Back to School
Yesterday was the first day of school for my newly-low-carb kids. As you can imagine, their lunch situation has been something that I’ve had on my mind nearly every day for the last few months. You see, their school, along with all other schools in their district, offer something pretty spectacular to students. They provide FREE breakfast and lunch, regardless of household income, to the kids. For anyone who has ever had to give their child lunch money or pack a lunch, you can understand how big of a financial deal this is for families. While we don’t fit within the poverty spectrum in my household, we are a single income family. Saving $200 a month on groceries during the school year is pretty dang substantial. Plus, all of the time I saved from making breakfast and packing lunches was a lifesaver! <– Approximately 45 hours, give or take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
While this was a tremendous blessing to us last year, I have literally been losing sleep about the predicament this puts me in this year. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I say “predicament.” Here’s why! 90% of students get hot lunch through the school. This means that 90% of my children’s peers are eating the school lunch. School lunches consist of crap oils, sugary fruits, juices, and milk, and a whole lot of bread-ladened concoctions. So, my option is to either send my kids with a homemade lunch that will have them sticking out like a sore thumb OR let them go to school and try to navigate their way through the situation and just hope for the best.
As with any parenting decision, what to do in this scenario was not black and white. My kids are carb addicts, just like you and me. They have cravings and have a difficult time passing on foods they once loved. They want for cereal and muffins and mashed potatoes, just like the rest of us. Putting them in a situation where they have to select low carb foods from fruit in heavy syrup, corn dogs, and breaded chicken sandwiches was not a recipe for success.
Not only are my kids carb addicts, they’re also regular kids with pre-teen insecurities. So to say that I’ll just pack a low carb lunch for them and send them on their marry way just wasn’t the perfect answer either. They’re brand new to their school. How would they feel being one of the only kids eating a packed lunch? They don’t have a microwave so everything they eat will need to taste good cold. Can I make that happen? What will the other kids think of their boiled egg, chunk of cream cheese, and tuna? Will they get made fun of?
Gah, even typing this makes me rethink our decision. And I’ve literally re-thunk it 1,000 times! I’ve spent countless hours researching the benefits of foods free of carbohydrates, preservatives, inflammatory ingredients and added sugars. The horrific thought of my littles consuming foods I consider a blessing to families is so bass-ackwards. What was I going to do?!
What we did
My kids are 9 & 10. They’re incredibly smart and semi-mature young adults. While they’re carb addicts, they are also thinkers and feelers and have opinions on a multitude of topics. My kids deserved to have a say in the matter. So, I asked them what we should do. We sat at the table, for what felt like hours, and talked about all of the scenarios we could think of. “If you get lunch from school, what will you do if your option is fettuccine alfredo?” “If you take your lunch, how will you feel if someone calls your lunch weird or gross?” We weighed all the options, all the feels, and anything positive or negative to be said. Then I let them decide.
In the end, both of them asked to get school lunch to try to make it as healthy as possible. We went through the menu and decided on what changes they could make each day and how they could be successful in fueling their bodies. On days that we couldn’t find a healthy option from the lunch line, they agreed to take a packed lunch. (I may or may not have bribed them with a Zevia on that one 😉 )
Thankfully, this option made sense and was actually very comforting. I’m a realist so I understand that life is going to continue to happen around us, whether we’re keto or not. And I’m not always going to be there for my kids when it’s time to choose foods that are going to be consumed. All I can do is prepare them with the knowledge and the ability to be successful. The rest is up to them.
How it went
We woke up at 6am yesterday to prepare for their first day. My babies were so excited and so incredibly nervous to start their new adventure. They did their hair, brushed their teeth, and dressed in their favorite snazzy outfit. I even showered and put on a face for the occasion. That’s how serious this first day was!
For breakfast, I made my standard scrambled eggs with bacon fat, a ton of butter, and some cheddar cheese. I was determined to keep their tummies full for as long as possible, thinking that it would help them make the best decisions at lunch time. They ate their little meal, fought over who would sit in the back seat, and then we were off to their elementary school.
