You Can Make the Lunches a Lot More Local Than I Did

October 6, 2015 at 9:45 am

Eat Local in a Bag

wpa school lunch

With today’s school schedules, you’ve probably been sending your kid off to school for like two months now. Are you sending them off with a local lunch? In these initial weeks of curriculum nights and math packet scrambles–you mean they grade them–you may not have thought much about the lunches packed. Out the door they went, hopefully with something more than a can of pop and a bag of chips. It does not take much work to plow an interesting, healthy and delicious meal into your kid’s food stream, nor does it take too much work to make it even better by making it a local lunch. I’m past packing lunches for my Local Family, but I know that if I was packing now, it would be a lot easier.

We always made sure the kids had something local in their lunches. You can find stories of us on the Internet (eg), and they invariably reference some kind of vegetable the kids revealed from their lunch bags.  Like pulling a rabbit from a hat, distorted carrots and exotic turnips magically appeared. So know, a little hocus-pocus, and your kids are eating their vegetables. This time of year, put in the last tiny tomatoes; wow them with a different hue of pepper each day. In the coming weeks, switch to broccoli florets or kale chips. Speaking of chips, in the winter when not much was around, our kids loved chips, made by thinly slicing and then slowly roasting beets.  Now, you still have many options for local fruit in the bag including apples, grapes, plums, and raspberries. As the school year progresses you can keep things local by using dried fruit or a tupperware cup filled with compote. These little connections, an apple in January or a carrot in April can teach them that it is always possible to eat local. You can guide them through the seasons, building anticipation for each new treat to come. Make the aware of the bounty always on offer.

That’s the easy part. How do you fill them up. Do you want them to eat peanut butter daily? When I was making the sandwiches I had a harder time making them local. For one thing, the bread options paled. There was no Hewn, no Publican Quality, as options. Those may be the best you got now, but second best and third best and probably fourth and fifth best are better thee days than when my kids were in school. The quality of bread in the Chicago area has really risen (only slight pun intended), and the single easiest way to improve a sandwich is to put in on good bread. Then, what goes in the sandwich. We would really work finding Michigan turkey for instance, or we might splurge on Nueske ham. But now, man can we splurge. How about picking up some Underground Meat Collective salumi at the Logan Square Farmer’s Market. How about this treat to really perk up a kid’s day: get them locally made nduja. In or near Oak Park, the Sugar Beet Coop has a variety of sandwich fillings from Indiana’s Smoking Goose. Of course we always had the ability to find local cheeses to put between the slices, and you too can delve into the wonderful array of area options from smooth fresh chevre–our kids loved it with tapenade to classic “Swiss”–Edelweiss in Wisconsin makes a true European big wheel emmentaler. Remember if you give them a chunk or two of cheddar and some apple wedges it’s now an English ploughman’s lunch, or see if they’ll like this favorite of my older daughter, “blue cheese ala Hannah”, which was blue cheese stuffed into bell pepper halves. There’s a lot of options now out there. You should not struggle to find local things to put in their lunches.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing to send your kids off as little locavores.