Mrs. Q at Fed Up With Lunch has joined me in asking her readers to complete an Eat Along Challenge with her and create a week’s worth of lunches for just $2 each. You have a week to prepare — the meal days are Monday, December 6 through Friday, December 10. I’m feeling so inspired by Mrs. Q and her faithful readers, I may do it again!
After reading my article in Civil Eats, I hope you’ll feel empowered to do the $2 Lunch Challenge. It’s pretty easy — just make a $2 lunch, snap some photos, share them online, and most importantly…
Write a letter to your editor (or school district) to tell them about your lunch adventures and deliver a simple message:
When it comes to school food, it’s not really about the money -
it’s about the mindset.
For the morbidly curious, I’ve included all the breakdowns and pictures of Helen’s 5 lunches below. I hope it will serve as inspiration to create your own lunch and make your own stand against scary, unhealthy school food. I truly think it’s us parents that can turn the tide.
If you’d like some sample letters to both editors and school districts, sign up for my newsletter (on the right) and I’ll be emailing a mad-as-hell manifesto out with sample letters, recipes, and inspiration.
Monday – Meal #1:
Chili, cornbread, and a salad with half a fair trade banana, fresh pear slices and chocolate chips for dessert.
Total Cost = $1.77 (click for price breakdowns)
Chili and cornbread is a pretty big crowd pleaser, so I thought I’d start off easy on my daughter’s picky palate. I was surprised to find out that I could do this with hormone- and antibiotic-free ground beef from Whole Foods. I was half-expecting to have to do a week of vegetarian meals.
The one thing that surprised me was the cost of fruit in November. I got a few pears on sale and some bananas that I could cut in half, but otherwise I was pretty much priced out of the market for fruit. So you’ll see a lot of pear on my menus for the week. And the chocolate chips? A concession to my daughter’s chocoholism. It runs in the family.
Want some contrast? Check out the meal Mrs. Q ate on her school-food eating adventure, Fed Up With Lunch. On this same day she ate a bagel dog, fries, and a syrupy fruit cup (I guess ketchup was the vegetable that day?). Yum!
What’s the excuse for all the processed fried junk?
Tuesday – Meal #2:
Total Cost = $1.66 (click for price breakdowns)
For me, this meal is a testament to the fact that serving crappy food is a choice. Junk food is not an inevitable product of price point. Even the cheapest meat costs more than vegetarian proteins, and schools pay extra for all the ‘value-added’ junk that goes into processing food into a form that will sit in a warehouse for weeks before getting fed to our kids.
Hummus might seem like a non-kid-friendly food but you’d be shocked how palatable it is to the 10-and-under crowd. The even texture and the sweetness, plus the fun of dipping, make it a natural kid food. I don’t really have a way to calculate labor costs for this experiment, but I will say it took me 10 whole minutes to make the hummus, another 5 to chop the veggies and pita up. Not a bad deal for this tired working Mom!
Raw ingredients, close to the plant, and working directly with farmers – that’s what this meal represents. It might be more time-intensive that heat-n-serve, but I’m not convinced it’s always more expensive.
Wednesday – Meal #3:
Total Cost = $1.77 (click for price breakdowns)
I bought 3 bunches of bok choi for $1 – from a farm that was in the process of throwing it into a compost bin. They would have given it to me for free, but I donated the dollar and bought a few other things. I also bought 11 organic avocados for $10 (that would normally have been $1.50 each) by coming at the end of the market and asking for a deal. The farmer knew that the green, creamy goodness inside those 11 avocadoes was only sellable for another day at most – so why not get some money for them instead of throwing them in the compost pile?
Hard-boiled egg is another great kid food. Simple, tasty, and a shot of much needed protein. I chatted up my egg ladies at the Farmers’ Market and got a little discount – I’m sure they’d do the same for a school in need.
And yes, my daughter loves sushi, as long as I leave out the fish.
Thursday – Meal #4:
Total Cost = $1.96 (click for price breakdowns)
This meal ended up being more of a weird smorgasbord of random food choices than I had planned. I was going to bake some cute little mini apple pies that would make Martha Stewart proud, but work deadlines and exhaustion took over and I threw black beans in instead, grateful that I hadn’t told Helen about my grand plans. She kind of ignored the plain beans, but there was plenty of other things to choose from.
But in my book, some untouched black beans are a thousand times better than the consumerist frenzy preferred by the food marketing industry.
Kids buying junk translating to a better first quarter? That’s my definition of a conflict of interest!
Friday – Meal #5:
Total Cost = $1.87 (click for price breakdowns)
If I’ve learned one thing doing gardening and cooking with kids, it’s this: kids love making tortillas. So for my last lunch, I decided to price them out. Definitely affordable, if a little labor intensive.
You know, in my circles, I hear a lot about the evils of kids downing spicy cheetos and cola. While I don’t disagree, I feel the need to lead you down the rabbit hole a little here, past the spicy cheetos and into the wild world of school food ingredients. The food that should be nourishing our kids is poisoning them. Instead of wholesome, made-from-scratch foods even the most innocuous sounding foods like “mashed potatoes” are a Frankenstinian chemical mashup of 12 ingredients. Pizza? 62 ingredients.
If we did a better job of making lunches nutritious, filling, and tasty, the junky stuff wouldn’t have center stage in kids’ lives.