Oh wise ones, veteran parents who have trod this path ahead of me, I beg your wisdom.

My oldest kid just started kindergarten, which means I have a kazallion school lunches to pack in coming years. And she’s making it impossible. Or rather, her sensory sensitivities interfere with all normal methods. Let’s discuss.

Buy hot lunch!

Well, that would be the easiest, wouldn’t it? But I’d be spending money for her to starve, because the first week they served grilled cheese, hot dog “on a bun” (why is that specified?), and pizza; the second week they served mac and cheese, turkey sandwiches, and pizza; and the third week I stopped looking at the lunch calendar because who am I kidding? I realized this will never be an option for us (with this child). She doesn’t eat a single one of those foods. Stop this line of thought, Robin. You’re wasting your time.

Girl does not eat bread (except challah with butter), melty cheese, any meat product (and not for any ethical reasons), or any pizza that doesn’t come from Sole D’Italia (plain cheese, obviously) in Ashton. Awesome.

Maybe it’s easier to approach this another way, and tell you what she does like. It’s a very short list, so this won’t take long.

The girl-approved food list

Category #1aFresh fruit: Strawberries, sliced apple, or mango. Sometimes grapes. Apple cannot be whole—or mushy. Most melon is okay, as long as it’s 100% seedless. Fruit, except apple, must be cold.

Category #1bApplesauce: But for the love of all that is holy, there had better be no brown dots.

Category #2a—Cheese with crackers: By cheese, know that I mean only specifically a two-year-aged white cheddar, and by crackers I mean only Triscuits.

Category #2b—Cheese without crackers, also known as strips cheese: That’s a heaping bowl of shredded cheese, straight up, with a spoon.

Category #3—Buttered noodles: Every day. They are, I’m pretty sure, more essential than oxygen.

Category #4—Other foodish things I think of as dry goods: These might be Cheez-its or Pirate’s Booty. Assume that they’re delicious and fairly useless nutritionally.

Category #5—Beverages: She’ll drink milk or apple juice or water. The juice or water must be cold. The milk—this is fun—must be icy cold and non-visible. If she can see her milk, she goes into this epic blotchy-faced sensory overload where the visual and tactile information circuits get crossed and she basically goes insane for about three minutes. So the milk that the school provides for free in those squat little cartons with the huge, look-into-the-abyss diamond openings? Nuh-uh.

The challenges

This was all much easier up until last month, because her daycare provided both refrigeration and microwave access. Kindergarten provides…a locker. I used to send her milk in an insulated plastic cup inside a beer cozy, and it stayed cold enough. But the plastic only had to keep it cold until it found its home in the fridge. Plastic is not insulating enough to survive the dreaded locker. So I bought those Foogo insulated metal canteens with the sports straw opening, essential to continuity of non-visibility. But the canteen makes the milk taste like metal, I’m told. And now she won’t drink milk at school.

What about her fruit and cheese that must stay cold to meet her standards? Also in insulated Foogo bowls—that also make everything taste like metal. To mitigate that problem I’ve been lining them with disposable plastic sandwich bags, but that is a pretty ridiculous way to use a reusable bowl, isn’t it? Interestingly, those same Foogos, when used to keep her life-sustaining noodles warm, do not taint the buttery goodness. It’s a cold issue, but not a hot one. Or mango is more metal-absorbent than ziti. I don’t know—but isn’t that part obvious?

Help me!!!!!!!

So here’s where I beg for your insights. I know many of you face sensory concerns in your own families too, and while each of our kids manifests those concerns in different ways, I’m counting on your greater experience to see me through my lunch-packing crisis. What tips and tricks do you have to offer, you brilliant people, you?

It should be noted that Robin will eat almost anything at all for lunch, if only you’ll pack it for her. If she’s still able to think coherently after her three kids’ lunches are packed, she blogs at The Not-Ever-Still Life, and can also be found on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

Cheese photograph, via Creative Commons license, is from I Believe I Can Fry.