School Lunches: Finding Middle Ground
The struggle between kids and parents over school lunches has been going on for generations and is not likely to stop any time soon.
It’s not easy to make sure your children are getting the nutrition they need while at school. Plus, once they leave the house, you aren’t able to stop them from swapping with classmates or throwing away the healthy food you packed that they don’t like.
What to do? The best thing is to make sure you pack them food that they enjoy—and that is healthy. To get to this point, talk to your child about how they feel about their lunches and why nutrition is important.
Get their input
Ask your kids’ advice on what to pack in their lunch. Why not? It’s a great way to find out what they are eating and what they are throwing away. Plus, it will give you insight on what healthier foods they may be interested in.
Asking for their input and listening to what they say will also teach them valuable communication skills. By opening discussion with your children, you are teaching them how to articulate their feelings about a situation and come up with a solution.
If you set boundaries about the kinds of foods it’s OK for them to eat every day—and which ones it’s not—you will also teach them the importance of compromising and will set a foundation for lifelong healthy eating habits.
And, as noted yesterday, the ChooseMyPlate.gov website can be a good—and fun—place to explore with your children.
Make a list together
Before going to the grocery store, talk with your children about what they’d like to eat at school. The conversation will go more smoothly if you’ll have some options prepared in advance for children—especially younger ones—to choose from. Consider creating, with your kids, a “Build-A-Lunch” menu chart listing the different categories of items that need to be in their lunch:
- Sandwich. OK, technically this part of your chart is really a combination of two sections from ChooseMyPlate.gov: whole grains and protein. Here your children can list their favorite sandwiches or wraps so that it is easy for them (or you) to decide what to put in their lunch each week. PB&J, turkey wraps, or ham and cheese sandwiches are all great options for school lunches. By reading the package labels, you can ensure the lunchmeat you buy is low in sodium and artificial preservatives. Typically, sliced meat from your grocer’s deli tends to be healthier than prepackaged brand names from the refrigerated aisle.
- Fruit. It’s usually easier to get kids to eat fruit because it’s naturally sweet. For ease of packing—and eating—stick with fruits that are easy to eat as bite-sized pieces such as a bunch of grapes, apple slices or a peeled orange. Other fruits, such as peaches or nectarines can also be precut and eaten with a fork since their juiciness can make them messy for kids.
- Vegetables. If your child protests having vegetables in their lunch, stick to those that are sweeter and easier to eat, such as: celery sticks, baby carrots, cucumber slices, strips of sweet peppers, and cherry tomatoes are all good options and typically popular with kids. Also, include dip options in this part of the menu that they can choose from such as peanut butter, ranch dressing, or hummus.
- Fun snacks. Chances are, this will be your kids’ favorite part of the menu. It may not be as healthy, but a small chocolate treat won’t hurt them. Moreover, their classmates may have junk food and sweets in their lunches, so if you don’t want your kids trading away all their healthy food for some potato chips, pack them a treat of their own in addition to their healthy options.
- Beverage. This is another area where you’ll want to set some boundaries since children’s juice drinks can be heavily sugared. Give them options such as water, milk, iced tea, or light juices. However, if they are persistent about having the latest juice pouch flavor that all the other kids are drinking, consider making a deal with them that they can have those “special drinks” on Fridays.
While it can be tempting to go to the grocery store without your children, try making time for it as a family activity rather than a chore. Once you’ve figured out together what they should eat for lunch, go to the supermarket and have them help you find the items you’ve chosen.
A child who is old enough to read can help by being in charge of the list and directing where in the store you need to go. Smaller children can retrieve food items on lower shelves. Shopping in this manner is more like a scavenger hunt for them than it is a chore—it adds to the excitement and pride they’ll feel over planning their own lunches. So be sure to have a list with items they can cross off.
Packing school lunches! See more blogs on school lunch tips and ideas, right here at CHEFS Mix.
- School Lunches: Think Outside the Bag
- School Lunches: Keep Them Nutritious
- School Lunches: Finding Middle Ground
- School Lunches: Bento Box Revolution