Three Lunch Box Strategies

My early memories of school lunches were very formative. From age 5 to about 12, it was all very Hogwarts-style. Long tables, steaming bowls of overcooked cabbage, ghastly steak and kidney pudding and sloppy semolina for dessert. Teachers staring down at you, ensuring you ate every last bite – or else. Being made to eat crisps (chips) with a fork because young ladies don’t eat with their fingers. Once we were into middle school, things became a little more modern. A cafeteria approach with less discipline and doom and more choice. I cannot remember if there was a salad bar or fresh fruit available – but I do remember the wonderful rhubarb crumble and custard. Most kids participated in the lunches provided by school, though a few (a lucky few?) brought in packed lunches, as we called them in the UK. (I don’t remember why my sister and I never had packed lunches: was it a parental mandate or our own choice? Note to self: ask Mum.)

Fast forward several decades and now I’m the Mom, pondering the school lunch landscape. Fortunately, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Michelle Obama’s program, school lunches here in the US are not as dire as they used to be and there is far more awareness of what constitutes a nutritious lunch, despite push back from school departments and economic challenges, especially here in Boston and Framingham.

My kids’ school district)has made good strides in providing healthier launch options and I commend them. Still, I’m not altogether sure that my kids would always make good choices or appreciate the food on offer (see below – roast turkey fricassee, anyone?) So every day they go to school with a home-packed lunchbox. Except Friday because pizza.

Have you ever done a quick search on Google or Pinterest for lunch box ideas? There are thousands, offering suggestions for alternatives to the tired PB & J, strategies for lunch planning and prep, and ways to create artistic masterpieces that will convince your kids to actually eat celery sticks.

Given that I’m not the artistic kind when it comes to food prep and taking into account the standard morning mayhem in our house, fancy sandwiches and sculpted vegetables were never going to be in our repertoire. In fact, in the spirit of divide and conquer, my role has always been on the grocery shopping/provisions side of the equation while my husband (a professionally trained chef) handled the actual prep. However, we kept on hitting three chief problems:

  • Not enough variety – we’d always default to the same foods
  • Both kids didn’t like the same things – son would eat the ham and cheese and leave the bread; daughter would eat the bread and leave the ham and cheese
  • So much wastage – their lunch boxes would always come home with loads of uneaten items.

So, in order to ensure their little tummies were full, their taste buds challenged and that we weren’t tipping all the leftovers into the trash every evening, we decided to try out three different approaches.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Theory: This phase involved cramming their bento-boxes with lots of different choices. Call it pick ‘n’ mix, the theory being that hopefully they’d eat a little bit of everything and get a well-rounded meal.

Conclusion: Failure. The kids ate what they liked, left what they didn’t and good food went to waste.

Shock and Awe

Theory: Surprise “baba ganoush and black beans” for lunch! We assumed that they’d be so hungry at lunchtime that they’d surely eat whatever unexpected delight they found in their lunch boxes.

Conclusion: Failure. It appears that kids would rather go hungry than eat suspicious food stuffs. Meaning crabby kids at the end of the day and yes, wastage.

Do-It-Yourself

Theory: A few months ago, I was struck by the realization that unless we stop doing stuff for our kids, they will never be able to do anything for themselves. So we decided they could make their own darn lunches every day (except Friday because pizza.) We provided some basic ground rules, like you must include protein and vegetables and the ratio of sweet stuff must not outweigh said protein and vegetables. My husband even taught them how to slice their own cucumbers which terrifies me despite the fact that my seven-year-old proclaims she is now “good with knives.” Oh joy.

Conclusion: Other than the daily concern of finger amputation, success! The kids are making good choices (see below), taking responsibility for feeding themselves, and best yet: they eat everything. Plus, my husband has an extra 10 mins in the morning.

My only regret is that we didn’t go the DIY route earlier. The next challenge is to get them to mix things up a little (my youngest picks the same foods almost every day) but all in all, DIY has been the way to go. Lunch box dilemmas solved!

School lunch mneu

School lunch menu

Kids lunchboxes with healthy food choices

Kids pack their own lunches for school

 

Separation Anxiety

Last week my kids offended me.

