What’s For Lunch?

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S1: This bonus episode of Mom and Dad are fighting is on your slate plus feed, thanks to Target.

S2: Welcome to Mom and dad are fighting Slate’s parenting podcast for Tuesday, September 8th, the What’s for Lunch edition, and Jamilah Lemieux, our writer contributors to Slate’s Care and Feeding Parenting column, and mom Tinamba, who is seven. And we live in Los Angeles, California. I’m Elizabeth New can’t be right. The Homeschool and Family Travel Blog, Dutch Dutch Goose and the mom to three Little Henry eight, all of our six and Teddy three. And I’m located in Navarre, Florida.

S3: On today’s show, we’ll be talking about healthy and easy lunches for your kids, no matter whether they’ll be learning in person or at home. We’ll be joined by registered dietitian my for that conversation. But first, as always, we’ve got triumphs and fails.

S4: Elizabeth, do you have a triumph or a fail for us this week?

S5: So I have a throwback triumph from my parents. My dad used to draw like these fantastic drawings on our paper lunch bags. And then when we went to lunch boxes like pieces of paper and taped them in. And I just remember feeling just like this amazing love coming from getting to pull these lunches out. He draws these like thoroughly bizarre drawings that have huge noses. It’s like just a thing he does. And I could recognize a drawing anywhere, like going through old papers. I’ll see his doodles and I’ll be like, Oh, this is Dad’s and I. I even like messaged my sister to say, like, what do you remember about lunches? And she was like, Dad’s drawings. And I was like, yeah, he would just draw like if we went to zoo camp or there was something going on, he would do like a little drawing. And I cannot say enough that the drawings are terrible, like they are not good draw. They are weirdly my father’s terrible drawings and they made us feel just like so loved and appreciated. And thinking about this was a good reminder of how just like little things that I’m sure he did after we were asleep or like when him and my mom were packing my lunches or however that happened, he probably did it. Not really thinking like he was being funny or something like that. But how like pulling our lunch out or finding the note or something like what? A little boost it gave me during the day. And so these little things are not going unnoticed. So, so good job to my dad for years of having me, like, feel good. And I think even when I was in law school in Atlanta, I would like pack sometimes like lunches or snacks from my parents house when I was there, which is so embarrassing. But he would try a little things and stick them in there. So like if I happened to have been at my parents’ house overnight and I brought something with me, he would have like a little drawing or something in there of a guy at law school or pretty much all his drawings look like that even when they’re women. But I don’t know what.

S6: But anyway, so parents who are doing little things, I think know that your your many triumphs every time you do something small like that that is super sweet and something I was doing for Nyima on the infrequent occasion in which I was packing her lunch for regular school.

S7: So now that she’s with me for school half the week, I get some lunch every day, so I should start maybe putting a little note on her plate. Perhaps I’ll bring a smile to her. So gosh, that’s cute. Yeah.

S5: Camila, what about you?

S6: So my mom also put a lot of love and care into packing my lunch. She really wanted me to have like a good lunch, not just like, OK, you need something healthy and nutritious because you just had to get through the day. Like I had a thermos, one of my lunch box sets. This might have been first grade or kindergarten. I had a Ducktails lunchbox that they came with a lunchbox and a thermos. And sometimes my favorite lunch would be when she put spaghetti in the thermos, like because it would still be warm and she put a little cheese on. It is so good. But she decided that I should sometimes have hot tea. Right. Which is not that I didn’t like tea and it always the peppermint tea with honey. It’s not that I didn’t like it. It’s just it’s not necessarily the thing that I was most pressed to have during the school day.

S8: Like, I’m sure hot chocolate would have excited me a lot more, you know, but I’d be willing to bet my mom was probably thinking like, oh, she’s got the sniffles or it’s winter time, you know, I’m going to send you some tea. And so one day, the hot tea, which, of course, these are not the thermoses of today that stay like the same temperature, you know, vacuum’s. Yeah. Yeah, right. So you’d have to make something pretty hot early in the day so that when it’s opened at lunch, it’s still warm. And so my mom put tea in my lunchbox that was so hot that it burned a hole in my Ducktails thermos. And I think at some point I might have been like, I don’t know if it was just walking through the hall. There was definitely a time. I remember walking through the hall trailing both use because I hadn’t finished my juice box and I didn’t want to throw it away because I was so big. I don’t think I trailed tea down the hall. I think there were ants in the cubby. And when the teacher said, oh, my goodness, what’s happened is like, oh, from Jamila’s spilled things. So, you know, the best of intentions, the best of an. Tensions and to be fair, I’m sure there were other ants in the Covey incidents because what child cleans their lunchbox effectively at the end, like kids leave their lunchbox for three weeks, like, oh, yeah, I forgot. I used to pack a lunch and it’s just sitting there.

S5: It’s not like you brought me I that you just fed the ants on that particular day.

S8: It was my turn on duty. There was a lovely gesture nonetheless. And when I think back to those times, I do feel really good knowing that my mom cared so much to make sure that I had a nice homemade lunch.

S5: Well, you wouldn’t give now for a thermos of hot tea delivered to what I wouldn’t give, you know, as children. We just couldn’t appreciate.

S6: You know, if I look at my bank statement, maybe that’s why I’ve been doing themeless and overseas, even though I’ll go pick it up so much, I’m missing that care of having my mommy take care of me.

S5: It is the care like packing a lunch. It’s all about this little, like moment of care that someone else took to make sure that you were fed.

S8: It’s very true. It’s very true.

S5: Even if you’re just throwing the cool lunch in or whatever, you know, it’s funny.

S7: So I come to Nyima. They are I’m not a fan of them. They were you know, they were better when we were kids.

S9: Like there was the adult one right. There was like the grown up one of the kids one. And so what they had in common was that they both all like the cheese always tastes of the same, like no matter what flavor was supposed to be, it was like Swiss taste, like American, American, American cheddar, like American.

S7: But they had like deli meats.

S5: Yeah. It was like real meat. Yeah. I mean like you but like sliced turkey slice ham.

S8: Yes. And it would come with a little and mince a little chocolate. That was like the grown up wine. But then the kids ones were like super.

S10: When they came out that pizza I was like oh my God, this is the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. So like, of course she’s interested.

S5: Like I’ve let her have them a few times, but I’m like, these are not good. Like and then what we’re spending like it’s like the appeal of the package. Right. I mean, so we don’t eat a lot of those. I don’t even have a lot of opportunities to pack a lunch, but that if the kids were at the grocery store with me, they are like, what is that so neatly packaged and all? Yes, we should have gotten like, you don’t even know what this is.

S7: It’s cheese and crackers. Like, you don’t want this. I promise I can make you cheese it with good, good, good, good, good crackers and you’ll love it. It’ll be so much better if I need to put it a little too far to make you eat it. That’s fine. Yes. All right.

S9: So let’s move into today’s listener question. And again, we are talking about all things school lunches at home and home lunches at school today and our questions being read, of course, by the one and only Shasha Lanard.

S11: Do your mom and dad, my kids, who are six and eight, go to a school that serves terrible lunches. So last year I started packing their lunches for them. The problem is that I’m a single mom who has to get everyone out the door by seven thirty a.m. Getting them fed at breakfast and dinner has been enough of a challenge. Can you provide some ideas for healthy lunches that are tasty, easy to make and not boring, like the sandwich fruit carrot sticks combo that I typically fall back on? Thank you.

S10: Well, this is a classic school question and it’s certainly a conundrum that I’ve had myself. Well, having to stop what I’m doing in the middle of the day and cook lunch oftentimes. Luckily, we are joined today by Maya Fellate. Maya is a registered dietitian, a nationally recognized nutrition expert, and she’s an adjunct faculty member at NYU. Welcome, Maya.

S1: Thanks for having me. I’m so glad to be here.

S10: Thank you for being with us. OK, so what kind of suggestions do you have for a letter writer?

S1: So first of all, I love the question that your letter writer posed. It’s a question that I myself have struggled with. I have two kids at home too. So I will tell you some advice that I received from one of the leaders of the schools that my children went to early on. And they said the best lunch that you can give your kids is the one that they will eat. And then I added my own little twist on to that and make it as nutritious as possible. So the answer is there is the best lunch is one that the kids will eat while being as nutritious as you can possibly make it. And that’s a spectrum. It’s going to look different for everyone. So six and eight, hold on here. Are you with me? Those kids can help make that lunch like they absolutely can be involved in that lunch prep. So there are a couple of ways that the single mom can do it or any single parent for that matter. You can have options in the fridge where the kids themselves get to pick, mix and match and choose to create a bento box of sorts. Now, I know we’re all short on time. We’re doing a million and one things these days. Right? So what I like to say is use the weekend time to actually batch prepare larger options that they enjoy. So if you get those six and eight year olds involved in. Whatever it is, the fall is coming, right, so my kids are chili eaters, right? They love a mixture of like a three to eight being chili, you name it, the hardier, the better. My kids also love vegetarian bologna’s that goes incredibly well over any type of pasta. Interestingly enough, I think my family is the only family that doesn’t get down on like traditional lasagna they love. It was like a chickpea pasta or like eggplant or zucchini. Not because I’m a dietitian, I promise it, but those things cook well in bulk. Also soups you can put into a thermos and reheat whatever it is that your kids like, find your family food culture prepared in bulk and then have your kids be involved and send that again is the lunch. The one thing I will say is that the packaging matters, right? Nobody wants to eat something that was like soggy yesterday and soggier today. So it is important, if you can, to invest in good Tupperware and thermoses that will help keep the food at the right temperature. And for kids who like to have things separated, those bento boxes are incredibly helpful. They also make it appealing to the eye. Therefore, they’re more likely to actually engage in eating it once they get to school or are at home and have to open it up for lunch.

