I always loved that first day of school:new shoes, new notebooks, new pencils, and a pristine box of still-pointy, aromatic crayons. I always forgot about my crippling locker combination anxiety over the summer. I never thought about the social implications of lunchroom seating during those leisurely hours, either. And as a responsible parental-unit, I loved shopping for school supplies, and shoes, and new lunch boxes. It was only the night before school started that I confronted the horror: the woeful lack of organization in our lives.
While the young ‘uns were setting out their new sneakers for the morning, and frantically paging through a book that should have been read weeks before, I was peering into the fridge and taking stock of our jumble of foodstuffs. What nutritional and tempting combinations could I conjure that would actually be eaten? Once, when Mr. Sanders had been out of town for a very long business trip, we attempted to set a world’s record for eating pizza for every meal, for many days in a row. I understand that that sort of tomfoolery doesn’t set a good example nowadays.
Now everyone has cute, eco-friendly, bento box lunch boxes, Mr. Sanders included. They have cunning little containers for vegetables, for fruits, for proteins. People cut vegetables on Sunday afternoons, and put them in the fridge for easy access on school mornings. They roll up lettuce wraps, dice carrots, prepare tuna salad, bake muffins and stack little cups of applesauce. These people also involve their children in the lunch assembly process. The existential despair I often felt in those dark, early mornings racing to get lunches made before the school bus arrived no longer exists, because people are organized and thorough. And you can be, too.
While we are still leftover-dependent in this house, these folks know what to do about school lunch organization: https://www.therisingspoon.com/2020/07/healthy-make-ahead-lunches-back-to-school-work.html
A handy guide to Sunday night preps: https://www.realmomnutrition.com/lunch-packing-stations/
And at Food52, the ever-clever Amanda always has some really fab lunch ideas. http://www.food52.com/blog/4436_the_return_of_amandas_kids_lunch
This year, another COVID-19 year, there are still huge challenges for the school-aged. This year we will be sending everyone off with masks and social distancing requirements. Will the children eat their lunches in a cafeteria or from social distances at their desks? Maybe there will be picnic tables outside, while the weather is still nice? Will the children bring lunches from home, or eat school-provided meals? Is this the end of the bologna sandwich?
And now, with a modest little drumroll, is the Spy Test Kitchen lunch list, which I haul out, shamelessly, every fall. Feel free to make your own spreadsheet, or PowerPoint deck so you never have another moment of lunch ennui. The Test Kitchen came up with this flexible list of ingredients for packing school lunches a few years ago. It is just as timely today:
Let’s start with bread:
Whole grain breads
If storing overnight, layer bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.
Next, the spread:
The main ingredient:
Crumbled hard-boiled eggs
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Sliced red peppers
“ ‘We could take our lunch,’ said Katherine.‘What kind of sandwiches?’ said Mark. ‘Jam,’ said Martha thoughtfully, ‘and peanut-butter-and-banana, and cream-cheese-and-honey, and date-and-nut, and prune-and-marshmallow…’”