Not with any rude behavior or flatulence or other biological substances, but rather because they did not give one hoot that I was going away for a few days.

Yes yes I know. It’s a good thing. They are independent, confident, grounded, yadayadayada.

But please, surely one of them could have squeezed out a teeny tear? Or clung to me just for a moment? Maybe uttered the words, “don’t go?” I mean, no one even asked when I’d be back!

Have I done such a thorough job that they have no worries that their every need has been thought through, seen to, anticipated? I really should let something slip through the cracks next time.

Kids: here’s a tip from your loving mother. Please make her feel like you’ll miss her, even if it means faking it just a teeny weeny bit.

The Understudy

Guest post by Tarah Cammett

Writing for me has always been simple.  A therapy of the mind.  A way to release my past.  Process breakups and major life changes.  Throw it out there in the Universe and remove it from my spirit.  What I have realized as I have tried to write about my experiences so far of being a ‘Stepmother’ – or ‘Understudy’ as I so often refer to it, is that I’m struggling.  Greatly.  It’s easy to write about the past; things that no longer exist or serve me anymore.  It is however, extremely difficult to write about something deeply personal and ever present in my day to day life.  More so, how do I possibly encapsulate all that I have experienced?  How this has changed me?  How wonderful and frightening it’s all been.  I can’t.  Not in a simple blog post but I have to start somewhere.  So consider this a Preface.  An introduction.  Perhaps this will be a breakthrough and a journey into a new place as a writer.  Perhaps it will be an utter disaster.  You’ll have to be the judge.

About a year and a half ago I was coming off the tail end of my own version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and unwinding from an incredible spiritual journey of the soul.  I had spent months traveling, talking, seeking.  Hours on therapy couches and a lot of time spent with an overly priced Shaman (which by the way was worth every penny).  My mind was at peace.  I finally felt at rest, that I had let these ‘things’ that had followed me around, plaguing me, go.  I had discovered acceptance in the not knowing and in the just being.  I was fiercely content or more so adamant about being alone and savoring every moment of it.  It was of course, in that moment, that my now husband walked into my life and brought with him his wee 1-yr old baby girl.

My life for all of its chaos has always been very controlled.  Well, because I have controlled it.  Controlled chaos.  Maybe even on some levels planned chaos.  But I didn’t plan them.  I didn’t plan on him regardless of the secret hope of one day finding someone who my soul sort of melted into but I most certainly did not plan her.

He was easy.  Every day that we spent together I fell more and more.  He became funnier.  Smarter.  Sexier. The boy that I had assured would never be anything more than a ‘buddy’ and/or ‘lover’, I found myself wanting to rush home from work to see.  He was just there, and never left and it was as if we had always been.  It just made sense.  And then, well, then I was introduced to his daughter.  She wasn’t what got me – regardless of how beautiful she was, it was the way he was with her.  So hyper conscious.  So madly in love.  So gentle and patient.  Nail in the coffin.  I was a goner.  There is nothing sexier than a good father.

She and I weren’t so easy at first.  It wasn’t that children made me uncomfortable.  I love kids.  I have god babies and nephews and until I met the Peanut they were the center of my Universe.  It was that upon meeting her I realized that I had to shift what I understood of love.  I knew in an instant that I would have to accept my place in my husband’s heart.  I would never be first.  And that was something that I had never experienced.  There would always be someone ahead of me.  It was something my ego wasn’t accustomed to.  Maybe in the beginning I was weary of her because of that.  Or because she was so painfully shy she didn’t immediately come running into my arms.  Perhaps it was the horrible relationship he had with her mother that I internally projected distaste for on to her.  All I can express, if I was to be completely truthful was that it wasn’t love at first sight.  For either of us.

It was ultimately a slow evolution of learning about unconditional love in a way that I had not yet known.  Getting to know a person, who is older and has sort of worked out their idiosyncrasies is one thing.  Getting to know an infant who’s changing every instant is another.  It was like navigating a mine field.  Ok.  It still is.  As a parent, it’s your choice and there’s a sort of genetic bond that prods you through.  As a ‘stepparent’ it’s a bit different.  This little intruder kind of appears and you’re supposed to just love them.  I guess in writing that, I just realized it is the same for any type of parent – genetic or not.  Perhaps it’s just that as a ‘stepparent’ I found myself being hyper cautious, and hyper positive.  Both of which made me feel off kilter.