S5: So I am a huge fan of the bento boxes, and even though we homeschool, I actually pack the kids’ lunches so that I’m not in the kitchen three times a day. So at breakfast, like I’m packing lunch and then whatever that is goes in the fridge and then each kid can go grab it. We do do the everybody helps pack their lunch and they get to choose. But I have my oldest, who’s eight, really is not a meat eater, which is fine. We eat a lot of vegetarian here, but I find that like for packing lunch, getting enough protein can be really hard. So we have a jambox and in the jambox he likes to put a ton of vegetables, which is great. But how can I help him get the protein other than like sometimes he’ll put like a black bean or some kind of beans, salad, chickpeas. I can get some time. I love some of your ideas of like blinis. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought I could put the pasta in the box and a little extra thing in the and that he can heat up and put on. But what are other ways that I can get him to eat protein?

S1: So I couldn’t have made this up any better. Literally today my 12 year old said, don’t worry, mom, I’ve got lunch under control. And so I was like, what was going on? So yesterday I made black beans with tomato and like a bunch of spices, brown rice, they eat all of it, mixed vegetables. And he said, well, I’m going to make tortillas. And so corn tortilla, he wants to spread hummus on it and black bean and put another one on top. And he actually can tolerate that. That’s where I’ll use like a reusable cloth bag or something. But I’ll maybe wrap it in a parchment paper. So keep some of the heat and a reasonable bag and then I’ll go ahead and put it into the whatever packaging that holds really, really well, because here at home, nuts and seeds can be fantastic. We do a lot of that in my house and my 12 year old pre covid was incredibly active water polo and swimming. So imagine that on a vegetarian who’s also growing. Good luck. So we do tons of nuts and seeds. We do beans. And let me tell you, alternative, alternative, alternative. We buy chickpea pastas. We buy brown rice and pea pastas, all of those mixtures. We also do a lot of mixing of our greens. So I’ll play with ancient grains. Recently I’ve been really into Fonio, which is this ancient African grain that cooks quickly like couscous will add seeds into that just to bring up the protein content. We do a lot of chia and flax in everything, so I just layer, layer, layer to get the satiety higher. I also use fats right to complement the protein and help make it all this robust meal.

S5: Those are great ideas. And I love, like you said, so many of those are things we do the like sun preparation and so the kids can pack and be more helpful. But so many of those grains, like I can prepare ahead and have and then we can be mixing in the nuts. So weirdly, the three year old is a great eater. The middle child is a super smeller. And so as a result, he won’t eat anything because everything smells funny. Yes, because we were in the Netherlands, he’s huge into cheese. I think he would choose cheese like good Dutch cheese. He doesn’t want any of this like American with good European cheese and crackers. So I really also struggle like we’ve gotten him to eat some peppers and things like that. We’ve grown in the garden. But do you have any suggestions for picky eaters that either, like the smell or texture is going to be a problem?

S1: Absolutely. So what I say is, especially for kids who are picky eaters, go gently, right? As you introduce new foods, the idea is not to create a power struggle because accepting the food is as much about being open to that pallet change or difference as it is about relinquishing that individual power. So I say to parents, that’s a time where you can really get your kids involved. This totally reminds me of this family that I had where the kids love cheese, absolutely loved playing Cheerios crackers and nothing else.

S5: You’re like reading his playbook.

S1: And so with this kid, one of the things that we did was we slowly started to change the after school snack. So we started with popcorn. And I know popcorn off the top doesn’t sound like why that’s great. But guess what? Popcorn is a whole grade and it’s high in fiber. And so for kids who have that flavor palate, sometimes nutritional yeast works well because it’s like the vegan cheesy, right? Yeah, we have used that. He thinks it’s cheese. Yeah, exactly. And so we’ve switched some of that. And we’ve also done, like for those kids, a very minimalize smorgasbord. Right. So you put the cheese and the familiar carbohydrate or whatever, and then you ask them to be the chef and say, OK, you have a choice of these three vegetables or fruit. That could be cucumber, it could be sugar, snap peas, both of which are quite mild. Some, like a radish, may not go over well. So, you know. Right. You let them choose and just say this is what we’re offering. You minimize the choices. Right. So instead of having a smorgasbord of aid option, it’s a smorgasbord of three to that, you know, one that’s new and it’s here we go. We’re just going to try it. And then consistently trying, as I’m sure you do, over and over and over again, it does get frustrating.