The second I dropped my kids off yesterday, I looked forward to them coming home. I miss my people when they’re not with me, especially when I know they’ll be making some pretty tough decisions while they’re away. As the clock ticked by, I sat thinking about how it was going. Are they making friends? Are their friends good people? Are they being good people? How’s lunch? Did they find a place to sit? What did they choose to eat? Are they going to be allowed to make substitutions like we discussed?
By the time the final bell rang, I was done thinking! I just wanted to hear how their day went. When I made it to the school, I saw my oldest first. With a HUGE smile on his face, he ran over to me and was head over heals with his new school. “I. LOVE. SCHOOL.” was the first thing he said. (YAY!) He couldn’t stop talking about the fun he had and how much he loved his teacher. As we were waiting for my daughter, I very briefly asked how lunch went. “Great for me! But Adeline had a meltdown.”
No! No no no. My sweet girl. I KNEW in my heart that she would be the one to struggle. I knew it. And sure enough, I was right. Yesterday was corn dog or chicken sandwich day. We all agreed that the easiest option would be to de-bread either the dog or the sammi and eat just the meat. My son had done well, and found it pretty easy to eat just the chicken (even though it was breaded), but when he saw my daughter, he knew she was struggling. As he approached her in the lunch room (like the good brother he is), she started to cry saying that she looked stupid pulling the breading off the hot dog.
By this time in the story, my daughter came strolling up. After our traditionally long hugs and “how was your day?”, we started back down the path of her lunch time woes. She confirmed that it was too hard to make low carb decisions in the cafeteria and she just wasn’t sure she could continue to do it. She was mortified to eat just the hot dog and couldn’t wait to snack on her fruit cup, apple, and creamed corn. (Sugar, sugar, and more sugar. Waaaaah! 🙁 ) Sadly, after lunch, they celebrated a birthday with cupcakes. So, my poor girl was packed full of sugar by the time she got home. And me? I was back at square one with the decisions. Dang.
After we let the first day jitters wear off, we circled back to the lunch plan and I asked the kiddos how they would like to approach day two. My oldest was sure that he wanted to continue our initial plan, as tomorrow was salad day and he was sure it would be an easy option for him. My daughter, on the other hand, was not comfortable in our decision anymore. She decided that it was better for her to take a lunch, as there were a few girls she sat with that brought their own lunches, too.
I’m saddened that she struggled day one but am super thankful she made her own decision to take a packed lunch today. While I was making her tuna with pickles this morning, she asked if she could include some Lilly’s chocolate in her lunch. Of course, I agreed enthusiastically so she would feel as though her options were limitless. I even agreed to let her take a Zevia in her lunch, instead of water. Boy, you would have thought I gave her a million dollars! She was actually excited and relieved that the lunch she was taking was both healthy and incredibly yummy. Plus, she was looking forward to it being stress free.
As my son watched me make her lunch, he actually got a bit curious/jealous. “You’re letting her take chocolate AND have a Zevia at school?!” When he realized I was, he quickly asked, “Can you pack my lunch tomorrow?” ———YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS———
Ladies and gentleman…. I’ve grown gray hairs over these last two days. Seriously. I’ve sat wide awake at night thinking about this day and wondering how I was going to get my little ones to make the best decision. Turns out, I just had to let them make the decision on their own, suffer whatever consequence that came with it, reevaluate, and then alter the course slightly. With a minor setback, we’re now heading in a direction that I think we all feel comfortable with and one that can be sustained long-term. Will there still be cupcakes for birthdays? Sure! But they will have a healthy lunch to offset that sugar load. Will they still have cravings? Sure! But I’m determined to pack them the healthiest options I can come up with to ensure that they are fueled for learning and physical activity for years to come.
We’re only on day two, but I feel a good night sleep coming on. I also feel a shopping trip in my future, as I surely was not prepared to pack lunches this week! Par for the course. No biggy. At least we can keto on!