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Ichiban for School Lunch?!

Are you sick of making school lunches yet?! I am only making lunches for one child,  2-3 times per week, so realize I am spoiled, and my not have it as tough as moms making 3 school lunches 5 days a week!  But I was so happy when I was in my son’s Kindergarten class a few weeks ago, and  his super-sweet teacher’s assistant raved about his lunches! They are so “beautiful” (might have to do with the Wean Green cubes!), and don’t contain all of that packaged stuff.  Which made me wonder what other kids get in their lunch – until Nolan came home from school  and said: “Did you know that there’s pasta that you don’t have to cook that comes in a chip bag.” Aka ICHIBAN. Wha?!  I don’t mean to judge (well maybe I do), but can’t you find something better for your kid’s lunch than Ichiban? Let’s hope this over 2000mg- sodium -bag- of- refined- carbs is a very occasional lunch. And I hope their mom doesn’t read my blog -or maybe I do, as this post may help them 🙂

I don’t claim to have it all together. While I try to make lunches as I clean up for dinner, I’ve been caught at 10:30pm (and once 7:30am day of school) with the – “dang, Nolan needs a lunch tomorrow!” A key is having a stock of healthy foods: fruit, applesauce cups, yogurt cups, homemade healthy muffins and cookies, bread, eggs, canned tuna or salmon etc, so you won’t be stuck throwing in that bag of chips or Ichiban!

Here is what I normally pack:

Morning snack: Fruit and baking. I try to have some healthy baking on hand, rather than relying on store-bought granola bars. We love our Mila Muffins!  Sometimes I’ll use canned or freeze-dried fruit if I’m running low on fresh.

Lunch: Sandwich of some sort. Usually tuna salad or peanut butter (there’s no allergies in his class- yay!) or WOW butter on whole grain bread. Yes, my son has asked for “smooth bread like everyone else has – you know, the white stuff. With just jam. ” I begged for white bread when I was a kid too, and my mom didn’t relent. Thanks mom 🙂

Sometimes I will include warmed dinner leftovers in a Thermos instead of a sandwich. This is the easiest option.

I also try and include a veggie for lunch: chopped peppers, snap peas or baby carrots. This is the item that most often comes home uneaten, but will usually get eaten after school when he’s actually hungry.

Afternoon snack:  Usually another fruit and/or yogurt cup or drink.

Beverage: Water.

“Candy”: I often get bugged for “candy” in my son’s lunch, like “everyone else has.” While I don’t believe his tales, candy for us has been an occasional piece of chocolate, Thrive dried yogurt, or  Chocolate Protein Truffles.  He’s happy with that, and I’m not pumping him full of pure sugar with some red dye thrown in (aka Fruit by the Foot).

Do you have any lunch-making tips? What foods do your kids love or ask for?



11 Responses to Ichiban for School Lunch?!

  1. admin says:

    This post comes from an email from a mom named Melissa.

    “I am tired of feeling guilty for the occasional unhealthy choices we as a family make for lunch. I have 2 teenagers to feed (they make their own lunch and often make the choice to sleep in and do not even bring a lunch). When they do, one does not like sandwiches (only leftovers or some other solution) and for the other we have a hard time keeping up with a supply of gluten free products only to find out he has stopped for fast food after school and that is why his rash is acting up. When kids are young you have some control over their choices, but at some point you have to let go of the apron strings. Many of the bad food choices of “ramen noodle” parents comes from socio-economic situation or convenience. Instead of criticizing these parents, why not come up with some “cheap” healthy solutions like banana wraps or homemade soup? My elementary school kids almost always take a sandwich and fruit/vegetable to school but they also are allowed store bought treats. On days when they do not get store bought treats they sometimes get homemade dried fruit,- made with a dehydrator from our raw food days. A juice box, or drink box of flavoured soy on occasion is not going to do too much damage (we always drink water with dinner) if it’s one without additives and sugar. Lighten up, and be aware that economics is most often holding back the Ichiban and Wonder bread parents.”

    • admin says:

      @ Melissa, thanks for your comment and suggestions, they are appreciated.

      First of all, I don’t think you have to feel guilty for an occasional unhealthy choice.

      And teenagers are certainly something new for me to look forward to in the future! You can’t make all of their food choices, that’s for sure. Just hope that the (mainly) healthy eating that you set them up with when they were younger will become a choice of their own. Once they are adults and out of that rebellious phase!

      As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I don’t agree that convenience foods are cheaper than home made foods. Or that it’s my place to ‘lighten-up’ on issues of child nutrition. It’s to help families feed their children better 🙂 So it’s either the factor of not enough knowledge, time or effort. And I’m taking about the families that let their elementary child take chips for their main meal a majority of the time (and they do exist!) – not you Melissa! I think time is a big one, which is where the planning comes in. I like your food suggestions, and will will create a post in the future about easy but still healthy and inexpensive lunch ideas.

      Thanks for the comment, I think this is an important discussion!

