In order to be successful in school, our children need fuel. School lunches can be tough. We have to balance what is healthy and what our child will eat. There’s also the distraction factor. They have 20 minutes and a cafeteria or gym full of other kids who are all talking and eating. The distraction is enough to delay nutritional intake past the time when lunch is over. (To see what I'm talking about, Try to fit in a lunchtime visit to your child’s school sometime. Prearranged with your child and the office. You'll be amazed.)
So, we need something tasty and quick and easy to prepare, but nutritionally sound and easy for our kids to eat quickly.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests aiming for 4 food groups:
- Whole Grains (Whole grain crackers, tortillas, pitas, or bread for a sandwich, even air-popped pop corn)
- Protein (lean deli meats, peanut butter, hummus, tuna or egg salad)
- Nonfat or low-fat dairy product (yogurt, cheese, or milk)
- Fruits or veggies (bite-sized ones)
The first step in beating the lunchbox battles is to get your kids involved with making their own lunch. Show them the 4 elements and have them make suggestions before going to the store. If they’re old enough, they can help with shopping. Write down several options for each element of something that they’d like to eat. When they pick out foods that are not appropriate (i.e. powdered donuts), take the opportunity to teach them why that’s not a good option for lunch. If you’d like, make an offer, on Mondays they can have one small-sized powdered donut for dessert in their lunch (because everyone needs a little dessert on Mondays). That way they get a little something special and they learn moderation (total deprivation is never fun).
What will streamline the whole process is to make a chart. Now, they can easily pick and choose one item from each column to pack in their lunch. You’ve had say in what they can choose from, but they get to pick.
When your child has a choice in what they get to eat, then they tend to want to eat it. If we try to force them into eating something they don’t want, they will more than likely trade it or not eat it at all and throw it away. (It’s appalling how much food ends up in the trashcan of an elementary school lunchroom.)
We all want a little choice and autonomy in our lives. Our children are heading off to school and will be responsible for sitting at lunch and feeding themselves. Let’s give them something to look forward to in their lunchbox.