S5: And I think I did read that it takes like 40 some offerings or something crazy.

S1: So the text that I have and that I teach my students, it says eight to ten times before a new food accepted. But I told them in reality, it’s 20 plus. OK, right. And especially if you have someone who’s a super taster, remember, it’s like you’re one of your dislikes. If there’s something that you dislike, you really don’t like it for a reason. So it’s not that the person’s being stubborn, right. Is that they truly do not enjoy the flavor. So you have to find a way to make it palatable for them. And this is where to you might want to play with salt and herbs. So rarely do I say salt things, but I found like especially for my kids when I do cucumber, carrots, bell peppers with a little bit of lime, a little bit of salt and seasoning, it is gone.

S5: That’s a great idea. I’m going to try that for sure. Yeah.

S10: For the child who is constantly grazing inurement and of course, ensuring that they’re satisfied, you know, making a meal that’s hearty enough that they’re not going for something right after lunch. But the kid who just can’t help themselves, especially because food is constantly available in ways that it wasn’t available before. What are some snacks suggestions if you have particularly for those that may not be as amenable to the carrot sticks and the radishes, even with the salts and the seasonings?

S1: Djamila, that’s a great question. So the thing that I say all the time is that children, although having their own ability to make choices, it’s really the adults and caregivers in their life that set the food landscape. So if what is accessible tends to be things that are more on the refined side, then that’s what the palate will lead toward transitioning and changing. That can be a challenge. And of course, with food, never, never, never change. Right. We don’t want to get into a situation where we’re telling kids that this is good and that is bad. The idea is truly to build healthy, well-rounded, balanced eaters who feel good about their food choices and don’t engage in shame because we adults have enough of that. We don’t need to transfer that onto our kids. So for those kids, I think it’s about playing with or thinking about how you can modify something that they already like or really depending on their age, talking with them about, OK, this is when we’re going to have this and these are the options that you have. You know, just as you said, Elizabeth, you put the boxes out or you make it available to your kids. Jamila, this person could, for example, in their pantry or in their kitchen or wherever, they can put some carbohydrate or grain based snacks that are available for the day. But it’s designed by the adults. Right. So the adult is the person that makes that nutrition related choice and then the kid can go and choose. But that means you’re not going to put seventeen past. Of pretzels, maybe you put one pack of pretzels, you put a pack of raisins, right, you put some whole wheat crackers, you put some popcorn, maybe you put some roasted chickpeas, right. So you make maybe three to five things that are available throughout the day. And then the bottom of the refrigerator can be half sandwiches, soups, and especially for kids who don’t like carrots and sticks, give them food, give them leftovers of meals that they enjoy.

S5: But in smaller portions, the setting out the snack is something I learned recently. And we have a little box for each kid because I am big on letting them choose when they eat. But we were having like all day grazing with bad choices. And so I love that idea of like setting the box out and we each pick a couple of things to start the day and they pick like two things from the fridge and two things from this. And maybe then one like what we would call a tree, a small bag of the fruit gummies or something like that. Right. That is a treat. But they’re then choosing like when they eat those things. But like you said, I’ve set the choices, so I don’t really have to worry about it as much. I love that so much. Like the more self-sufficient the kids can be, the better. And I find, like the more willing they are to choose an apple because they get to go choose it or choose. But like you said, the leftovers, when I package them in something that is kid friendly, they’re all about they’re like cute reusable bags or they’re little. We have some silicone things that are have bears’ or something. So I think that’s a great suggestion.

S1: I mean, kids are smaller versions of us that are really mean, that are not as developed. Right. So there’s so much stuff that’s still happening from like a developmental perspective. But they’re smaller versions of us, me who loves food. Oh, my goodness. I get so excited when I go to a restaurant and there’s a beautiful plate in front of me, you know, and someone’s done something really interesting with the colors in the flavors that is so exciting. So our kids enjoy that, too. Now, I understand that that takes a lot of time. Right. And effort. So I’m not saying to be up cutting things into shapes all night long, but you could also get your kids involved in that, right. So you like your bread this way. Here’s a cookie cutter. Do it yourself.