Not long into it I found this weird ‘instinct’ I wasn’t aware existed.  I knew what her cries meant.  I knew what we should do for her.  I would always wake up 5 minutes before I would hear her on the monitor and wait knowing that she was about to wake as well.  As we adjusted to each other we began to play and laugh and every time I got her to smile or giggle my heart melted as my internal ego high fived herself at the minor accomplishment.  I found myself personalizing her whims less.  It’s ok if she wanted Daddy instead of me. It just makes the times that she does ask for me all the more sweet.  She became my first thought in the morning.  My last thought at night.  Her well-being.  Her future.  Loving her made me feel closer to him.  We had a shared goal.  Her existence.

Well, and then I became the cliché.  Poopy diapers, booger filled noses.  Singing weird made up random songs that made her laugh uncontrollably.  Reading books in funny accents and making silly faces to combat hers.  We became a couple.  The same way that two stranger’s sort of fall in love I guess.  Losing inhibitions, slowly being yourself.  Getting to know one another and then finally just realizing that everything weird about them is something great about you.

It’s not to say that this love isn’t without struggle.  I despise the word ‘stepmother’ or ‘stepchild’.  I don’t think of her as something in lieu of.  She’s part of my soul circle.  Souls travel in circles throughout lifetimes to find each other again and I believe she found me early on in this one because I’m supposed to teach her something.  But what?  Sometimes that thought plagues me.  I have no creepy notions that I’m her ‘true’ mother.  She has a mother.   I respect her mother’s genetic and emotional role.  I have no desire to replace it, circumvent it, or trump it.  I just want to be a positive force in her Universe as well.  Someone that she believes in.  Yes, when we’re at the grocery and the cashier wants to recap the perils of childbirth and gives me the, “Well you remember what that was like…” line, do I nod in vaginal unity?  Of course.  It’s easier.  But I am not her mother.  Maybe that does hurt on some level given my affinity for her but maybe what hurts more is that I don’t know how to ‘label’ our relationship.  To find a word, or a phrase that encapsulates it so that when it’s said people nod knowingly – that’s what I would like.    A word that means more than ‘step’ anything.

There was a moment a couple months back.  She and I had been dancing in the kitchen (we do that often).  It had just been one of those fantastic weekends where we laughed and played all weekend, everything was just happy.  We were packing her up to return her to mother’s.  It’s always a shit feeling that sweeps over hubs and I.  We don’t want it to end, but it is what it is and in essence the only way the Peanut has ever known.  I digress.  I was on my knees giving her kisses, telling her how much I loved her and that I would miss her and how proud I was of her and she began stroking my hair, then my cheeks.  “Mama” she said.  “Yes, you’re going to see Mama in a few minutes and you’re going to have so much fun with her” I responded.  She shook her head no.  She again stroked my cheeks and said, “Mama” and she stared intently into my eyes.  I knew what she meant.  It was her way of acknowledging my presence as a maternal figure in her life, she of course wasn’t calling me her mother. It was the only way at two years old she knew how to express herself.  I cried for pretty much a solid three hours after she left, just out of love, and wonder, and maybe a twinge of sadness.  I’m quite sure when I saw her a few days later she put out her hand and told me to, “Go!” so that she could be alone with Daddy but that’s how it works.  The ebb and flow.

I can’t possibly write about all of this in any succinct logical way.  One day I was wild and single and the next day I was picking out a crib and baby proofing a house.  I could create 80 chapters on each moment, emotion, phase, understanding, point of being, crushing moment of sadness, elation….you name it.  For now, I know this.  You are always exactly where you are supposed to be.  My husband brought me a beautiful gift.  A dowry if you will.  He brought me a teacher.  Someone who will challenge all that I have and will come to know and see of this world and myself every single day.  She might not be mine but god dammit she is part of my tribe and I will do whatever I can to protect her and to give her light.  My compass broke a long time ago so I’m navigating by moon phases, toddler emotions, laughter and levels of exhaustion but somehow, I still wake up every morning excited at what the sounds of the monitor will bring.  So I’m going with it.