  2. Colleen says:

    I think you made a good point of highlighting some alternatives for lunches/snacks other than Ichiban! Taking the time and making a big pot of soup for the week is what we typically do in the fall/winter months and much cheaper than processed food….
    I also make mini muffins/ banana breads & granola bars for snacks.Make extra and keep them in the freezer to take out as needed.

    • admin says:

      Hi Colleen, thanks for your reply. Those are good ideas! And I think it’s a misperception that convenience foods are cheaper that healthy, homemade “real” foods. I understand that time is an issue for some families, but good for you for making this a priority for your family 🙂

  3. Great post Jennifer!
    I’ve been critical in the past of some of the things I see in kids’ lunches. But my mom was a single working mom who did the best she could with the limited time she had. I have the good fortune of working from home, so as long as I can keep it up, my boys will get home-made baked goods and fresh fruit and nitrate-free sandwiches.

    I can only hope that by the time they are teenagers (they are now 7 & 8), I will have laid the foundation for healthy choices. My boys already turn their noses up at packaged cookies that they say “taste like cardboard”, and I feel really great about that.

    • admin says:

      @Dana, thanks for your comment. It sounds like you are doing a good job at laying those foundations for healthy choices for your kids. I can’t say that my kids wouldn’t enjoy those packaged cookies, but obviously you’ve worked hard to give them even tastier homemade goodies – great!

  4. Oh, this is such a hot topic, isn’t it? I actually do have three kids to feed every day of the week and lunches are such a struggle! I completely relate to the desire to find easy, convenient foods AND the commitment to finding healthy options. I’m lucky to be in a circle of friends and family who (to varying degrees) discuss healthy eating. My daughters go to a school where that kind of education varies dramatically among families and we see a lot of variety (sometimes shockingly so, as you describe) in the lunch contents as a result. What I try to do is bring tons of veggies and fruits on days when I contribute snack or party goodies (fruit kabobs are such a hit with kids!) so that at least that day I feel like more kiddos got more healthy food. I do notice that the kids talk with each other and give each other “ideas” about what to eat, so I feel like the more I can share with my daughters why we eat lots of fruit and veggies, for example, they might also start to spread that good word (though I never suggest that they become the school food educators, of course!)
    Thanks for writing about this, Jennifer. It is an important and useful conversation – and the whole what to put in my kids’ lunch thing is a real issue for us for sure!

  5. I’m fortunate to have kids who always liked their veggies and love their fruit, so it is so easy to put “convenience” food in their lunches – aka apples, bananas, oranges in this season and other fruits the rest of the year. They “mains” are a struggle but a whole wheat slice of bread with a touch of butter, while boring, is sometimes what they get because I am not creative, nor catering to three different palates. I do throw in some granola bars several times a week and do feel guilty, but only a little, because they have been raised to be good eaters with good knowledge. They read labels!!! They don’t always know what they mean but they are learning. It’s fun for them. They also appreciate that whole food is real food, packaged food is not so much to varying degrees. And from there they make their choices. One kid loves chocolate, another loves crackers. But all said, they all choose fresh fruit and veg over others daily.
    They are little athletes too. Making sure they are FULL without feeding them too much drive-thru but not taking up hours of my busy day is truly my biggest life challenge. All I hope is they can differentiate what makes them feel good versus gross, what is healthy and what is an once-in-awhile treat.
    Thanks for writing this Jennifer! I have seen lots of “easy” meals in the classrooms and wonder how kids don’t nap all afternoon from what they eat. We’re not perfect, but we sure do try most days.

  6. I wanted to mention that there are actually Asian snacks sold for kids that are miniature packs of these “noodles” intended strictly as the odd treat – just as a bag of chips would be. I wonder if that’s what was being included in the lunch. That paints a different picture than imagining a child chewing on Ichiban as their main source of nutrition.

    But, that said, I recall consuming many a “Mr. Noodle” in my school days and not being the only kid doing so. It just wasn’t an issue. But, that’s was also before hand sanitizer was on every wall and dodge ball was still allowed.

    Healthy eating is a wonderful goal. Let’s just be fair and realistic. You just never know the circumstances behind another person’s choice. It’s fortunate that we have such food abundance that judging and arguing about what others choose to consume is even an option.

    • admin says:

      @Nikki thanks for your comment. And your business looks awesome!

      I totally agree that we are privileged just to have lunch at all. Period.

      Perhaps it’s the odd snack bag of ramen noodles. That’s not a problem. But doing food records with hundreds of elementary schools for my MSc thesis, it really is a problem. You’d be shocked at the amount of little kids that take a bag of chips as the sole item for their lunch. Whether it’s because the family can’t afford extra food (please use the food bank!), the kid just makes his own lunch and likes chips, or the family is dealing with bigger issues…..I don’t know.

  7. […] up for back-to-school, I’m finally responding to the conversation from my earlier blog: “Ichiban for School Lunch?!” While most of you agreed that packaged processed food is not appropriate on a regular basis […]

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