No matter how much I am aware that my children are different from each other, it is still quite a shock sometimes to realize just how divergent their personalities can be. Nowhere are these differences so apparent as in my children’s attitudes to going back to school. While my 7 year old is all excitement and anticipation, looking forward to seeing her friends and learning new things, my 4 year old is nervous and uncertain about his second year of preschool. He has a million questions and changes his mind about school several times a day – one moment excited about discovering toys in his new classroom, the next unsure whether he wants to leave the familiarity of home. Of course, my answer to this, as in most things, is to bring out the books! There is a such a wonderful variety of children’s books about school. We love the classics such as Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes and Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry G. Allard, but lately we’ve also discovered some new favorites that have become back-to-school traditions. The stack of books pictured at the top of this post show several of our latest back-to-school book discoveries, but there are two that we especially love.
My very favorite back-to-school books is Little Rabbit Goes to School by Harry Horse. Little Rabbit insists on bringing his favorite toy, Charlie Horse, to school on the first day as a companion and comfort, but when Charlie Horse starts acting out in class, the teacher must gently step in. This books creates a lighthearted catalyst for talking about acceptable classroom behavior and may help younger children with feeling more comfortable leaving their beloved toys at home. Little Rabbit Goes to School also deals with many of the situations that make children nervous about school – making friends, figuring out how to act in the classroom, and learning to share. However, probably my favorite thing about this book is the gorgeous illustrations. The vibrant watercolors create a quaint, colorful world that draws readers into the story and the world of Little Rabbit.
Another delightful new back-to-school book is School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex. This book is engaging and interesting for both first time students and seasoned elementary schoolers. Looking at the first day of school through the eyes of a new school building, this book introduces kids to many elements of the school day. It shows students gathering for circle time, participating in a fire drill, eating lunch together and playing on the playground. I also like how it approaches anxieties and worries about school in an indirect way, by putting those thoughts into the mind of the school building itself. The school wonders if he will like being filled with children, and if they will like him. He wonders if it’s his fault when a little girl doesn’t want to go into school, but ends up watching her as she makes new friends and starts to enjoy her time in class. The simple paint and collage illustrations in School’s First Day of School give the pages a comforting, cheerful feeling, as if the children in the school were illustrating the book and add to the approachable feeling of the story.
Neither of these books really deal directly with food, but they do both show the children having school lunch together. The first year my daughter went to school, school lunches were a point of major stress for us. Finding food that was allowed at school (i.e. no peanuts), that she enjoys eating and that was healthy felt impossible at times. When I would try to send different foods that I thought would be interesting and healthy, the lunches often came home uneaten and my daughter came home very hungry. But when she chose the lunch, I felt like I was sending the same less-than-nutritious meal every day. Through a process of trial and error over the past two years, we’ve come up with some easy, healthy lunch options that appeal to my daughter and don’t come home uneaten.
Since peanut butter is not allowed at the preschool my son and daughter attended, I ended up making a lot of sun butter based lunches. Sun butter at the store can be expensive and seems to taste a bit bland, so I tried out a homemade version that ended up being much cheaper, lower in sugar and more appetizing to the kids. I like to use roasted, salted sunflower seeds for extra flavor and a nicer, golden color, but you could also use raw or unsalted seeds here. Also, I use maple syrup for a subtly sweet flavor, but honey or agave would also work well. Here’s my recipe for homemade sun butter, sweetened with maple syrup, and a few of our favorite ways to use it in lunches. Happy lunching!
Homemade Maple Sunflower Seed Butter
Makes 3 cups
1 16 ounce bag roasted, salted sunflower seeds
2 Tablespoons canola oil
3 Tablespoons real maple syrup
- Pour the whole bag of seeds into a food processor fitted with a blade and process just until the seeds form a powdery meal. Slowly pour the oil down the chute of the processor, continuing to process until the seeds and oil combine to form a smooth, spreadable paste. It can take several minutes for a smooth paste to form as the seeds need to warm up a little and release their oils.
- Once the sunflower seeds have formed a smooth paste, scrape it into a mixing bowl and stir in the maple syrup to sweeten. Store in a resealable container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
While a traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich is always a favorite around here, I’ve also tried out a few different ways to serve peanut butter or sun butter in lunches that adds a little interest. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Ribbon Sandwiches: This is pretty much the same as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I switched around the configuration a bit by layering the jelly on one piece of bread and sun butter on another then creating a sandwich with three pieces of bread. Finally, just slice off the crusts and cut the sandwich in slices to see the “ribbons” of filling. Works with cream cheese, jelly, nut butters, or any other spreadable filling. These are especially great for kids who don’t like crusts.
2. Apple and Granola Sandwiches: Core an apple and slice into several circular slices. Spread two slices of apple with sun butter on one side and then sprinkle one slice with granola. Sandwich the two slices of apple together to create a sandwich.
3. Sun Butter Dip: This is a super simple idea, but it’s a life saver when there’s no bread in the house. Just place sun butter or peanut butter in a small container then include pretzel sticks, crackers, apple slices or celery sticks for dipping.