Thanks for listening.

Tarah is a hippie corporate sell-out Marketing Director by day and a soul seeking Moon follower by night, hiding away in a tiny town by the ocean.

tarah

My Kid’s 8 Illogical Picky Eating Habits

Much like me, my daughter loves logic. She likes it when everything follows its designated order and structure. So I find myself perpetually bewildered by her highly illogical picky eating habits which include:

  • Only eating corn on the cob, never off the cob
  • An aversion to most spherical fruits and vegetables including grapes, blueberries and cherry tomatoes
  • “Dry” meatballs
  • Orange cheese only in the form of a square, not in tube/string cheese shape
  • A dislike for raspberries (seriously, how can anyone not love raspberries?)
  • Only muffins that resemble store-made muffins (even though my home-made ones are so much better)
  • Only chocolate sauce – never apple sauce or tomato sauce
  • Peanut butter NO jelly

Now, I’m not a short-order chef when it comes to our family’s meals but I do try to accommodate her, when it makes sense and doesn’t require too much effort. After all this is the girl who is also a self-professed broccoli machine, loves meat/chicken/fish and drinks milk by the gallon.

But seriously, an aversion to spherical fruits and vegetables? That’s just weird.

 

After The Car Crash & What My Kids Are Teaching Me

I could write about how a nanosecond can shatter your self-confidence, rendering you emotionally and physically fragile.

I could write about how I feel like puking at every intersection I encounter when driving.

I could write about my stiff back and bruised clavicle.

I could write about the depths of fear at the possibility of my kids being in harm’s way. And the goosebump-inducing, engulfing relief that they were not hurt.

I could write about the bewildering amount of paperwork and phone calls associated with insurance and personal injury claims.

Instead, I am going to write about what I can learn from how my kids’ have responded to and dealt with last Tuesday’s car crash, when we were T-boned at the traffic lights near our home.

Everyone says that kids are resilient but seeing this in action is remarkable. Yes, there were screams and panic in the moment. Followed by tears and anxiety in the hours following. But there’s no evidence of trauma or emotional scarring. They accept what happened. They understand it’s not normal, that is was the exception, not the rule. They show no fear getting back in the car with me. They defend their Mother. They trust in me.

As we drove our new car home last night from the dealership, my youngest said “It feels good to be in this car.” This, for me, was the most reassuring moment of the past seven days. I too must accept that what happened, and not judge or doubt myself. I must get over my fear. I must trust in me.

 

Encouraging Children to “Follow Their Grief” When A Pet Dies

(As many of you know, our golden retriever Angel passed away last December and, for me, one of the hardest parts was observing my kids’ grief and supporting them through it – an ongoing process, for sure. When Lisa reached out to me with a proposal to contribute a post on this very this topic, I said “yes please!”)

Guest post by Lisa Cohn

When our Golden Retriever, Lucy, died suddenly a year ago, I was devastated. I couldn’t sleep or eat. Every part of my daily routine felt empty without her—walking in my neighborhood, shopping in a dog-friendly store, or playing with my son in the park.

For my children, age 4, 14 and 24, Lucy’s passing was their first close experience with death. They looked to me to understand how to cope. My youngest, Michael, didn’t understand what death was.

Again and again, I encouraged them to follow their grief, to avoid pushing it away, and to see where their feelings of sadness and vulnerability took them. I tried to model this philosophy—and hope, in doing so, I didn’t overwhelm them with my own sadness. I cried every day, talked about Lucy to my friends, and engaged in conversations with people on the street about dogs they had lost.

Interestingly, my youngest, Michael, was most open to and accepting of my sadness. He listened to me, held my hand, and reminded me over and over that I had “three other babies,” (my three children). To him, Lucy was another one of my children.

Our family’s efforts to cope with grief over the loss of “my other child” focused on art, writing and communicating with others. First, we gathered photos of Lucy and posted them on Facebook and talked about our loss. It was comforting to hear from all our dog-loving friends.

Next, we created a few collages of Lucy, and hung them up in high-traffic areas of our house.

We also organized a “Remembering Lucy” party. We invited our friends and people who had cared for Lucy over the years. I thought it was especially important for Michael’s preschool friends to attend this event because they had all played every day with her on the playground (She happily went down the slide with them, which endeared her to them).

