One thing I loved about living in the country was the time it gave us to be together.
Most weekends after spending the morning outdoors, we'd gather at the table and share a leisurely family style lunch. The food was usually locally picked up from the farmer's market or from one of the small businesses in town. Our meals weren't fancy rather they often resembled some form of a charcuterie board. My boys would choose their own foods, often experimenting with new additions to the spread. After eating they'd go play, leaving my husband and I time to eat our own lunch slowly. We'd rarely clean up the table right away because my kids seem to come back for round two.
Those rural lunches felt different than lunchtimes in our previous life in the city, where we were rarely together at home on the weekends. Rather we were off at an attraction, birthday party, or shopping.
I want to bring the ease of those slow weekend lunches into our new life in the city and carry them over to their packed school lunches.
Did I lose you at the idea of slow school lunches? It sounds ambitious but it's doable even with school lunch periods that are notoriously short.
How To Make Slow Packed Lunches
The three areas that I'm focusing on to make slow school lunches possible:
Thoughtfully Chosen Ingredients
I play the long game when it comes to feeding my kids. I know that each meal won't be necessarily balanced nor will they likely eat what I deem enough. My kids are classic nibblers. So I do for packed school lunches what I do for family meals, provide a choice of several mostly healthy things that they like as well as occasionally throw in something new to that they may try.
Part of slowing down a meal is tuning into the process of eating. This includes assembling food or the repeated act of utensil to mouth. So rather than pack ready made sandwiches, give your child the ingredients to build their own. Pack soups and salads made with ingredients from your weekly trip to the farmers market. If your child especially loved a dinner, pack it for lunch the next day. You can be sure they'll be thinking of their family meal while enjoying it.
A few ideas to get you started:
- A charcuterie style lunch (local meats, cheeses, bread, tangy veggies, along with hummus or a sweet jam)
- Make-your-own yogurt parfait (homemade granola, seeds, dried fruit, fresh berries and a dish of unsweetened yogurt)
- Veggie wraps (include sprouts, feta, peppers, heirloom tomatoes)
- Beet chips with salsa and guacamole along with some grated cheese
- Salad with the toppings on the side and a hard-boiled egg, feta or pieces of steak
- Roasted root veggies and fresh vegetables with a dipping sauce
- Kid's ‘amuse bouche' with different slices of bread or crackers and dips (hummus, pesto, cream cheese)
- Healthy pasta salads with chicken wings
- Soup with crackers for dipping
- Popsicle stick skewers with fruits/veggies and cheese or meats.
What does concern me about my children's eating habits is their level of hydration. Too often my kids have walked in the door after school proclaiming near tears their thirst yet I find their water bottles full. Hydration is important for their health and behaviour at school.
This school year, I'll be switching up sending regular water for Sapsucker Maple Tree Filtered Water just like I do at our family meals. Juice may be fine on occasion but when they're thirsty at school, drinking water helps support their focus and attention while keeping blood sugar levels steady. Sapsucker water has a hint of sweetness which appeals to a child's desire for a treat while quenching thirst. And since it's locally tapped in Ontario, it's part of the slow food culture.
Keep in mind that with a packed slow lunch you're trying to recreate that feeling of family and home. Most family meals aren't eaten with disposable dishware and neither should a slow lunch. Use cloth napkins rather than paper towel, send real cutlery, and pack food in stainless steel containers. And when sending any pre-packaged food or drinks, try to choose items that can be resealed or have minimal packaging.
One thing I love about Sapsucker water is that their tetra packs can be resealed. This lets them sip on the maple water throughout the day and deters them from throwing it out unfinished rather than bringing it back home.
My goal in packing slow lunches is to help my kids learn that even when time is short like it often is during school lunch, that meals are worth spending time on. And if they do run out of time to eat their food, by packing it in resealable and reusable containers, they are able to come back to enjoy it during the next break in the day.