My kids start school in one week and I’m kinda sorta freaking out.
We’ve been a homeschooling family for three years, but we’re trying something different this year and for the first time, my kids will be packing lunches.
I’ve heard from other families that packing school lunches can kinda be traumatic for everyone involved. Time vs. picky kids vs. portability vs. healthy food…
Yeah, I’m definitely freaking out.
* insert breathing into brown paper bag *
Is there a support group for this?
I think I’m going to create one and call it “choose your battles.” You’re probably more familiar with this when dealing toddlers and/or teenagers, but I think it applies to school lunches and real food too.
You see, every family has to decide which battle to face with food. Which items are you willing to make from scratch and which are you willing to buy pre-made? The decision is always based on one or more of these three factors:
- the budget
- list of ingredients
- time involved otherwise
Obviously, the budget is a big factor. Making food from scratch is the easiest way to trim the grocery budget, so if you can’t afford to buy it, you have to either make it or do without. End of discussion.
The list of ingredients is a big one too though. 99% of the time store-bought items will have something listed in the ingredients that you simply don’t want to eat. Or ingredients that you don’t want your family to eat. Or ingredients you’ve never heard of nor can pronounce. All of these reasons are enough for me to run far away from the shelf and go the homemade route, because I’m not sure if anything scares me more than not knowing what’s in my food.
Finally, the time it takes to make something from scratch is huge. It’s even bigger for families with two working parents, or when you’re working multiple jobs. Or for whatever reason or season, your 24 hour allotment isn’t enough.
With all this said, I wanted to compile a list of convenience items that I’m willing to buy instead of make and I’m sharing it for two main reasons:
(1) To be transparent with you.
I am NOT superwoman. I cannot do everything, all the time, for everyone, and this includes the food I cook in the kitchen. I don’t want you to think otherwise.
I fail all the time. I screw up dinner, forget ingredients and give in when my own 24 hours aren’t enough. Just because I share our experiences on this blog doesn’t mean I should be on a pedestal. Quite the contrary, in fact.
(2) To encourage you right where you are.
Some of you are just starting to make real food from scratch. Others have been doing this for years. Everyone will come to a point where they have to choose their battle, and it’s not always fun. I want you to know that it’s okay to concede.
You’re not superwoman (or superman) either, and sometimes giving in one area means receiving in others. We pick and choose are battle in order to win the war.
So what battles am I willing to concede to, in light of the impending school year?
Taking into consideration the three factors above – budget, ingredients and time – here’s what I’m willing to buy instead of make from scratch at home, in an effort to my school lunch panic attack(s) at bay.
5 Convenience Foods I’m Willing to Buy
1. Sourdough Bread
However, there have been occasions when neither one of us is available to make bread from scratch. In those instances, I’m okay buying sourdough bread SO LONG AS the list of ingredients isn’t crazy long and unpronounceable.
I’m okay with flour, salt, yeast, sugar and a sourdough starter. I’m leery with anything beyond that, so I usually settle on San Luis Sourdough, which seems to be the best of the options available on my shelf and still affordable from Costco.
2. Ready to Cook Tortillas
Tortilla Land makes flour tortillas that are ready to go and only require cooking. They contain canola oil, which I’m totally NOT a fan of, but there’s only four other ingredients and they’re all legit. I’m willing to make this very small concession on canola oil since pre-made tortillas often contain super-icky hydrogenated oils. Pick and choose, right?
My biggest hang up with homemade tortillas is the time. They’re not hard to make and can be ready in less than 30 minutes if you’re making a small batch. But, “small batch” is the key word.
I can’t make tortillas in small batches. It’s not in my DNA. If I’m making homemade tortillas, I’m going all out and making lots. There’s no sense in going through that work and mess for just a few. But if I’m making lots, I need more time… pre-made tortillas really helps me out with this when my 24 hours aren’t enough.
3. Hard Pretzels
I’ve got the soft pretzel thing narrowed down, but hard pretzels are one snack that seem out of my reach. The whole family loves the salty crunch, and I love that the ingredients typically aren’t whacked out either. Honestly, they’re the one processed snack I’m okay with occasionally buying.
I don’t have a brand preference, rather I default to the list of ingredients… just in case. Some brands sneak in extra artificial sugar, and that’s a no-no in our house. Even more so when pretzels are a “want” and not a “need.”
What, never heard of it? It’s like granola, but it’s not, because it has more whole grains than just oats and it usually has fun stuff like raisins, nuts and dates too.
It’s like the real food edition of cereal, except that you can eat it hot or cold or plain… plus we don’t buy cereal anymore. Too much sugar, too much processed “stuff” and frankly, it’s too expensive!
Bob’s Red Mill is my preferred brand for muesli, since most of the other mainstream brands add sugar and processed oils. I like that Bob’s Red Mill keeps it real and simple.
I also get stuck between sticking with organic milk or switching to conventional milk, since we don’t even drink it (other than in our coffee).
So until I get this milk thing figured out, I’m okay buying yogurt BUT I always read the list of ingredients. Milk, cream and bacteria are okay. Artificial sugar and fillers (like pectin) are not. Even if that means buying plain and then using it to make my own Greek yogurt, I’d rather do that.
It’s hard to write this list without wanting to add so many other caveats, so I’m including the top 5 convenience foods I am NOT willing to concede on. If I can’t get my preferred choices above and I’m forced to choose between these below or nothing, we’ll do without!
5 Convenience Foods I Won’t Buy
1. Flavored Yogurt / Squeezable Pouches / Yogurt Cups
The chances of these having fake sugars and artificial coloring is high, so I just avoid them altogether. Plus they’re expensive. I’ll buy plain yogurt and add our own pureed fruit instead.
No matter how appealing the individual sized containers are, it’s just too easy to make it myself.
3. Cheese Sticks
Buying a whole brick of cheese is SO much cheaper, and a pre-packaged cheese stick is a marketing tactic that takes advantage of time-strapped families. Buy the brick and cut your own slices to save big bucks.
4. Fruit Roll Ups / Gummies / Fruit Leathers
Sugar, sugar and more sugar. Homemade fruit roll ups are 100% fruit and nothing else. And they practically cook themselves!
My kids love these homemade gummies too.
5. Meals in Cans or Mini Tubs
If you only have to peel back the lid and re-heat, I’m not buying it. I’d rather my kids take REAL homemade spaghetti or even homemade spaghetti o’s than any of that chef-boy-is-this-unhealthy stuff!