With September looming, our thoughts turn to packing a school lunch. We want to make sure our kids are eating healthy, balanced meals even when we’re not there to monitor them. Many studies have shown that good nutrition is strongly correlated with academic performance. Unfortunately, the lure of cafeteria food, processed pre-packaged lunches, and unhealthy treats in friends’ lunches can be too strong to resist, leading to a less-than-ideal nutritional situation at school. Luckily, there are ways you can help your kids stay healthy and focused
Get Your Kids Involved
Kids’ tastes can change quickly, so involving them in lunch planning can help you stay on top of it. No matter how healthy the lunch, your kid won’t benefit if they refuse to eat it. For younger kids, give them a few options for each component (ie “would you like a plum, an apple, or grapes for your fruit?” or “would you prefer a chocolate chip granola bar or an apple fig bar?”). Then have them help assemble the lunch and pack it into a lunch bag. For older kids, work together to create a more advanced menu or theme (ie “Mexican Mondays”) and get them involved in planning and prepping their meals for the week each weekend. This will also help set them up to make healthier food choices and prepare food on their own as they grow up.
Let Your Kids Do The Shopping
Not all of it, of course. But if you let them pick some lunch foods during your weekly grocery shopping, your kids will feel like they have a say in what they are eating and make them more invested in eventually eating those foods. This works especially well if you grocery shop online. Let your kid choose a few items from a category (like fruit or vegetables) and then have them help unpack the groceries when they arrive. We hear all the time from parents whose kids get excited waiting for their SPUD delivery and are in turn way more excited to eat the fruits and veggies that are in the box.
Keep It Interesting
Instead of the standard “sandwich, fruit, and granola bar” school lunch, try packing a greater quantity of smaller foods, bento box or tapas style. Even better, invest in a bento lunch box, and work with your kid to fill all the compartments. The diversity will help keep kids interested, and even if they are not in the mood for one thing, there will be lots of other options to choose from. Good choices include mini-wraps or pitas, cut up fruit and veggies, hummus, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, and trail mix. This is also a great way to introduce your kids to new foods slowly. Just be sure to check that the lunches comply with your school’s allergy rules!
Make It A DIY Lunch
Kids love those little pre-packaged meat, cheese, crackers meals because they like to construct their own food, not because they taste good! Make your own healthy version with a selection of whole grain crackers, sliced cheese and proteins, and veggies. Use some sliced tomatoes, pepperoni, and mozzarella for a mini-pizza lunch. You can also pack whole wheat tortillas with cheese, avocado, and tomatoes for DIY Mexican wraps; or pita bread, hummus, and sliced cucumbers, carrots, and peppers for DIY pita pockets. Keep in mind–kids often don’t have too long to eat, so make sure your DIY is realistic.
When your kid opens his or her lunch, it can be like receiving a gift! Include something new and different, like sandwiches cut into shapes (using cookie cutters), making funny faces with their lunch ingredients, or including rainbow fruit or veggie kabobs (just make sure not to use sharp skewers). You can also incorporate fun themes, like only packing food of a certain colour, or packing all breakfast items. This strategy works better for kids who aren’t too picky, so use your best judgement.
You know what’s best for your own kids better than anyone, but hopefully these tips will help inspire some lunchbox masterpieces. Please share your photos and your own tips for school lunches as well!