· By Julia Boase
An open letter to parents about to pack a lunch box for the first time.
There’s something special about packing a lunch box. I can still remember the first lunches I made for my eldest. He was two at the time and his day care was of the bring your own lunch variety. As he only did half days, I only need a snack which was usually fruit (typically strawberries) and some raisin toast. When I had time I mixed it up a bit and made pikelets and muffins. I can still distinctly remember the joy of making these lunches. Time passed a little slower back then. I was on maternity leave so the chaotic mornings were not yet part of our lives and I could savour the joy of putting together a little lunch box of my child’s favourite foods.
There was just something altogether wholesome about packing these lunches. It played strongly to my maternal instinct to nurture, but it also helped me to feel connected to my son whilst he was at daycare.
Fast forward a decade and the scene is a little different. Our mornings are of the controlled chaos variety, as we hustle to get four kids out the door and off to their various schools. There’s 20 lunches to pack each week, so there’s often a little less love and a bit more slap dash involved. But beneath all of that, there’s still something I find very nurturing about packing those lunches (and I suppose if I didn’t find some joy in it I wouldn’t be running this business).
So here’s what I’ve learnt as a Mum of four and a paediatric dietitian about packing lunch boxes for the past 12 years….
1. Despite your best intentions there’s often a disconnect between what you’d like to pack and what you realistically have the energy to pack come the evening (or early morning). That’s ok, your lunch box doesn’t need to be photo worthy, just packed.
2. Your kids will complain a LOT - often this happens just when you think you’ve got something good going on. That muffin recipe they loved last week - they’ll hate it this week.
3. Every other child will have a better lunch than your kid - I can virtually guarantee this one. The first time it happens you’ll ask “Ok so tell me what Jamie has and I’ll pack you that”…believe me you’re not going to win, the other kids will always have better lunches, it’s a grass is always greener kind of thing.
4. What your kids will eat at home, they’ll outright refuse to eat at school - I’ve heard it all from “it just doesn’t taste as good at school Mum”, to “I don’t have time to eat that”!
5. Packet food will become very appealing - If you’re like me and try hard to send “nude” food to school, I can guarantee that at some point your kids are going to want something in a packet (because their friends have them, and things in packets are shiny and appealing to kids). You’re going to question why you bother making stuff when they just want the packet stuff? Cut yourself some slack, offer a bit of both, and just get on with it.
6. The lunch box will come home full again - hopefully not always, but you can count on this happening sometimes. Yes it’s deflating when you’ve put so much time and effort into it. Don’t stress, it’s not your fault. Often they just don’t have enough time and aren’t hungry enough to tackle what you’ve packed (note - be prepared for them to come home “hangry”)
7. You are going to have an ongoing internal argument with yourself as to how often, is too often, to order from the tuck shop? I say do what works for you. You’ll enjoy packing the lunches that you do, if you can give yourself a break sometimes (note - when I only had 1 child at school we had lunch orders once or twice a term. With four kids, we do a lunch order day every Friday because #life and #ineedabreak.)
8. Some of your lunches will rock and some will be fairly “meh” - refer back to point #1 and it’s also worth noting that your enthusiasm for all things lunches will wain as the term and the year goes on. This is ok, not every lunch box needs to be exciting, there will be plenty of boring days and that’s just life. Soon enough you’ll find your enthusiasm again and turn out a great lunch (and if you don’t refer back to point #7 and order some lunches)
9. You’ll stress about nutrition - When invariably the vegetables you’ve lovingly cut up come home again, you’ll start to question whether your child is getting enough. More than likely they are. I’ve worked with hundreds (probably thousands) of fussy eaters, and most are still able to get what they need. It’s also worth noting that many of the nutrients you find in vegetables are present in other foods too, like fruit or grains.
10. One day you’ll miss packing lunches - oomph it always hits hard when someone says this doesn’t it? I still may only be part of the way through my lunch box packing journey, but as difficult and relentless as it often feels (actually that’s most of parenting isn’t it?) I know when they no longer need me to pack them lunch, it’s going to hurt hard.
So if you’re about to start packing lunches for the first time, enjoy and whether they are Pinterest worthy or down right boring, I can guarantee they are enough. You’re doing a great job.
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