More Hot Lunch at Home

In my last post, I shared the Pediatric Psych Ward’s lunch menu for the week. It seems like a lot of you get tired of the daily battle of “what’s for lunch” too. Thanks for the validation!

Believe me, lunch was soooo much easier last week having a plan in place, and the inmates liked having input too. I didn’t have to hear moaning every day, “What is there for luuuunch? *HUFF* There’s nothing good in this house to eat!” as they stood in front of the open fridge. (This makes me stabby every single time.) Instead, I could answer, “Check the menu!” And you know what? I found that they looked forward to lunch daily! It was one less decision any of us had to make each day. I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of making a million decisions day in and day out.

So to help take five decisions off of your plate this week, here’s the PSW’s menu that we created together: Feel free to use, share or just mock as you wish:

Now I’m sure a lot of you are saying, “Is this woman for real? This all looks like a lot of work, and roasted cauliflower?!! Seriously??”

Wait. Let me explain. Young Son and First Born are not big fans of raw veggies. However, they will eat roasted vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, brussel sprouts even! What can I say, they’re high maintenance. Big surprise.) But I’ve been trying really hard to have healthier, more well-balanced meals for all of us that I don’t have to fight the inmates to eat. I could just throw some raw celery and carrots on their plate and pretend they’ll eat it, but we know that’s just going in the garbage. What’s the point?

The key: THE AIR FYER! If you don’t have one, GET ONE. Like today. I could write a whole post on the life-changing gloriousness of the air fryer! For the cauliflower, I’ll just break it into bite-sized pieces, toss it with a little olive oil and S&P, throw it in the air fryer for a bit and voila! Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Wednesday’s chicken tenders and smiley fries will go in my air fryer too.

The other key for making this menu work for my family is that these are things that all five of us will eat, the Warden included now that he’s been working from home. Instead of making five different lunches each day, I can make one meal for all of us in about fifteen minutes with a lot less mess and chaos in my kitchen.

If you have other ideas and meals that work for your family, please share them with me! If this menu was helpful for you, let me know and I can continue to share our menus. Have a great week!

Hot Lunch eLearning Style

If you ask any kid what their favorite part of school is, I’ll bet you a majority of them would answer, “lunch and recess!” If you think back to your school hot lunches, I bet you remember Friday pizza days. Your tray may have looked like this:

Ahhh…the rectangle pizza that fit neatly in the compartment. As I look at this picture, I don’t know what bougie school this kid went to, but we never got soft pretzels with mustard. And the fruit cocktail and milk need to be switched. What kind of monster put them in the wrong compartments?? Oh the humanity! I digress…

You could always tell a lot about a kid by the way they ate their rectangle pizza. They usually fell into one of a few categories:

  1. The Folder: This method involved folding the pizza in half and eating it like a taco. It’s efficient and no-nonsense, however this method had its drawbacks. If you didn’t staunch the flow of grease with a wad of those useless mini napkins before you folded it, you’d have to tilt it and let the grease drip out through the trough created at the fold. By the time you were done de-greasing it, all the cheese would have slid to the center and completely ruined the cheese-to-soggy crust ratio. If you didn’t do the trough method of de-greasing and just started shoveling in, you’d have a river of grease dripping down your chin and arm. It was not attractive.
  2. The Knife and Forker: This method of cutting the pizza into bite-sized pieces was generally adopted by prissy girls who wrote with fancy pens with fake flowers and flowy feathers on top. They also had a coordinating headband, bow or scrunchie for every outfit. The Knife and Fork method, while much tidier and sophisticated, was slow and inefficient, (especially if your school had plastic utensils) leaving you with little time for recess after lunch.
  3. The Slob: This is probably the most direct method of getting pizza into your gob, but by far the messiest and grossest. It required strange contortions to steer the floppy, drippy mess to your face and it was annoying and unappetizing having to sit next to this Oscar Madison. You could always tell which locker belonged to this kid too. It always had a coat or random papers sticking out their half-shut door (if they could close the locker at all), and it smelled like rotting apples or smelly socks.
  4. The Hybrid: This method requires a bit of prep, but is totally worth it in the end. First, you staunched the grease with napkins, then cut the pizza into quarters. This allowed the diner to neatly pick up the pizza without needing to fold or slop pizza goo everywhere. Students bound for National Honor Society utilized the Hybrid method.

Which kid were you? Or did you always bring cold lunch and never experienced Pizza Fridays at school?

The inmates are generally hot lunchers, and I’m totally fine with that. It’s less stress on me not having to be sure there is lunch food in the house, much less needing remind them to pack their lunch in the first place. Having one less meal to plan each day is pretty awesome too.

But now that the inmates are eating their lunch at home for the foreseeable future, I’ve decided I don’t want to be the cranky lunch lady. We decided to try to plan the weekly lunch menu together to make things more efficient and less stressful. If they decide they don’t want to eat “the main” for lunch that day, they are welcome to make themselves a sandwich. This helps in so many ways. 1.) I can more easily plan my grocery shopping instead of needing to buy a full buffet of lunch foods for them to choose from each day. 2.) It saves time every day because I don’t have to repeatedly rattle off their choices like a waitress and then waste time waiting for them to decide what to have. 3.) I’m no longer a short order cook at lunch. They either eat the jointly pre-determined lunch or make themselves a sandwich.

Here is this week’s menu:

And because I’m the quirky weird mom, I kicked it up a notch. I found a list of all the weird food holidays and we incorporate those into the menu. As you can see this Thursday is National Hot Dog Day. Last week there was International Bacon Day, so we had BLTs. Next Friday is National Cheeseburger Day, so if they have a great week, McDonald’s it is! (In case you’re interested, here’s the link to the holiday list I used:

And what would hot lunch be without the compartmentalized tray?! Mmmm hmmm! Oh yes, I did! Each inmate has their own lunch tray! Here’s First Born’s lunch from yesterday:

Chicken nuggets with BBQ, smiley fries, carrots (a vegetable — I tried!) and half a banana (just like school!) Now I need to get little milk boxes and it’ll be perfect!

So far it’s been working pretty well. Come to think of it, I should have bought the Warden his own lunch tray too!

Next school element to recreate: DETENTION!

The sChOOL clASSroom

We’ve made it through two full weeks of remote learning. I still have five people living in my house. Was it relaxing as a spa day? Ummm… no. Was it the firey pits of hell? Also no.

When it was becoming clear that there would be at least some amount of remote learning this fall, the Warden and I started brainstorming ways that we could make it better than it was in the spring if we were going to survive. Spring was chaos, mayhem and frustration. The inmates did their school work (with endless hounding from me) all over the house: at the kitchen table or island, in the playroom slumped in a gaming chair, in a huge treadmill box filled with pillows and snacks in my dining room (can you guess who created that hot mess?) No matter how I tried to keep them on task and organized, it was futile. If I made them all work at the kitchen table, it was bedlam, fighting, yelling and tormenting (me included.) If they went and did their school work where they wanted to do it, that meant I had to run all over the house helping, monitoring and riding herd on them. I was a gray hair’s width away from completely throwing in the towel.

So when the Warden came up with the idea, “Why don’t we make the living room into a school room?” I had serious doubts.

“They’re going to kill each other,” I said. “It’s going to be one big MMA Cage Match in there every day!”

“And how is that different than any other day here? At least they’ll all be in one place and easier to manage. We can get some desks and they can keep all their stuff there and not all over the house. I think it could work.” He looked hopefully at me.

I started warming up to the idea. “Well, they’ll have to have good headphones for sure. And we use that white noise machine from when Warrior Princess was a baby to drown out the sound of her brothers killing each other. If it does turn into a MMA cage match, we could live stream it and Young Son could finally have the monetized YouTube channel he’s always dreamed of. Warrior Princess could be the bookie.”

The Warden ignored my brilliance and immediately turned to his computer to search for desks. He found some really cool corner ones at Ikea (I reminded him that he was in charge of assembly and the inmates would guaranteed want to “help” him. That did not deter him.) I found some desk chairs on and desk lamps on Amazon. Ooh! I could shop for office accessories!

“What did the inmates think of the idea?” you ask. They actually were on board with it. We talked about how eLearning in some capacity was going to happen for at least awhile, and we wanted to make it a better experience. We showed them the desks and chairs and told them they could personalize their space how they wanted (within reason!) They were sold!

Since our “living room” has never been a “living room” and has always been a playroom, I had some purging and clearing out to do. It was actually pretty satisfying and I even got out the carpet shampooer.

After a couple trips to Ikea and a few hours of some assembly required, voila! Behold…

The sChOOL clASSroom!

Now before you get your knickers all in a twist, the mural on the wall is wallpaper, and it’s been up there since First Born was a toddler.

Has it been perfect? No, but we’ve tweaked things here and there and it’s starting to work pretty well. The inmates are driven by money, so they have a reward chart for every week. Here’s an example:

Each day the inmates can earn up to 4 stars, worth $.25 each.

So far they’ve been doing a pretty good job too. For now I’ve been reminding them about charging electronics and being ready for the next day as we get used to this new system. The Positive Attitude can trip them up. Give your brother a wedgie while he’s on a Zoom meeting? No star. Start complaining about school work or classmates? No star. Distract or annoy classmates on purpose? No star. Make Mom come out and yell? NO STAR!

Is this ideal? No. We all are longing to have our kids back in their classrooms with their teachers and friends. But in the meantime, we’re grateful to be together and healthy, and the inmates are liking their independence and taking pride in their special work areas.

Do you want to know one of the craziest things to come out of quarantine and remote learning? The inmates have become closer with each other. I see them looking out and caring for one another more and wanting to be together in their free time. I’m really proud of them for taking this in stride and with grace…as much as possible. (I’d be worried if they didn’t murder on each other at least once day!) If one good thing comes out of all of this, may the great bond they are creating last a lifetime.