During the “Remembering Lucy” event, we shared stories about and photos of Lucy. I was touched by our friends’ and neighbors’ passion for dogs, and their comments about how much dogs give to them. Some of Michael’s friends spoke up, sharing stories about playing with her on the playground. And my 24-year-old son’s friends surprised me with their comments. One young man said he was always jealous of the fact that we had such a great dog. Another young man said that whenever he babysat Michael, Lucy guarded the two of them closely.

I believe our “Remembering Lucy” event deepened my kids’ understanding of the gifts our “best friends” give us. It certainly strengthened mine.

Following my grief also led me to write a children’s book, along with Michael, that stars Lucy. This helped us keep her alive in our hearts. Michael and I even started Skyping with classes globally, encouraging them to express their grief through writing and other art forms.

“Follow your grief,” is the message we send over and over. We followed ours, and it led us to Skype with children from all over the world—kids who touch us daily with their emails, letters and enthusiasm for pets.

Writing, organizing a Remembering Lucy party and Skyping with kids globally has impacted Michael the most. There’s only one way to deal with death, in his mind: Share your feelings publicly.

Just the other day, his friend’s dog died. “Let’s help them write a book about their dog,” he said. “That will make them feel better.”

 

Lisa Cohn, along with her son, Michael, are co-authors of the award-winning children’s book, “Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence,” and were recently featured on the Today Show for Michael’s love of books and his role in writing the book. Visit them at www.BashAndLucy.com

lisafacebookphoto

Wanted: Me Time

Like most busy Moms, the tradeoff for all the joy of motherhood and family life is the loss of “me time.” And we all know and read about the need for self-care: if we don’t look after ourselves, then how can maintain our multi-tasking superMom status for everyone else?

I don’t blame my kids, my husband or my full-time job. In fact, my husband, knowing me as well as he does, often asks me what am I going to do for myself each weekend. I’ve tried my hardest to make “me time” a priority at the weekends; sometimes it works, more often than not, it’s 30 mins grabbed here or there that, in truth, doesn’t amount to much of anything in the way of soul-soothing.

Truth is, there’s just not enough weekend in the weekend for “me time.”

So this morning, I decided it was time to take some action. I am demanding one whole Saturday per quarter for me and me alone. Because I need a whole 12 hours to unwind my mind and body. To do things for me. At my pace and to my agenda.

I am claiming my “me time” because I need to know that it’s there, carved out on the family schedule. It’s something to look forward to, to plan for. To decompress the depleting stress that creeps up on my brain and rattles my sleep. To recharge my silly.

I know that everyone will benefit from my “me time.” Not just me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working Mom Poll: Makeup Dilemmas

Most mid-week mornings, I pull into the parking lot at work, already running late and harried. And it’s there, in my car, that I hastily throw on my makeup. The goal of which is to mostly make me feel more put together/awake but also I feel it’s my duty to protect my co-workers from having to see their reflections in my shiny nose and forehead.

Like most working Moms, mid-week mornings are manic: trying to herd the kids while at the same time making ourselves presentable for the outside, professional world. Success (a sliding scale) largely depends on the age of your kids and how much of the morning routine they can do for themselves – but ultimately, kids are easily distracted and before you’ve had a chance to take a bite of toast, pack their lunches, iron anything (ha!) or hunt for library books, it’s time to hustle them – and you – out of the door and to school/preschool/daycare/work.

So I wondered, am I alone in my inability to apply makeup before leaving the house or do you, fellow working Moms, also find yourself slapping on the mascara and lipstick sitting in your car outside your office? You tell me.

In Defense of Silliness & Spontaneous Dance Parties

This morning during breakfast, as Bruce Springsteen was playing on the iPod, I jumped up, grabbed my daughter’s electric guitar and rocked out to “Born To Run.” I couldn’t help myself! My six year-old looked at me, wide-eyed, with wonder and glee. After calling me weird, she jumped up and joined in, followed by my husband and son and a spontaneous dance party exploded culminating in us all grooving and giggling to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

Every morning should start off with silliness and a spontaneous dance party. It’s good for the soul, not to mention the cardiovascular system.

