Mom’s school lunches look complicated, but they’re not

Published 6:56 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Amy Jo Spence packs school lunches for her kids that are a cut above peanut butter and jelly slapped between two pieces of bread. Plus, she gets top marks (and no doubt astonishment from among her peers) because she lets her six and seven year old help plan the menu. She even allows them to help put the lunches together.

“Bringing lunch to school was rare for me when I was growing up,” she said. “Home life was busy. Eating in the cafeteria was easier. Plus, our cafeteria food was delish. Pizza day was everyone’s favorite.”

Spence also enjoyed the spaghetti, red beans and rice with cabbage, cheeseburgers and the bread rolls.

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“The rolls almost melted in your mouth,” she said. “I was always the kid that asked for extra vegetables and fruit.”

As Spence got older, she studied nutrition, the importance of eating healthy. That love of fruits and vegetables made it easy for her to follow the Healthy Plate guidelines. A “healthy plate” consists of a half-plate of vegetables and fruit. A fourth of the meal consists of whole grains. Protein makes up the remaining quarter of the plate. Healthy Plates offers other nutrition help as well.

“Years ago I earned frequent flier miles in a weight loss program. It worked if you stuck to it,” she said. “The focus was not on what I could or couldn’t eat but on developing a healthy lifestyle, filling the plate with healthy, satisfying food.”

She uses meat, peanut butter, dairy or cheese; a fruit, a vegetable and adds something a “little sweet,” such as Nutella or fruit dip.

“I try to stay away from a lot of carbs,” she said. “The weight loss program also stressed the importance of eye appeal. You want to make your food look good enough to dig into and enjoy.”

A natural designer who has been in the floral industry for 13 years and has her own shop, Spence has a knack for combining color, shape and texture. She said these appealing and seemingly complicated lunch box creations are not complicated at all. Items come straight from the fridge.

“I do plan ahead with the input of my kids,” she said.

She does her shopping in advance of putting the week’s lunches together making it seem as easy as 1,2,3 when she says “simple, but fun and exciting” is the key.

“Use your basics, what you have, what your kids like. Don’t stress yourself out over something that will be eaten in a 30-minute time crunch. Just make sure it stays within the healthy guidelines and that it’s something in which your kids will be interested.”

Her children tear the spinach or lettuce for these lunches. They wash the fruit. They even place some of the items in the containers and help mix or stir when needed.

“I have a son that often only wants a sandwich, chips, sweet snack, bottle of water with flavor packet and will eat in the school cafeteria depending on what is being served for that day,” Spence said. “I help them assemble lunches the night before. My daughter, on the other hand, is my kitchen guru, always up for creating something different and being ‘extra’ at lunch time. She has been known for bringing sushi, crawfish fettuccine and pasta salad in her lunches. Preparing ahead is key. Mornings are a rush for us, a time to grab and go.”

She offered the following five-day idea plan to help other “extra” children…or parents. Pepperoni/cheese skewers, boiled egg, apples/peanut butter and tomatoes; ham rolls, broccoli salad, strawberries and blueberries; Cucumber pinwheels, cheese slices, carrots/hummus and organizes; rotisserie chicken slices, Dave’s bread, cucumber/ranch and grapes; and ham and cheese roll ups, popper dip/pretzel sticks, cucumber/tomato/Italian dressing and grapes.