The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Win-Win School Lunch

February 26th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Posted in kids

How to keep lunch warm?

How to keep lunch warm?

After I spent a week in the kitchen at my daughter’s elementary school and discovered just how bad the food was, daughter started taking her own lunch. It wasn’t just what I wrote about the food that convinced her. Around that same time, she reported to her pediatrician for an annual physical. The doctor told daughter, who has grown around the middle lately, that she was eating too many carbohydrates. And she was sympathetic: Her own kids had gained 10 pounds when they started eating at school.

So now daughter is taking her lunch to school, just as she was doing when she attended charter school before enrolling in our neighborhood public school. There’s just one problem. At the charter school, there was a microwave in the lunchroom. Daughter could heat her meals. In the local elementary school, there is no microwave. You either take what’s offered at the steam table, or you’re on your own.

I don’t remember eating a hot lunch when I was a kid. I always brown-bagged it. I must have eaten a sandwich every day for years, even through high school. But kids these days expect a hot meal and the absence of a microwave in the lunchroom was the reason that daughter started eating school food in the first place. How to get the food we make at home warm?

My wife went out and bought some thermal containers for daughter’s lunch box. But daughtercomplained that by the time lunch rolled around, the food packed in the morning had grown cold despite the thermal containers. Recently we stumbled into a solution when we simply couldn’t get our act together to prepare daughter’s lunch in time for her to leave for school in the morning. I promised to walk it the four blocks to school during the lunch break. The delay proved to be an inspiration: We heated the lunch at the last minute, packed it into the thermal containers and hoofed it over to daughter, who was waiting for the hand-off of her lunch box.

Since then, we’ve started delivering hot lunch by foot every day. We now have our established rendezvous point. Daughter waits for me to arrive. Lunch might be soup or spaghetti or tofu and edamame. Whatever, it’s been freshly heated and daughter can sit down to a warm meal. Meanwhile, I get eight blocks worth of aerobic walking (four blocks each way). And that’s in addition to walking daughter to school in the morning. (Mom fetches her in the afternoon.)

So daughter gets her hot meal, I get some extra exercise. Granted, this isn’t something every parent can do. We just happen to work at home. And although I kind of like this new routine, I have to wonder: isn’t there some way D.C. Public Schools could make microwaves available for kids who bring their own lunch?

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  • pubwvj

    We use thermoses all the time during the cool months (most of the year) for hot tea, hot cocoa, soup and stew. The ones we have are all stainless steel. The steel construction surprised me when we got the first one as I had been raised on glass thermoses. They work very well keeping hot things hot all day. We also use these thermoses to carry boiling water for when we need to work on sugaring lines and watering lines to set fittings. Since they are stainless steel they never break. I think we have had the oldest one for 15(?) years.

  • sam reggio

    I have to say I find the ‘problem’ of a cold lunch to be a little silly.

    I live and work in education in rural Japan. Every morning, most every mom gets up and prepares a cute, mostly healthy lunch with rice, veggies, a little fish or egg, etc. And the kids get sent to school with them.

    When 12:00 rolls around, the lunches are of course cold. No kids ever complains about this: they are fine with eating cold rice, cold fried tempura, etc. These moms and these kids are kinda my heroes – frugal, thoughtful, accepting. ‘Needing’ a hot meal every time you eat strikes me as… needy.

    Mr. Bruske says himself he used to eat sandwiches, presumably not the open-faced hot kind. No reason why a kid can’t eat cold food for lunch. Cold food can taste good too. Just saying.

    Just a thought. It is nice that he gets to see his daughter so often though.

    LOVE the blog and the original piece on DC school lunches, by the way!! Thanks!

  • Chef Michael McDermott

    Dear Ed,

    Very clever yet not practical. Microwaves actually change the molecular structure of food and certain packaging when microwaved can add things to the food better not consumed. The answer as discussed, SYNERGY between allot of smart folks whom have not been introduced to each other and cooperation.
    Our kids are our MOST PRECIOUS RESOURCE AND THE FUTURE OF OUR PLANET… perhaps instead of glorifying steriod induced “atheletes” we can put a few dollars toward our collective future… Peace out!

