Last week I watched part of a television program about people who make their livings buying and selling vintage items.
The metal Hopalong Cassidy lunch box with matching Thermos bottle was considered a valuable find.
How things have changed in the 60 years since some proud child carried that lunch box to school! That lunch might have consisted of a white bread bologna sandwich and a homemade cookie, both wrapped in waxed paper, an apple, and a drink of Koolaid or milk.
Since then, we have learned more about healthy eating and food safety. Many more people have developed food allergies and intolerances. People have also become more sedentary, and their lives more tightly scheduled.
The food industry offers solutions via fast food chains and a plethora of processed, packaged, heavily advertised food. Rules have relaxed about when and where people eat. Worldwide, there are major concerns about obesity. There is a lot more interest in food, and tastes have changed with the influences of a multicultural population and the food media. We can buy produce, spices and packaged food from halfway around the world.
Health food, whole food, local food, diet food, raw food, vegan food, affordable food — it’s a lot for parents to think about, as they face the task of providing healthy, safe school lunches that comply with school food policies and do not make other students ill.
The other thing — one of the most important considerations — is that school lunches should contain food that the child will eat and enjoy.
I have some suggestions for families looking for lunch ideas. It’s not advice; parents are the experts on their children’s tastes. As every parent knows, there is no magic formula, no food, healthy or not, that all children love. Children are as diverse a group as adults, or seniors (another group that people sometimes mistakenly think of as homogeneous). They have their own tastes and appetites.
1. Engage children in planning their own lunches. Get them to help you list healthy foods that they’d like to find in their lunches. Make your expectations clear, and listen to their suggestions. Depending on their age, they can help to make their lunches, or assume full responsibility for making their own.
2. Have all four food groups — vegetables and fruits, grains, milk and milk alternatives, and meat and alternatives — represented in the lunch every day.
3. Keep the food safe by using an insulated lunch bag, a cold pack and/or frozen tetra packs of juice or milk to ensure that perishable cold food stays cold.
4. Understand that there are things you cannot control. Give up the expectation that your child will love everything that you send for lunch and eat it all up every day. Appetites change from day to day.
5. As much as possible, send a variety of foods. Recognize, though, that there are children who want to take the same foods for lunch for a stretch of weeks, and realize that, just when you come to expect the trend to continue indefinitely, they will move on to a new preference.
6. Familiarize yourself with the food policy at your child’s school.
The policies were designed to keep students healthy and safe, and if everyone complies, healthier foods will be the norm.
Finally, here are some suggestions for lunch menus. I hope that some of them will work for you. Amounts of food will differ, depending on the appetite, age, size and activity level of the child.
Suggested lunch menus
1. Sliced lean roast beef and lettuce wrapped in a whole grain tortilla, with a wedge of cantaloupe and a drink of milk.
2. Carrot muffin with a chunk of cheddar cheese, a container of pumpkin seeds and raisins, water to drink.
3. Carrot and zucchini sticks with hummus, mini whole wheat pitas and soy milk.
4. Salad of corn, black beans and red pepper, a whole grain roll and a drink of milk.
5. Mixed fresh fruit salad, bread sticks, sunflower seeds and soy milk.
6. Whole wheat sub with sliced roast pork, tomato, cucumber, mustard and lettuce, and milk.
7. Fresh blackberries, granola with pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, vanilla yogurt and water.
8. Tuna salad with chopped celery on whole wheat bread, a banana and milk.
9. Whole grain pasta salad with cubed cheddar and chicken, chopped red and green peppers and cucumbers and water.
10. Rice pudding made with milk, egg, brown rice and raisins, an apple and water.
11. Falafel sandwich in whole grain pita bread, with sliced cucumber and tomato and milk.
12. Sandwich of sliced havarti cheese and lettuce on whole grain bread, fresh apple and water.
13. Cherry tomatoes, whole grain low-salt crackers, chunks of cold roast chicken and milk.
14. Hard cooked egg, buttered whole grain bread, a pear and soy milk.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.