S4: I’ve about sugar. Yes, obviously, that’s a conundrum for a lot of folks, and we know that kids need to have some of fruit or whether they think they’re so pampered every day. I don’t know if the rules change, but talking about timing. Right. So would it be best for there to be some fruit with lunch? Should they be having a little fruit as a snack, perhaps in between lunch and dinner, between breakfast and lunch to give them a little boost earlier in the day? When should we like whether it’s actual fruit or if it is that organic low sugar fruit snack that we give them as a treat? What’s the ideal timing around letting them have those things, sugar?

S1: That’s a great question. So actually, I think we have to go back and we have to define added sugar in comparison to naturally occurring sugars. Right. So added sugars are the sugars that are added during manufacturing or at the table. So that’s important to understand. The naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits and vegetables and dairy. Right. And so when we’re thinking about how much naturally occurring sugar. Right. From fruits, vegetables and dairy should any child have, it’s going to absolutely vary. So that’s number one. Number two, in general, you would say you want your child to have about two servings of fruit per day as the minimum. I know people are often confused and concerned about fruits as being detrimental to children’s overall health. I’m here to say that’s not the case. Right. Your kids should absolutely be enjoying fruits. It comes with fiber. You’re going to get all of these wonderful minerals, vital nutrients. So we want our kids to have fruit. It’s up to the family, right, so you could have, for example, I think my daughter had this morning, oats, plain yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, walnuts, and then my husband made rhubarb syrup. And so she put, like, a little drizzling of that on top. So she had a naturally occurring sugar and added sugar, but it was completely balanced. I felt comfortable with it. Right. So I think it’s just to be very mindful of how added sugars are coming into the diet. I for sure with kids say really limit that juice intake. Be mindful if they’re having juice that it’s one hundred percent juice, ideally four ounces per day, because you don’t want it to displace their desire for actual solid foods and make a choice for your family. Right. So it’s not that you’re giving your kid a candy bar as a bribe or Eminem’s because they’ve done something good, making intentional choices, your family and say, like yesterday my husband took the kids for frozen yogurt and that was a special thing, right? It was a huge deal. They were so excited. But they went to the place. They sat outside. They enjoyed it. There was no guilt or shame or anything around it. It was a wonderful thing. They came home. They had their brown rice dinner they told you about before, you know. So I think it’s easier said than done, but it’s about reframing the relationship to those sugars and that much of that comes on the side of the parent.

S5: That added sugar like sneaks in everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.

S4: Thank you so much, Maya, this is super helpful. I’m so sorry that I wrote what I do give my child sweets as a reward. I’m working on this. I reward myself with sweets. So thank you for the reminder that that is not a healthy habit. And I need to work on carving that within myself and with her. And thank you for all of these really, really great suggestions. I want rhubarb syrup now. Yeah, like I thought I was doing OK. And I like having things readily available for her to pick and be a part of the lunch process, which you gave so many great ideas. I’m excited about giving us ready for the next couple of weeks of having lunch in the middle of the day at home. I didn’t think I would be excited about that.

S1: I’m so I have to say, you are doing great with your daughter and I don’t want you to feel bad or guilty about using food as a reward, because, remember, that’s something that we’ve all been taught. This is an unlearning process. So no guilt or no shame. They’re right. We’re all on a spectrum and we do things differently in our home, so don’t ever feel bad. So I just want to say that to you.

S4: Thank you. Very sweet. And thank you. Letter writer. I’m sure this was helpful. I won’t say I hope this is helpful. So I’m sure this was helpful to you because it’s been helpful for Elizabeth and I with that. Maia, can you please let our listeners know how they can keep up with you?

S1: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on. And I would love to come back and share more nutrition tips with you and your audience. Your folks can find me on Instagram at Miah Fowler. Ah D that’s my full name. Or you can find me online at my fellow nutrition dot dotcom. I’m there to answer all of your nutrition related questions.

S3: Thank you. I’m sure we’ll have you back because we have two other meals of the day. Yeah. If you count next week what with. And that’s ninety and then we have holidays so we will be talking again sooner than later I’m sure. Absolutely. Oh thank you both so much for having me. I thoroughly enjoyed it again. Thank you. My thank you letter writer and thank you listeners. This was the last of our special bonus episodes of Mom and Dad are fighting, all dedicated to getting us back in the swing of things with this new school year. So thank you so much for joining us on Tuesdays. And we will see you again on Thursdays, as usual, for mom and dad are fighting. Mom and Dad are fighting is produced by Rosemarie Bellson. For Elisabeth New Camp, I’m Jamilah Lemieux.