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As an eight-year-old-girl, during weekly hangouts with my best friend, I loved spotting the notes her mother tacked to her bathroom mirror, stuck in her shoe, or come school days, folded inside her packed lunch. I internalized what I imagined it made her feel, bookmarking that trick for one day: when I grew up, I was going to be a notes in the lunchbox kind of mom, too.
I started out strong. As the mother of one preschool-aged girl (a girl who didn’t yet know about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or, ironically, how to read), I stuffed her lunches with quinoa, apple and raisin salads and charming notes lined with x’s and o’s.
Half a decade later, with a second kid hanging around my neck (lunging at all times for the fruit bowl), I’m often running on steam. These days, love notes are reserved for birthdays and special events (tests, school performance days, and holidays, when they fall on a school day) or for the moments I need to say sorry, mama wasn’t the best this morning, but you still are. I have to hope that the love I pour into my kids in kisses and stories, crafts and night time cuddles suffice to send the message: you’re so important to me.
What I am vigilant about is the quality of food I pack for them. A lot of parents don’t have that choice. In New York state alone, 200,000 free lunches are provided for kids in need. It’s something I’ll never stop working on putting our energy behind, in occasionally big and more often, small ways, like making sure the lunchboxes I pack in do more than just feed my own kids. I love that the FEED lunchbox can cart healthy foods to and from school for my own kids, and, meanwhile, provides 15 school meals for kids in need.
What’s inside the lunchbox has morphed a bit. My daughter, Greta, now a third grader, who came up in the cheese stick and cheddar bunnies generation, may still eat quinoa salads at home, but please, mom, not for lunch. For both my kids, my classic is a bento box of avocado, fresh berries and raw, snappy vegetables, plus one warm, filling “main,” like a thermos of leftover soup (when there’s time), a pot of yogurt (when leftovers are thinning), or, more recently, a sandwich.
Greta has since discovered the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, along with what she endearingly calls, a meat sandwich (anything meat or cheese-like between sliced and buttered bread). The charm of the meat sandwich or a PB&J is that by about age 8, a kid can make it for themselves, along with one for a younger sibling or two, so you can move that energy toward other loving acts, like, writing love notes, or more practically, making sure breakfast doesn’t burn. The morning juggle is real.
As a parent, we don’t have control over a lot of things – we may have lost our say over what clothes they want to wear or what music they think is cool – but as long as our kids rely on us to feed them, we still get to decide what to put in their bodies. I believe in making all meals come with equal parts love and long-lasting energy: protein (organic whenever possible) and whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and water to drink (sorry, strawberry milk – there’s no love for you here). Perhaps, as importantly, my kids and I talk about those choices – what it means for their bodies and brains, and how food is there to serve them in the long haul. And, packing all that into a lunchbox that helps give back – that’s something we are all super proud of.
So yes, set the bar high – but also give yourself a break when you need to. We don’t expect our kids to be perfect, and we don’t have to be either. My daughter gets lunch money for school pizza on Friday, and with it, my trust that she’ll make good choices when she’s presented with things we don’t normally eat at home.
As for the notes in lunch boxes or clever tricks like animal art made from fruit? I admire them from afar, but have made peace with simple, healthy and wholesome, and save art projects for less-stressful times of my day.
Even if the lunch you pack won’t win you a mother-of-the-year-award, one little favorite (for my son: dried dates or a juicy pear; for my daughter: a handful of raspberries) can really turn their day around. With or without the love note, they’ll get the message.
SARAH'S GO-TO'S FOR LUNCH PACKING:
Container / Lunch Box: FEED Lunch Box (each Lunch Box provides 15 school meals)
Stainless Steel Hot/Cold Containers: Thermos
Organic, No-Nitrate Meats + Cheese: Applegate farms organic for a "meat sandwich"
Natural, Organic Peanut Butter: Santa Cruz Organic Creamy
ABOUT SARAH COPELAND
Sarah Copeland is the award-winning author of the books Feast, The Newlywed Cookbook, and Every Day is Saturday (coming June 2019) which exemplify her standard for gorgeous photography, luscious recipes, and simple luxuries. The former Food Director at Real Simple magazine and a Food Network veteran, Sarah currently lives in the Hudson Valley with her young family, where she tries (and fails) at fruit farming and excels at hosting raucous, twinkly-light dinner parties for friends. Sarah is a long time friend of FEED and a frequent FEED Supper host. Learn more at Edibleliving.com.
Sarah's new books: