Lunch Challenge

Posted By on April 23, 2010

I like food.  Where I grew up, food was and is an enormous part of the culture.  We go to restaurants much less but take our time for meals.  My mother is a great cook, and, while I was rather reluctant to learn at a young age, once I became a student, I made up for that reluctance pretty quickly.  With young children now, life gets busy, and at the moment I do not have time for gourmet meals or leisurely dinners.  Still, I try to make an effort to put good and creative food on the table.

My husband is a grateful audience for my cooking at dinner.  But lunch… lunch is my great challenge.  You see, when it is “just” myself and my son, I tend to go into “just fill up” mode.  I feel as if, in this busy stage with a newborn, I have rarely time to calmly sit down and eat, and my two and a half year old would be just as happy if I poured some fruit or popcorn in a bowl or put macaroni and cheese in front of him every day.  And then there is the option on a particularly difficult day to just quickly run through the drive-through.  Fast food and convenience food are just that: fast and convenient.   Nobody, however, has labeled them healthy.

Now, there is a time and a place for everything, and I have an emergency box of macaroni and cheese in my pantry. I am not a health food fanatic, but I really want to develop a love and a respect for food in my son.  First of all, because I want him to be healthy, of course, but, secondly, because I believe that a lack of respect for food and the way we eat is a cultural problem.  Regular fast food is more than nourishment;it is a mentality–an “I can’t be bothered” mentality.  Now, trust me when I say that dinner with an overly energetic two and a half year old is no picnic.  Especially not as he wants to take a few bites, then run off and go play, run around like crazy, or climb in the bouncy seat on top of his little brother.  We try to lengthen the increments he has to sit at the table according to his abilities, and the idea of long, leisurely meals talking together is something for the future.  But we will not get that future if we do not practice and get the right mentality now.  And part of that practice is lunch.

While I definitely still struggle with this meal, I have found a few tricks that help me out.  Maybe the most important one is to let my son (yes, my two and a half year old son) help me cook.  This makes lunch preparation a lot less efficient, but instead of being something that I need to squeeze in between activities with my son, it becomes part of those activities.

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I allow him to stir almost anything, help break eggs, and, while I cut the veggies, anything that is soft enough for him to cut with a not too sharp knife (like cheese), he is allowed to cut himself. I make little squares of cheese that he can put on his own crackers. Or, when what needs to be done is too dangerous, I make up a job like sorting the red from the green bell peppers that I have cut, even when they go all in the pot together. When we make oatmeal, I measure out the portion (or open the bag) and let him pour it in his own bowl. I will add the hot water, but he can add the raisins by himself. If he wants milk or water, he is allowed to pour it himself… somewhat. I pour the liquid in a small measuring pitcher, and he can use that to pour it in his own cup. After all, it’s just not practical to let him handle big cartons of juice or gallon sized bottles of milk. He likes the feeling of helping and accomplishing something. And I like the fact that, while he is learning and helping me, food also gets prepared, even when it is not in the most practical way possible. Still, I find it easier to “work” with my son for half an hour than to try to squeeze in ten minutes somewhere to do it myself. In doing that, I would also forgo a learning opportunity.

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Letting my son help is a good option but, especially with a new baby, it can also be a challenging one. So I needed a few strategies for those days when spending half an hour at the counter together is simply not an option. I found the secret to my success to be in the materials and ingredients that I use. I really like the principle of muffin tin lunches: small bites of this and that, presented in small containers. While making a plate of healthy food might seem overwhelming, dropping a few grapes in a small bowl isn’t. And adding a few cherry tomatoes to another one four minutes later isn’t, either. I make sure to have small foods on hand: pasta that can be quickly cooked in the microwave, add a bit of olive oil and Parmesan cheese, and so on. I like cupcake molds or small containers with bright colours or fun shapes. We eat with the eyes first, and this way lunch is also more adventurous to eat for my son, and it is easy for me to share lunch with him, even with a baby on the shoulder.

For on the go, I have a great fondness for the bento system: small containers within a bigger one in which you take along a healthy and fun looking lunch. Think about it as a better and healthier version of lunchables: great for a small amount of leftovers, combined with something sweet or crunchy, as well as a nice dip. I really like the laptop lunches bento box, but there are other cheaper, nice versions available as well.

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Just last week I took both my sons to the museum and brought along a bento style lunchbox that I had picked up at Target. One container had grapes, the biggest had steamed carrots, and there were even a few Hershey’s kisses in the last container in the box. It was just the right size for a nice snack, and I know that if I had not packed that box, I would have ended up in a nearby golden arches, spending money on food that was not as healthy.

Cheerful and organized containers, a little helper and healthy finger foods are some of the ways I try and answer the lunch time challenge. What are yours?

About The Author

I’ve been a contributor to LAF through many changes in my life. From Miss Eva B to Mrs Eva H. From living in Europe to living in the USA. From being single, to being courted. From being courted to marriage and further into motherhood. I like to share the realities of life as well as the inspirations, the beauty as well as the work that it takes to honor God in our daily life.

Comments

4 Responses to “Lunch Challenge”

  1. Deanna Rabe says:

    Eva,

    What a great article! Thanks for the encouragement to think ahead and plan for a lunch or snack out…love the bento box idea!

  2. Brenda says:

    I believe you are wise to allow your young son to help out with these tasks….even if it doesn’t seem to make sense at the time. Think of all he is learning! Moreover, he will no doubt come to appreciate more, & different kinds of, foods if he is involved with their preparation.

  3. What a wonderful mama you are! And I just want to second the bento boxes… My middle daughter “discovered” them on a trip to Japan a year or so ago and they are just the most delightful and practical things. With a bento box it’s easy to make some leftovers and a couple of pieces of candy into a pretty exciting lunch- and all without using things like plastic baggies or the prepackaged portion sized foods that are the usual for packed lunches. Yay!

  4. ladyscott says:

    My daughter is not yet 2 and she “helps” out in the kitchen sometimes. My son just turned 4 and he’s been a kitchen helper for a while. We started out with pouring dry ingredients for cookies and such. We graduated to stirring and spooning the cookie dough onto the sheets. Early on, I taught him how to cut up soft things like black olives with a butter knife-and taught him proper use and respect of a knife so as soon as he started playing with it I took it away to resume lessons another day. He knows how to make his own peanutbutter and honey sandwiches.

    Earlier in this pregnancy I was having pretty bad sugar issues. I was on the couch, exhausted and feeling my sugar drop, but was feeling weak and didn’t get up. My son disappeared into the kitchen while I started to doze off as the sugar issue got worse. A little while later he returned with a cup full of raisins, peanuts and crackers and urged me to eat. I obeyed my little hero and my sugar returned to normal and I regained my energy. Granted, I’m not bragging that I taught him this. I am fully convinced that the Lord led him in this endeavor.

    On top of helping in the kitchen, he helps set the table and both kiddos are helping me with our vegetable garden. I try to make it a regular point to have all meals sit down meals at the table, even if hubby can’t make it home for dinner. It is important to us.

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