School lunch memories are a perennial topic for nostalgia—remember those rectangular pizza slices and cups of ice cream with tiny wooden spoon? In recent years, under the scrutiny of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and other initiatives, school lunches have improved, but are still less healthy than they could be. It doesn’t help that many parents today are too pressed for time to make a healthy brown bag lunch.
That’s why it’s no surprise that numerous box subscription services have sprouted up to replace the lunch lady or Mom and Dad. Parents and children can choose from several lunch options, place an order online, and have it delivered to home or school. These are just three of the options available for parents to solve the problem of “What’s for lunch?”
Price: Five lunches for $24/wk or three lunches for $19/wk
Scrumpt is a subscription service created by California-based Dr. Schery Mitchell-James, a retired pediatrician with over 30 years experience, and her daughter Bri James. The pair debuted Scrumpt in September at TechCrunch Disrupt SF.
On the Scrumpt site, Dr. Mitchell-James explains her own experience struggling to make a healthy lunch: “As an exhausted mom, I dreaded the menu planning, the grocery shopping and the waking up at the crack of dawn to make a PB&J that often went uneaten. Scrumpt eliminates all of that.”
Users fill out a food profile explaining any food allergies and preferences. Then they pick a plan and on Saturdays, they receive a batch of non-perishable groceries delivered. Assembly is up to families and they are supposed to add perishable items on hand from fridge. Think of it like FreshDirect, but for school lunches.
Each plan is accompanied by a visual instruction sheet—IKEA style—so that even little kids can contribute to packing their meals for the week. One sample menu includes chicken salad with wheat crackers, mild white cheddar cheese cubes (one of those fridge items you’ll have to purchase separately), fruit leather, and water. Another includes a banana and almond butter sandwich, vegetable kabob, grape kabob (who doesn’t like food on a stick?), organic cheddar crackers, and organic milk.
Price: Varies with meal
Available: Throughout California, check your local school
Choice Lunch is a delivery service founded in the 1990s by Mary and Larry Gagnon. In 2003, their son Justin was hired to rebuild the website and wound up committed to the mission of providing kids with high-quality food. He recruited some friends from college and the group has been serving up healthful, delicious lunches to school kids ever since.
Parents create a profile based on the school their child attends. Then they fill out that profile, providing not only information about allergens but what size meal the child will want to eat. The online ordering system then allows users to order meals from a list of entrees. Once food is ordered, chefs prepare orders fresh to the school on the day of delivery.
Choice Lunch offers several choices for each day, some of which are hot and some of which are cold (including sushi). Their meat, poultry, and dairy is hormone- and antibiotic-free. They also don’t source anything with trans fat, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners. Vegetables are sourced as locally as possible.
In an interview with USA Today, Justin Gagnon explained, “We like to say we’re empowering parents and kids to be able to work together on the lunch process.”
Price: beginning at $6/child once a week
Available: Boston and surrounding areas
Sproot was founded in 2012 by Katherine Shamraj, who was inspired by her Ukrainian grandmother’s passion for food, and a handful of others. Katherine combined her management experience with a desire to address the nutritional needs of preschoolers.
Unlike other subscription services, choices are more limited with Sproot but special care is taken with presentation. Each preschooler’s lunch is packed in an animal-shaped bento box, such as a panda or frog, and labeled with the name of your child. (There’s an option for teachers to order lunches with Sproot as well.)
Sample lunches include turkey, avocado, spinach, and cannellini sandwiches, Haitian rice and beans with plantains, and kale pesto paninis— all of which also come with sides. Snacks include sweet potato and bean muffins and apples, cheese and whole wheat crackers.
If kids don’t respond to the food, the recipes are cycled off the menus. But not too quickly: Research supports that idea that people’s taste preferences are set by the age of 4. So offering preschoolers a wide variety of foods actually sets them up for a lifetime of successful and adventurous eating.
US Dept of Agriculture/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)