Every year at the school Princess and Bean go to the PTA hosts a family BBQ, inviting all of the parents (or grandparents, aunts, uncles, non-school siblings, etc.) to join their child for lunch in the cafeteria and spend $3.50 for a hot lunch. It's sweet, spending the lunch and recess with your kid. So today was the first day this year Bean did not take a lunch to school, and the first time ever for Princess.
I was actually kind of impressed with the school lunch. The burger was bland and what flavor it did have was not good, but it was on a whole wheat bun. They had two kinds of lettuce (shredded iceberg and cut romaine), baby carrots, oranges, and pickles in the cold veg area. In the hot veg area they had hot baked beans and hot corn kernels. And then they had a table full of condiments ~ ranch dressing, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. Each lunch also came with a chocolate chip cookie, a small bag of chips, and their choose of milk, chocolate milk, or apple juice. Kids were encouraged to take as much of the veggies and fruit as they wanted, no limit. I was happy to see a lot of kids actually eating and enjoying the orange wedges and the carrots. The lunch aides walk around the cafeteria, helping kids who need it with opening things, and they also encourage kids to take bites and try new things. It was nice to see the emphasis on healthy balanced eating. The cafeteria also has a big poster on the wall encouraging kids to "eat a rainbow plate" ~ to fill their plates with a variety of colors of fresh natural foods. Way better than the gooey grey puddles of goop I remember from the cafeteria when I was a kid!
Something that surprised me... apparently, I'm a bit of a star there! Bean's lunch was first, so I arrived at the school for her lunch, went through the line, etc. with her. As we were filling our plates two of the lunch aides came over. "No special cute lunch today?" "This one, oh my goodness, her lunches are just great!" A teacher walked over as we were talking and the lunch aides told her all about how amazing the lunches Bean and Princess bring are, how they're so colorful and how everything looks so neat in the little containers I send. They also said that every day all of the kids around each of the girls gather around to see what they have brought each day. One said her favorites have been the pancake shapes with the little tubs of syrup and the tiny tortilla sandwiches.
It is so very nice to know that the work I put in to their lunches is noticed and appreciated! The girls have told me about the crowds they gather, but I thought they were just exaggerating a bit. Apparently not! They were telling the truth, and actually *downplaying it* quite a bit.
The bento lunches I make do NOT take a lot of time. The lunch aides thought that they must take a lot of time each day to make, but they definitely do not. If they did, I would not be making them. I do not have that kind of patience or energy in the mornings for sure! Usually I spend about 15 minutes each day making the girls' lunches for school. That's it. If I do something super fancy, like sandwich sushi rolls or things like the tiny mini sandwiches, that might take about five minutes more. The first few times I did them, they did take a lot of time. An hour or so, easily. And they CAN take a lot of time, especially if you're doing super fancy character bentos or similar. But for the most part, they really don't have to. Once you get into the groove of things, once you figure out how things fit together and what goes well where, it can go fast and smoothly. Especially if you keep all of your bento supplies organized and semi-tidy in one area.
They don't have to be expensive either. Bento boxes can and do cost upwards of $25 each, but there are also many options which cost a whole lot less. Easy Lunchboxes are my favorites, and they only cost $13 for a set of four. Sistema boxes can be found for $5. Silicone baking cups can be had for $5 per 12 pack, if you get a coupon and go to JoAnn's or Michael's. You can make your own cute decorative food picks with a toothpick and a couple of stickers. Things can cost a fortune, and there is definitely a tendency (for me, anyway) to go all BUY ALL THE THINGS!!!! and hoard as many cute supplies as possible, but it's not a requirement.
Bento lunches can be done at a reasonable money and time cost, for sure. If anyone is interested in money or time saving tips, let me know and maybe I can help!