School lunch system

Confession: If there is one thing that tries my soul, it is thinking of enough ideas for my children’s packed lunches during the school year.

Ideally, I would move toward turning that responsibility over to them. But it has been hard for me to figure out how to do so while a) monitoring what they pack, b) getting out the door in time, and c) avoiding insanity as we all trip over each other making our own ham sandwiches at 8 am.

To tell you the truth, we are lucky. At our school, we have the option to buy hot lunch from the cafeteria two days out of five each week, for most of the year. This is an amazing gift and leaves only three days to pack, if they like the lunch enough to sign up for it. But still, I will not let that fact put a cramp in my whining.

This year, thanks to the forethoughtful questions and ideas of my friends Shaunda and Jolynn, I thought more about our plan than usual. A week before school I had no strategy at all, but by adopting others’ intelligent ideas and adding in our own, we found a method we really like.

Here’s what we do.

Each Saturday, the school kiddos and I spend an hour or so preparing lunch ingredients for the coming week. Someone might bake cookies or bars, and package them in serving sizes. Maybe someone else makes single-serving fruit and Jell-O cups. Another child cuts up fresh fruits and veggies and bags them. (Yes, they keep just fine. Even apples, if dipped in a mild salt water, can last the week nearly white.)

When I make our traditional pizza supper Saturday evening, we wrap some extra dough around tasty fillings and bake them, to make individual stromboli, crescent rolls, or hot pockets. These we wrap and put in the freezer.

I also buy easy-to-pack things: string cheese, yogurt cups, clementines, granola bars, trail mix, chips, dried fruit, cookies. I did not say all of it is healthy.

We put everything in the fridge, freezer, or pantry, easily accessible.

Then I update a lunch list to hang on the wall for the week (click to view). Their choices change every week based on what we made and what I have on hand, but my list has standard categories – here are the choices for a fresh fruit or veggie, here are the salty snacks, here are the desserts. No, you cannot pick three desserts.

Each school morning, I prepare only a main food for them (a sandwich, a bowl of re-heat-able food, or often, one of those baked sandwiches we made). The kids look at my list and pick three or four side options to go with it, and fill their own lunchboxes. (They mark things off the list so they don’t repeat. If I want them to repeat, I put it on the list multiple times.)


In a couple of years, I hope to do it informally, without the printed list. For now, I still have to monitor the packing. It is not seamless. One of my children likes piggy-backing extra goodies if I don’t watch out. One is poky in packing, and needs to be hustled along. But it’s so nice to have all our options laid out, and to get the children involved in the process. They are more excited about their lunches than they used to be, and mornings are smoother.

How do you simplify lunch packing? What foods do your children love to take to school? I’m ready for some fresh ideas on homemade or simple sides.

Receiving a child


I find ladies’ parties irresistible, especially when they celebrate life. This week I hosted one to celebrate the coming of an unborn baby, first child of my friend Kayla.

Sherry adds the finishing touches









Here are some things I am (slowly) learning about the hosting bit:

  1. Ask for help!

* My new friend Sherry (who worked in a bakery for lots of years) brainstormed and helped with food. She had super ideas, and decorated the sweetest cut-out cookies in baby shapes.



stuffing diapers with people's notes

* My friend Renee did a smash-up job being in charge of activities. We played an alphabet game and a guessing game with each other’s baby pictures, had time for spontaneous prayers of blessing for the expectant mom, and wrote notes of encouragement or advice to put inside newborn-size pampers as a gift for Mommy.

* My sis-in-law April planned lovely decorations. More below…

* My friend Carla brought a tray of food so I’d have less to purchase and prepare.

* The day of the party, my friend Alma offered to watch my two preschoolers for the morning, then surprised me by an invitation to stay for lunch so I’d have less work and cleanup at home.

* My friend Shaunda agreed to be informal photographer, so the guest of honor could get a CD of pictures later without having to snap them herself.

It was lovely to watch everyone doing what they are good at, and the teamwork was thrilling.

2. Work with fresh as much as you can.

blackberry-lemon tarts and chocolate covered strawberries


springtime. lavender and pale yellow. violets. jewel-bright fruits and vegetables. lemons. berries. tortilla pinwheels with cold-cuts and lettuce. garnishes of parsley, kale, and real flowers.



3. Decorate with what you have. (April is good at this!)

hosta leaves. tree branches. tissue paper pompons. an indoor clothesline hung with baby outfits. pansies planted in paper party boxes or second-hand teacups—they doubled as prizes for the games. dandelions floating in crystal goblets. baby shoes scattered here and there.


4. Borrow rather than buy.

a beverage server. six tiki torches to line my lane. (the party was supposed to be out of doors!) an extra tablecloth.




5. It’s okay that it won’t be perfect.

Truly, it wasn’t: the weather didn’t cooperate, the store-bought corsage was quite ugly, i forgot to plug in the coffee maker in time, a little boy puked, and my house was crowded.

Hurray for humble pie, and the generous flexibility of guests!

I hope someday this baby will look through his (or her) Mommy’s pictures and know again how loved and anticipated he was, even before his birth.

Whoever receives a little child in my name receives Me.

A party is an easy way of receiving. Harder is the moment at which my own “little child” is dancing on the couch, snatching items off the decorative clothesline. Oh Lord…