The Five Spot: Re-Imagining the School Lunch

The year is turning once again toward autumn, and along with the falling leaves and shortening days comes the return of the school lunch. If the school children (and grown-up lunch toters) in your household are tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrot sticks and apples, and if you are looking for more ways to cut down on wasteful packaging and everlasting disposable plastic, here are a few suggested renovations for your lunches’ contents and carriers.

1.     Pack pancakes. We started carrying them to work with us last year, just because we love pancakes. And we found out you can put so much good stuff in them! Pretty much any kind of grain will work, ground into flour. Check out the bulk bins in the Co-op, where you can find teff flour, millet, oats, and quinoa, as well as rice flour and local or organic wheat flour. Use local honey, and eggs from local, free-ranging hens; they are available at the Co-op and the Farmer’s Market, and often from Muddy Springs Farm (muddyspringsfarm.net). Add some seeds, berries or stewed fruit, and you’ve got a tasty, portable, healthy lunch component.

2.     Good old soup. Because, again, we love soup, we’ve decided to send it to school with the boy, employing the good, old-fashioned thermos. Soup is a subject for a thousand dissertation-length articles, and we will return to give soup closer scrutiny in a future article. Briefly, clear broths with green onion and ginger can be good early-fall soup bases.

3.     For those days when you just don’t have time to prepare lunch from scratch, keep some dried soup mixes on hand. The Co-op carries several brands of individually-packaged cups, like Organic-On-The-Go soups and pastas. And the bulk aisle stocks black bean soup mix among others.

4.     Where there is soup, there are thermoses. Types and models abound these days, as do lunch boxes and other packaging. The Co-op carries a variety of stainless steel, plastic, glass, and fabric containers for carrying lunch to school. We have been using stainless steel canisters for the last couple of years, and plan to continue to do so. They are easy to clean, and easy for hands of all sizes to open. U-Konserv makes a stainless steel container with plastic dividers to separate different foods. Planetbox (planetbox.com) makes several sizes of such boxes, and quilted carrying cases with cool designs. And we’ve recently discovered Bee’s Wrap for wrapping sandwiches and what not. It’s made with organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. You can wash and reuse it, and then compost it when it gets too weary for reuse.

5.     Full disclosure: I rather like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I use a favorite kind of bread, and almond butter, with home made jam, or local honey with banana and cinnamon. Forever ago, my father used to take date nut bread spread with cream cheese and quince jelly for lunch every day. For a double whammy of fun and nutrition, try using one of those pancakes in place of bread. The energy boost can’t be beat, and the variations are endless!

May you go forth to school or work each day this fall fortified with a delicious lunch that’s healthy for all living beings, to carry you through your school or work day and beyond.