Before my son, Dane, started kindergarten, I’d scour Pinterest every free moment, looking for unique, healthy and darling ideas in which to pack my firstborn’s lunch.
In my mind’s eye I’d prepare lunch in my pre-dawn kitchen, sporting a pink gingham apron (which I do not own) and freshly shampooed hair. In my Pinterest fantasy I’d artfully cut his turkey-and-cheese sandwich into a fish shape and add orange-bell-pepper gills, raisin eyes and a carrot-shred smile. Blueberry bubbles, marshmallow clouds – I was going to create a full-on underwater adventure.
In reality, the kids are screeching, the dog is barking, my hair’s up in a sloppy, unwashed ponytail. I’m trying to slurp down my too-hot coffee before I forget about it and find it, cold, on the bathroom counter three hours later. No artistically inspired cuisine today – Dane will not be finding Nemo in his canvas spaceship lunch bag.
After a day or two I found that packing lunches is the easiest part of our morning routine. The key is just taking stock of everything I have in my pantry and refrigerator and making sure I have enough variety for the week so he doesn’t get bored and/or malnourished.
Goldfish crackers, pretzels and cereal bars are stashed in a large wicker basket on top of the fridge. Baby carrots, celery and cucumbers are sliced on Sunday night and stored in plastic containers. Kid-sized apples, yellow bananas and clean strawberries are packed whole. It saves me time by not having to cut them every morning and besides, who likes brown apple slices or mushy bananas? I know that lemon juice preserves them pretty well, but I’m lazy and can’t be bothered with another step.
I start with the main: PB&J; turkey and cheese; tortilla-and-hummus wrap; toasted bagel and cream cheese. I toss that into one of the 5 million plastic containers I bought at IKEA this summer unless it’s a toasted bagel, which gets wrapped in tin foil. Trial and error has taught me that a warm bagel in a plastic box will sweat, become soggy and therefore will not be eaten.
Then I just go down the line: fruit; vegetable; kid treat. And by treat I mean crackers or Welch’s fruit snacks. Dane boycotts string cheese but loves “frozen yogurt,” which is really just one of those to-go yogurt tubes thrown into the freezer. A few times a week I’ll add that to the bag – by the time lunch rolls around, it’s mostly melted and – bonus! – keeps the rest of the food chilled.
I’ll throw in a paper napkin and, once he’s able to read, a love note to embarrass him in front of his friends. I pop the whole bag into the refrigerator until it’s time to go.
And my Pinterest fantasy? I’m so over it. I’m keeping it simple. I know Dane would rather have his mom’s attention in the morning rather than a lunch that belongs on a pinboard. I’d much rather be there, in the moment, too.
Gillian Van Cooney is a San Diego stay-at-home mom to two children. When she’s not trying to be more organized, she can be found writing, in the kitchen prepping meals and snacks, or having fun with her kids.