Admittedly, it’s a distraction from the “business” of the morning. Making lunches, brushing teeth, playing Minecraft on the iPad, packing backpacks. Yes, we were rushed as the minutes ticked by on the clock ….. but it was so worth it!

Every kid needs to see their parents being silly, every now and then. If we are always instructing, nagging, shuffling them from A to B, focusing on chores and homework, well, it’s all quite dull. The occasional goofiness provides healthy perspective. It tells them that we don’t always take everything so seriously, that we can be light-hearted and laugh at ourselves. Seriously folks, it’s even the secret to my happy marriage!

Silliness defies age. In fact, it keeps you young at heart. Being silly keeps you present and in the moment. If fosters togetherness. And, later in the day, you can reminisce about your antics and giggle a little to yourself.

Silliness has its time and place, for sure. Not every morning is suited to spontaneous dance parties. but, if the music moves you, I say go for it, let it rip. Your kids will start the day smiling and what’s better than that?

Puppy Love

Guest post by Vikki Friedman

First there was just me. Then ‘me’ and the love of my life became ‘we’. We became three with the arrival of Harper, our fluffy champagne coloured kitten. The next five years whizzed by in a blur of nappies, sleepless nights and the juxtaposition of joy and insanity that our three unique, loveable and crazy baby boys (Hugo, Milo and Luca) bought into our world. Next came Molly, our fluffy white bunny (formally known as Buster the boy bunny – but that’s another story!).

Life in the Friedman family to this point could be described as semi-controlled chaos. Although my kids had begged us to get a puppy, the answer had always been a resounding “No way!” This was despite having grown up with the most wonderful four legged-friends, our gorgeous Shelties Leo and Ollie.

A few of my reasons were as follows:

  • Dogs are smelly and have really stinky breath
  • They pooh and wee everywhere
  • They destroy everything – your house, your garden and, according to my sister, steal and bury multiple household items including remote controls amongst other things!
  • I would end up doing EVERYTHING associated with looking after the dog!

Pretty good reasons not to get one, eh?

But I remember the day something seismic shifted within in me. My eldest son was having a lousy time getting to sleep and was really worried about ‘bad guys’ breaking in. He seemed to feel responsible for listening out for all the creepy noisy in the house that might mean trouble. That night I had an epiphany – a puppy would bring him the sense of security that he needed and deserved.

Suddenly, I was like that possessed woman who is desperate to have a baby and only sees pregnant women around her! Everywhere I looked everyone had a puppy and my doggy hormones just went into overdrive and I wanted one RIGHT NOW!

But of course it’s not that easy. There is a gestation period involved! First you have to decide on a breed that will suit your situation. We needed a puppy that was low maintenance, child and pet friendly and definitely not fluffy! After hours of research, we decided on a Pugalier – a Pug/Cavalier cross. However, finding one that did not come from a ‘puppy farm’ or other dodgy breeder was a tough task and it took months of research to eventually find a family who we felt comfortable buying a puppy from.

The next consideration was timing – it was important to introduce our new ‘baby’ into our crazy household at the right time, so I waited for the last two weeks of the summer holidays to do this. So, on a steamy 44 degree Melbourne day, Coco (or Puppy as she was known then) took a JetPets flight down from Sydney and flew straight into our lives and we haven’t looked back since.

“So what’s the verdict?” I hear you ask. Well yes, she is a bit stinky. And yes, she is still in the “here is my pooh as a present on the carpet” phase! She is nuts and sometime nips and sometimes steals things she shouldn’t and digs holes in the garden so that the bunny escapes under our back yard deck! She chases the rabbit around the garden and the cat has basically moved out since she took up residence!

But despite all this, she is friendly, loveable, playful, fun, loyal, so cute and has bought endless joy and entertainment to our family life. Our kids adore her. She adores them. They play with her first thing in the morning and first thing when they get home from school. There is less iPad, computer and TV time in our household and more fun and puppy play time. All she wants is love and be loved. And really, what more could any family ask for?

coco

Vikki Friedman is a English mum of 3 boys, who lives in Melbourne, Australia. She works in online fundraising, runs her kids’ school parents’ association and is starting her own face painting business. (Editors note: she’s also my sister!)

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