  • mossgathers

    I love your blog and I apologize that I only comment when I find something wrong with your thinking or your subject’s thinking.
    You call yourself the Slow Cook and yet you allow your daughter to consume microwaved food? I agree with the chef’s comments. Unhealthy and not just because of the frozen meals encased in plastic that are associated with microwave meals. This is the fast food mentality at work.
    Fruit and cheese, marinated cucumbers and tomatoes, salads, chicken salad sandwiches, organic peanut butter, nuts and raisins, celery sticks, melon slices and a homemade cookie or slice of zucchini bread would all be better choices for a school lunch. Get your daughter involved in planning her lunches and forget the hot food hand off.
    As an occasional treat on a birthday or holiday, you could join her for lunch at school or volunteer in the classroom since you are at home and able to give some extra attention and love. Catering a hot meal to your child daily is over the top.
    I hope you will share some of the solutions to great school lunches for kids!

  • rkanter

    Glad you found something that works for you all; you’re a nice, good Dad. Everyone should do something that works for them 🙂 Keep up all your good work and great blogs!
    P.S. You may want to consider not feeding your child and/or yourself soy products. Please read an old blog of mine here (about soy consumption):

  • Ed Bruske

    Folks, life is full of compromises. We are not sending our daughter with microwave food. We are talking about re-heating food we make at home. Daughter has been exposed to food made from scratch since she was born, even food grown in our own garden. Yet, she has a mind of her own. That’s life. We are merely trying to make the best of it and guide her in the right direction. But we cannot make her eat what she will not eat, or eat according to our dictates. She still spends most of her time in a world not of our making. Adjustments are required. It’s a process, not an event.

  • Pattie

    I love that you are doing this, Ed. This will probably pass and you and your daughter will move on to a new stage (there will come a day in the not-too-distant future when she won’t want you at school at all, but for now she wants you there, and that’s a sweet moment in time).

    Your daughter sees how important good, healthy food is to you, and she will value what you are going to such lengths to provide her even more. I also think you are teaching her that every barrier has a creative solution. I say bravo to you.

  • Ed Bruske

    Lovely thoughts, Pattie. Thank you.

  • mossgathers

    I agree adjustments must be made. I have yet to throw out my microwave because my older children still use it when they are at home. I threw one away and they brought me another!
    I think the minute you put healthy food in a microwave, it loses all nutritional value.
    I love to cook and grow good food. I try to smile and nod and understand they are in a hurry but it’s one of those things where I feel they just don’t appreciate what goes into a good, healthy meal. Putting it in a microwave is like throwing all the goodness away. I hope I can educate them to care more about what they eat at some point in their adult lives!
    I’ll put a toaster oven where the microwave used to be and the next time they visit they can smile and nod and I’ll feel better about what they eat at my house.

  • Chef Michael McDermott


    Thank you for your article on this important subject. If I may speak to one quote… “Advocates for better school lunches suggest that kids would eat more vegetables if the vegetables were more appealing, prepared more creatively.” Please tell me what “these advocates” specific ideas are? I have been hearing nothing from these folks for years. Talk is cheap. We have the solution…. “The Chef’s School Lunch Project” and “Foodservice Improvement Systems”. With these two very specific tools we have enhanced “MILLIONS” of foodservice meals from restaurants chains to cruise lines with 100% improvement in Taste and Healtfullness, featured on CNN. Cost savings is a added by product of these programs with documented results as well. As in my earlier post speaking to your article
    “Can Michelle Obama make the math work for better school food?… The answer again: to fix school food will require a strategic partnership between the best and the brightest in the food world working school food service existing personnel/facilities. We all need to stop talking and start allot more doing. Whom will be the one person to help this along… Could it be you Ed? We are ready to help, NOW!