School dinners 'v' packed lunches

And now for the tricky subject of school dinners versus packed lunches.  When Tilly was tiny and at Creche it was straightforward, lunches and a snack were served to the children and there wasn't the option of packed lunch unless you expressly chose it.  Also if I'm honest, the quality of the meals at nursery/creche was pretty fantastic, breakfast (if you chose it) was cereals/toasts, pretty standard stuff, lunch was very much 'home cooked' and delicious. 

Move forward a few years.  When Tilly started school I decided she would start with school lunches. Tilly loved school from the very start and this was a great relief, however, a few weeks in to the first term she was getting very upset about lunch times.  She hated having to queue in a big line of people and having a choice of main course at 4 was all a bit much.  We made the decision that starting school must be hard enough so we decided to put her on packed lunches.  This was the right decision. Once she had settled in, we then moved her back onto school lunches.

Tilly is now in year 1 (5 years old) and has asked nearly every day to be put back on school lunches.  We have given this a lot of thought and I have chatted to a few teachers and fellow mothers and have decided to change again!  Part of me really wants her to conform to a discipline of queueing up for a hot lunch and waiting her turn and actually having a 'choice' as to what goes in her tummy!  After all this is what I had to do!  However that isn't good reasoning as things have changed in the last 30 years! And in reality whilst the school is brilliant and they try to encourage healthy choices, I think she may actually get as much benefit from helping me decide what goes in her lunchbox the night before.

So what do I put in her lunch box?  Wraps are favoured over sandwiches and contain either tuna, ham or cheese.  Without fail Tilly always asks for grated carrots.  She really dislikes mayonnaise and isn't mad keen on soft cheese so carrot acts as a binding agent.  Other items which make an appearance are some of the following: a little pot of hummus with carrot batons or bread sticks, pasta salad, rice salad, olives, dried fruit, a piece of fruit (always at least one piece), rice cakes, a yoghurt and sometimes a piece of cake.  I purposefully do not put chocolate or sweets in for a number of reasons 1) she doesn't need them 2) other children do not have them in and this is not fair 3) Not least because I do not want Tilly to chose packed lunches over school dinners based on chocolate content! 

Occasionally I find my creative side and make shaped sandwiches but not very often and certainly not before I've had my first coffee ;-). Some lovely ideas are as follows (rest assured some of these are a bit too ambitious for every day, namely the duck egg and animal shaped bread complete with eye and hooves!):

Also, having done a bit of research and sat in on a few school lunches, I don't think all school lunches offer the same nutritional value as a carefully packed lunch.  Whilst there are lots of healthy foods on offer, when I ask Tilly what she has eaten that day it usually consists of  pizza or a jacket potato and a piece of cake.  Aside from anything else, it isn't great to have the same thing every single day.  Not least, it is not encouraging a varied diet.  Also the veg on offer is how I remember it, soft and boiled to within an inch of its life.  This is not a criticism it is just an observation.  Therefore, on balance, for now we are choosing packed lunches.  It isn't forever it is just until we all decide school lunches are an equally good choice for Tilly.

Also by knowing exactly what Tilly and Florence have eaten for lunch, I can then plan a balanced evening meal.  If Tilly has had potatoes or pasta for lunch then in the ideal world she won't be eating this in the evening. Also, If I'm being honest as I work 5 days a week, by having a hand in what they are eating throughout the day I am satisfying some of my guilt by effectively parenting whilst I'm in the office!

If it were solely down to cost then of course we would be better of putting Tilly on school lunches.  It definitely costs me more to produce a packed lunch each day but in the main I have the ingredients in the house on a daily basis.  If also makes me plan ahead for my husband and I too.  We eat what Tilly is having as I pack our lunches at the same time.

I may come in for criticism from some mothers and organisations that think I should be supporting the 'institution of school lunches' but at the end of the day I am doing what is I feel is right for my family at a specific period in time. I am not criticising or passing judgement on what is on offer, there is enough public opinion out there for you to research if you want to get into the politics of it all.