Now that the school year is well underway, I thought it would be interesting to take another look at packing your family’s lunches to keep them healthy and fun. Let’s focus mostly on our pre-school/elementary students.
First, let’s discuss the lunchbox. Did you select: the newest popular character, a lunch box, Tiffin Boxes, a Bento box, a cool neoprene lunch bag, or a lunch bag with a freezer pak zipped in? (Send in your pictures!)
Next, let’s discuss what you’re packing for lunch. Parents often dread the annual “discussion” with their children about what they would like for lunch at school. I remember thinking I knew what Rachel wanted, only to find out from teachers she was throwing some items away, trading them or bringing them home saying she wasn’t that hungry. We naturally want to provide healthful choices; however, if your child does not eat it, what’s the point?
Remember, most children eat in the collective. You probably remember when your friends gave your lunches the “once-over.” To have your lunch judged, made fun of, or worse, deeply affects you and your feelings towards food for a long time. How to navigate this with your children? Determine what type of student your child is.
- Is s/he independent or a leader? He might not care if he has a different lunch carrier or different lunch items than his pals. Having his friends ask him what he’s eating might make him feel “cool.” For these children go for the healthiest options (organic when possible) they will eat in fun formats. Rachel did not like sandwiches, however loved rolled turkey or roast beef. I would tell her I was making her a special “sushi roll” and roll the protein around a carrot stick or a red pepper strip.
- If s/he is more likely to hang out in a group, fitting in may be more important.
S/he might want a similar carrier (maybe a different character) and a similar lunch structure (sandwich, chips, drink, sweet). In this case, you may be able to substitute healthier options in the same shapes such as a healthier sandwich filling, whole grain/no preservative chips and naturally flavored water (not Vitamin Water or others where they have found detrimental aspects), coconut water or juice drinks without artificial ingredients.
Amelia Winslow offers seven replacements for common lunchbox items.
Nacia Wallace runs down the beverages she used to pack for her son and how she finally decided to pack good ol’ H2O!
Most importantly, I would recommend including your family in the process from time to time as a “check-in” to see how lunches are going. Fighting over food issues is the worst; there are no winners and often leave long term negative memories and associations. This is an area to tread gently with an open heart. I decided I would rather have Rachel eat a few natural version Oreos or animal cookies then learn she’s trading for the less healthy version or piling up ill will towards me and/or her food.
Final thoughts on packing a lunch… and this goes for all family members; there’s nothing like finding a surprise in your lunch. Your loved one will know how much you love them, are thinking about them and paying attention to their hobbies and interests. Here are a few ideas I’ve learned along the way:
- Include a special napkin – whatever your children or spouse is currently excited about, your party store probably has a pack of cocktail sized napkins in that very theme.
- Include a handwritten or printed note – I’ve seen notes written on brown paper bags, inserted like a fortune would be in a fortune cookie, included on a colorful index card, etc… Change the ink color, the font (if printing), the shape and color of the paper, make it glitter; make the writing with 3D pens/fabric paint… Wish your loved ones a good day, let them know you are thinking of them, draw something that would make them smile, tape on a picture from a magazine, include a joke or a puzzle – GET CREATIVE!
- No time for handwritten notes… no problem! Put a few stickers inside instead and you will be a hero! (Providing a few extra to share with friends helps break the ice.)
Finding ways to pack Vitamin “L” (Love) in your child’s lunch is one of those little things that make a huge impact. Let this year’s school lunchbox be an opportunity to create positive feelings towards food and family. You already know more than you think you do!
See you around the cutting board,
The Kitchen Counselor