I was never a PB&J kind of kid. When I was growing up, my mom never packed the same lunches for me that the other kids got. I was okay with that; I never liked bologna and cheese and it's not like she was sending me to school with a sprouted lentil loaf, if you know what I mean.
My favorite lunch as a kid that I can remember was cheese tortellini with a homemade vinaigrette. My mom usually packed an apple with it and some kind of snack, like pretzel rods. I *loved* this lunch. My friends thought it was interesting and cool, without being weird. And that's the thing... lunch is social. It's a delicate balance for a kid to find something that he or she enjoys eating and at the same time, feels confident about. Let's not pretend that kids aren't conscious of this dynamic; it's one of the big reasons behind lunch trades and wasted food. My daughter loves to eat certain foods at home but refuses to have them in her lunch. It's disappointing, but I can't fault her for this, because I remember the feeling.
This is a big part of the reason why I'm happy to give my kids the opportunity to plan their own lunches. Allowing them to choose the foods they want to eat for lunch (within set parameters, of course) helps them not only to find their food voice, but also to discover new taste preferences. Seeing new options in a visually simple way enables kids to think about foods that aren't otherwise top of mind. My daughter is on a huge goat cheese kick now for this very reason. While they're thinking about what to pack, undoubtedly they are considering the social impact. Will it be too smelly? Too weird? Is it something I'll want to eat in front of my friends? If you think about your own brown bag lunch experiences as an adult, the same issues may come into play, but your dining companions (at work or otherwise) can likely hold their tongues if they don't like what you've brought. Ever been on an airplane next to someone who opens something that you find horrific? Ever decide not to bring something on an airplane because of the reactions of others? Then you'll know what I'm talking about.
Some families I know operate on the "parents choose the what, kids choose the how much" philosophy. I completely get that. That's how we operate for dinner. But navigating the social dynamic of school can be challenging, even for the most confident kids. For that reason (and so many more), I'm happy to empower my kids to be part of the lunch planning process. They're excited to choose their lunches with LaLa Lunchbox on my phone (the app is free for the back to school season, btw) but it began as a paper-based project that my gal and I did together. There's no right answer of course. As with all parenting-related things, you have to find what feels right and even within the same family, some kids are more sensitive to these social issues than others. What works in your house?
No matter how you and your family choose to pack lunches, we wish you the best of luck with the back-to-school season!