How do you manage lunch?

How do you manage lunch?

Brothers eating a snack.

A challenge to homeschoolers from Erin of Bearing Blog: How do you do lunch on school days? I’m rather interested in the answer, too; so I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.

If I could poll a hundred homeschooling families and get a detailed answer out of all of them, I think I’d love to ask this question:  How do you manage lunch?  Not because I can’t manage it:  After eleven-plus years of trying to feed children in between their lessons and studies, and especially now that I am out of the nothing-but-small-ones years, we have a system that works pretty well.   (More on that below.)  No, I just am curious to hear about the ways that diverse families have solved the problem.  

And it is a problem, in the sense of a series of questions to answer:  

  • • How long after breakfast do you have lunch?

  • • Must you clear off a schoolwork surface to make room for cooking and eating?
  • • Is lunch to be a dinner-like occasion, with a set table and everyone at their places on time?
  • • Does everyone eat the same thing?  Do all the kids eat the same thing but the parent has something different?
  • • Who makes lunch?  Is it the parent?  A particular child?  Do children take turns?  If children make lunch, may they choose the menu?  Do people make their own lunch from what’s available
  • ?

  • • Is lunch-making time a time for the parent to teach food preparation to young children?
  • • Do you insist on a balanced meal or that children eat their vegetables at lunch time?
  • • How much time can you take for lunch?
  • • Do you have a rest time or “recess” afterward?
  • • Do you decide what to make in advance?
  • • Do you try to use dinner leftovers in your lunch?
  • • Do you have a regular rotation of lunches-of-the-day?  Or do you often eat the same thing day after day?
  • • Who cleans up? Will you completely clean up the lunch before going back to the rest of your day, or will dishes wait till later?

Different families:  different lunches.

For us lunch (and breakfast too) is a very laid back meal. Really, I don’t want to have to cook more than one meal a day. I don’t want more than one meal a day where everyone has to sit down at the same time and wait for everyone else to be seated before they start. We do that at dinner, but breakfast and lunch are informal and ad hoc.

We don’t have a set lunchtime. Generally lunch begins not before the morning’s schoolwork has been finished, and not before 11:30; but basically when a child comes and says he or she is hungry or when I decide I’m hungry. Sometimes we all get busy and forget lunch and no one eats until after 1. Kids have eaten lunch as late as 2 on days when I’ve been particularly distracted or we come home late from an outing.

We do schoolwork at the dining room table so yes, schoolwork gets pushed aside. Some of the books and materials might get put back on the shelves to make room for food and to keep food from getting on the books; but sometimes we eat with it there on the table. I’m hoping we’ll be better at clearing the books off the table now that we have more shelving and each child has their own dedicated shelves for their schoolbooks and supplies. Part of the reason things weren’t getting shelved was that smaller children couldn’t reach to put things away.

What we eat is very ad hoc, too. Basically everyone choose their own lunch from either leftovers or a selection of options that are pantry and fridge staples. Sandwiches are popular (cold cuts or pb&j) and tostada shells with beans and cheese (and sometimes salsa), burritos, nachos, rice with cheese, cheese and crackers, salami and crackers, a bowl of yogurt. Lucy with her allergies favors rice cake sandwiches. I eat leftovers as often as not, depending on what looks good or what I think needs to be used up.

Who makes the food depends. Older children who can get their own food usually do so. Bella almost always serves herself. Sophie and Ben probably make their own lunches at least half the time. Anthony occasionally does. Lucy sometimes helps with her lunch preparation. Sometimes an older child will prepare lunch for a younger child or will at least help with steps the younger child cannot manage independently. I often help with cutting things for children who can’t wield knives well, spreading things, etc. I will sometimes make a sandwich or tostada for a child who is capable of doing so but who will take a long time or make a mess, especially if we’re running late. I don’t often do much teaching of food preparation at lunchtime, but it sometimes happens that I will encourage a child to get their own lunch and give them a few nudges or demonstrations as the occasion requires. Often if I do prepare a lunch for a child I will require them to get all the ingredients and utensils necessary, have them operate the microwave, and otherwise do the parts of the process they can manage on their own, which I suppose makes it sort of a lesson, but I often don’t require them to complete all the steps. They sort of grow into doing more and more until one day they realize they can do it on their own.

I’m really not good at insisting on a balanced meal at lunch. I will often put out fruit and suggest strongly that children eat it. I will frequently suggest vegetables. But, no, in general lunch is not a balanced meal. Bella is pretty good at monitoring her own diet and serving herself very balanced meals, she prides herself on it. Lucy’s restricted diet means she is often more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Anthony an Ben probably don’t eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables.

We generally take as much time as we want to eat. In fact, I’m the one who lingers while kids race off. I do not like speedy lunched and when we eat with others, like at the homeschooling Lent and Advent retreats, I have resented being rushed. Lunch floats in a sort of free block between morning table work and afternoon read alouds. Kids often eat outside or drift in and out either before or after eating or both. Generally the transition to afternoon reading time happens when I’ve eaten, tidied up a bit, and had a bit of quiet time to read or surf the internet.

Some of my kids like to eat the same thing day after day. Most of us stick to a fairly constant rotation of lunch foods, but not on any kind of schedule.

Clean up is pretty laid back. I’ll ask children to bring plates to the sink sometimes and other times I’ll clear them myself. Sometimes I do a quick kitchen clean up and sometimes I leave it until after our afternoon story time, it really depends on how the day is flowing.

And this is pretty much me in a nutshell, nothing very set or organized, not terribly good at schedules or routine. We go with the flow and somehow, most days, everyone eats. It is true that some days we hit 2pm and I discover that one or more children has not yet eaten lunch. If that happens, I let them eat then.

However, I can definitely see the utility of soup or casserole for lunch if you’re serving a larger number of people. As it is, it’s a pain making sandwiches for six people when we bring a picnic lunch, I wouldn’t want to try to do it for any more than us six.

How do you do lunch?

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  • I so need the after-lunch relaxation time. It is one of the reasons why schoolwork runs so late in the day for us (the other is that everyone wants to sleep in).

    • Yes, we have both of those factors here. I really need the down time. I used to get it while nursing the baby or toddler down for a nap. Now I just kick the kids outside or hide in my room for a bit. And it looks like my girls are starting to take after me in the nightowl department. The boys are early risers, but not us womenfolk.