could do more, it makes me think once again about school lunches. So my commitment for the next school year will be to do my best when I send lunch to make it waste free. Now if only there was a way to make yogurt tubes waste free!

From a diabetes standpoint, do you find it easier to buy lunch or send it?

Do you try to do waste free lunches?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jules April 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

My son is only three and a half and at pre-school but we have to send their lunch in with them, in a lunch box and labelled with their name. Anything not eaten is returned to the lunch box which is great for me to see how much of the allocated carbs have been consumed. I use a tin from Emma Bridgewater and put items in tupperware inside. It has dinosaurs all over it, which I am sure helps!


2 Heather April 16, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I haven’t had to deal with school lunches for my diabetic daughter, yet. She will go to preschool this fall but even Kindergarten, where we are, is still half day so I have a while to think about it. I really like your article though, made me think. Thanks!


3 Renata Porter April 18, 2010 at 1:58 pm

We do but it started mainly because we were broke. I use containers, however I don’t include a napkin. I figure the kids will just use their sleeves anyhow. ;)I have started doing Ramen salads. I know sounds yeucky, but as you stated it gets hard to come up with new affordable ideas. I add in tomatoes, carrots, peppers and then toss with dressing. The kids love it as a change of pace. And it’s easy and I know they are getting veges. Teas are big here (morning tea) so my kids take an apple for their morning snack. It helps with lunch too…I don’t have to pack a big meal.


4 Shelley April 21, 2010 at 10:48 am

We have used the sure fresh rectangle containers from the dollar store since school started last Fall. I originally purchased them because I wanted the kids to have bento lunches for school and didn’t know how well they would like the concept. I do not believe the containers are bpa free though. I look for bpa free options when shopping but if I cant find what I am looking for bpa free I still buy it if it fits my needs.

While we don’t do true bento style, the kids still use the containers everytime they pack their lunch or I pack my little d guys lunch for preschool. It actually streamlines everything making lunch prep simpler, quicker and more nutritious. I rearely buy prepacked individual servings now and cook more from scratch.


5 ann April 23, 2010 at 10:18 am

does anybody have children with type and multiple food allergies, including wheat? It’s hard to manage both. The allergies came first as an infant, the diabetes came a few months ago at age 9. Sometimes counting carbs to match the insulin doesn’t work out perfectly, especially with gluten free foods, which have a lot of rice and potato.


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