I pack my daughter’s lunch every day, but I don’t make a big fuss about it.
I’m a busy mom, and while I do love sending my daughter nourishing delicious food, I don’t enjoy spending any more time on it than is necessary. So you aren’t going to be seeing cookie-cutter cut sandwiches, faces, or shaped hard boiled eggs here. I think it’s awesome that moms do that- it’s just not me!
Here I want to talk about packing lunches specifically for the GAPS diet, and for children with special needs. These tips are good for all busy parents, though!
1. Keep it Simple
The majority of our lunches are packed as I’m cleaning up dinner- leftovers become tomorrow’s protein, a different sauce is added, and as I’m slicing up fruit for the kids’ dessert after dinner, I slice some for her lunch as well. Add another side and a couple snacks, and lunch is done.
2. School-approved containers and other issues that arise in schools
Our school doesn’t allow glass containers or metal utensils. There is limited amount of supervision in the lunchroom, so containers need to be easily opened by the children on their own. We have three of these divided plastic containers, and we use cornstarch based utensils (they hold up fine for at least a few washes through the dishwasher). I do use this thermos, which is more expensive, but does a great job keeping things the right temperature. We have 3, and often use them for outings on the weekends as well. The water bottle we use is a little tricky to open, but my daughter does just fine.
I anticipate things being lost at school (so far so good, but we’re only a month in), so I don’t send anything that costs so much that I’d be devastated if it didn’t come home. I also use plain plastic ziplocks for snacks, everyone else in the class tosses their snack wrapper after snack and then heads to the playground, so I think it would be hard for my daughter to remember to bring-home reuseable bags.
My main goal is for her life to be easier and for her to get the nutrition she needs, so we do use more disposable products than I’d like. But it’s ok. We can save in other areas.
I also have my daughter’s IEP (individual educational plan- most children with special needs have this) specify that she only eat food sent from home. Just telling the teacher wasn’t enough, things kept coming up and classroom aides, other teachers, etc, kept giving her other food and school lunch. IEP is law, and it has to be followed, so it ensured that she only had what I sent.
3. Sensory Needs
Many children on the GAPS Diet have sensory issues, mine included. Children with sensory integration issues (this is a fantastic book on the topic) are often slightly to extremely stressed by some of the school environment. For my daughter, the loud busy cafeteria is one of the more overwhelming parts of the day.
To help with this, I provide food that she is familiar with and is easy to eat. I never send something to school that she hasn’t had before, and I do a lot of repetition. She usually watches me make her lunch, so it’s not a surprise. We use the same containers every day so it’s predictable and she doesn’t have to think about opening it.
There are many different sensory things to be aware of for different children, some children are sensitive to different textures, some children only like white food. I encourage parents of children struggling with this to work on having them branch out at home, and keep the food at school to what you know they will accept.
4. Backup Meals
Sometimes there are *those days* when everything’s gone wrong, you need to be out the door in 10 minutes, and nobody has their shoes on yet and lunch hasn’t even been started. I do keep some packaged food on hand for that.
I have a box of Lara Bars that I keep in a high cupboard for days like this. Avocado oil chips aren’t GAPS friendly, but they are gluten free and a good real food alternative. We normally make our own yogurt, but I keep a few individual servings from the store on hand just in case (it has a long shelf life in the fridge). Cheese becomes the main protein in a pinch, and these bison snack sticks are fantastic as well.
5. Getting kids to actually eat the food
My children are usually happy to eat their entire meal, so I was surprised when I had a few entire lunches come home without being eaten. It turns out that I need to plan her snacks to be low calorie, she gets two snacks before lunch, so if she has a snack that’s filling (like the lara bar pictured above) then she isn’t hungry for her lunch. The reason she can eat her Lara bar as part of her lunch and continue eating the rest is because the body hasn’t completely registered that it’s ‘not hungry’ for a good half an hour- so by then she’s finished her meal.
For us, one fruit (which she eats at her first snack I’m sure, she loves fruit) and one veggie works well for keeping her hungry. Nuts, Lara bars, cookies, or crackers with cheese all filled her up too much. She eats a good breakfast at home before going to school, and at home we don’t generally snack, so this isn’t making her uncomfortably hungry.