kindergarten: the lunch / by jen geigley

Is anyone else out there sending a Kindergartener out into the world this fall? I've been spending this summer trying to prepare Lo as best I can for her first year of elementary, and our biggest focus has been on independence. I admit it: she's my first kid, and I may be guilty of babying her a tiny bit. Opening containers for her, cleaning up after her ... I'm always there to help. And so I do. Probably too much. I'm trying to learn to step back and let her do her thing.

And then it hits me. OMG. She has to survive an entire school day without me.

Academically and socially, Lo is ready. But there were a few things I decided we might need to practice before she went off to school to ease any first-day stress.
One of those things is lunch. Yes, we're practicing how to do lunch. And that might sound silly, but stick with me here because we learned some good stuff. I'm super guilty of the whole 'let me help you with that' thing. And I plan on using a bunch of different plastic bento boxes to pack her lunches. I had no idea if she could open all of the lids without assistance, so this was our chance to practice. (Good thing we did, because I discovered that the containers in this awesome Skip Hop bento mealtime set are super hard to open. Even for me! Bummer.)
I made it into a game, because I figured she'd be down with playing 'school.' I prepare a lunch and water bottle for her, pack up her lunchbox and put everything inside her backpack. Then I pretend to be her teacher and ask her to find her lunch in her cubby and bring it to the table in our 'lunchroom.' And then, I'm totally hands-off. She has to unzip and open every container by herself, and when she's finished, I ask her to (neatly) pack up whatever is left over into her lunchbox and zip it into her backpack. I also set a timer for 30 minutes. My kid is a painfully slow eater, and at home we let her graze. It's time to learn about time management!  :)
This little lunch game also gives me a chance to check my portions. She ate everything today and said she was full. This is good. I plan to send her Klean Kanteen bottle with water every day this year. Occasionally, we'll do juice or milk, but water is great. I will fill the bottle with ice cubes in the morning so it will stay cold until lunch time.
This is also great lunch-prep practice for me. I learned my bento-packing skills from my friend Wendy. I've read her blog for years and have taken lots of mental notes. For instance, I know that you can fit quite a bit of food in a pretty small container, and it's good to pack it nice and full and use extra bits of food to fill in the spaces so food doesn't shift during transport.
My favorite boxes to use are the smallish ones that are sandwich-shaped, and sometimes I'll add in another smaller container of fruit or carrot sticks or cheese/crackers. I also really like the small-sized bento boxes with two hinged side clips, like this one. They're easy for kids to open and food doesn't spill or leak all over the place. And my new favorite ice pack is this Thermos ice cube mat. They're inexpensive, flexible, and contain only purified water – none of the blue goo.
So yeah, I'm getting pretty stoked about Kindergarten. So is Lo. This lunch thing is fun. If you're a rookie like me, check out this super comprehensive list of lunch-box ideas over at Wendolonia. (It's printable!)