I can’t think of anything worse than making school lunches. Oh, wait. I can. Opening my kid’s lunchbox at the end of the day when the ice pack is lukewarm to discover he ate nothing. NOTHING. And all of it has to be tossed. ALL. OF. IT. Yeah, that’s worse.
I get it. The cafeteria is loud and overwhelming. There’s a lot of activity and socializing happening. It’s easy to forget how quickly 30 minutes pass. I can totally relate to forgetting to eat.
Hold up. That’s crap. I can relate to forgetting a lot of things, like where my glasses are (on my face) or why I walk into a room (I have no clue), but I never forget to eat. Ever.
My child’s refusal to eat his lunch at school could send me to an early grave…if I let it. But there’s too much to live for, including the second season of “Stranger Things.”
If you have a school lunch pain in the butt abstainer like I do, you’re going to need a better plan than mindful breathing and a stiff cocktail to survive the year, which is why I’ve devised nine strategies guaranteed (maybe) to save (or squash) your school lunch sanity.
1. Make your kid buy lunch. I don’t know about your school, but I’ve seen the taco meat in my kid’s cafeteria and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. Not even my (ex) pediatrician who asked me if I was pregnant again six months after giving birth to my second child because I didn’t lose the baby weight fast enough for his taste. (Perhaps I’d wish it on him.) After a few days of this tough love, your kid will beg you to make him a turkey sandwich. He might even take a few bites.
2. Don’t pack a lunch. He’s not going to eat it anyway, so why waste your time, energy, money, food, and valuable hot coffee drinking time. Feed him a hearty breakfast and an early dinner and trust that his body can sustain itself from the giant bowl of Goldfish, three bags of fruit snacks, and four waffles he ate right before bed the night before.
3. Let your kid pack his own lunch. Don’t helicopter this one, Mom. Let your kid learn some new skills and appreciate the effort you put into this daily shit show. Independence is golden (until your kid prepares himself a bowl of microwave popcorn for breakfast). This is a great idea if you’re not a morning person and don’t mind if your kid packs cookies, chocolate bars, and stale candy from deep in the pantry from last Halloween for lunch.
4. Pack the foods you want your kid to eat. You know, sliced banana and sun butter sushi rolls, white bean hummus and quinoa chips, mixed berries, and lightly salted edamame. Be sure to put an extra ice pack in there so it’s still cold when it comes home untouched.
5. Ask your kid what he wants to eat for lunch. See #3.
6. Pack what your kid will actually eat for lunch. Also see #3.
7. Bribe him. Remind him to look for the knock knock joke, spider ring, and Lego minifigure you hid in his lunchbox next to the sliced seedless watermelon, Kefir smoothie, and American cheese sandwich on whole wheat crustless bread.
8. Make threats. Some parents pack notes in their kid’s lunches that say things like, “I hope you’re having a great day!” or “Good luck on your fractions quiz!” My lunch notes say things like, “Eat your effing lunch!” and “Eat or I’ll tell Santa!”
9. Compromise. I’ll pack popcorn if you eat your cheese squares and crackers. I’ll make you a peanut butter sandwich if you promise not to sit at the nut-free table in the cafeteria. We’ll bake homemade brownies after school if you eat your grapes. I promise not to run out the back door never to be seen again when you refuse to eat the bagel and berry cream cheese I packed for lunch if you promise not to beg for a bagel and berry cream cheese for dinner. I won’t drop you off in an extra-large basket at our local fire station if you throw your half-eaten yogurt tube in the garbage instead of leaving it in your lunch box to become a sticky, strawberry crime scene that has to be hosed down in the backyard. Deal?
If all else fails, ring the dinner bell as soon as you get home from school so you can fight over how many bites of chicken your kid has to eat before he can have a snack. Hang in there. There are only nine more months until summer vacation when you will still have to make lunches every day.
Jen Gregory is a writer, dance teacher, and expert grocery bagger. She’s also a mom and founder of the blog, The Runaway Mama. She wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but home raising her two boys, but like the little bunny in Margaret Wise Brown’s classic book, she sometimes wants to run away. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.