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Packed School Lunch: The Healthy Compromise Your Kids Will Eat

School lunch #1

How to get your children to eat their packed school lunch

I did a survey last week with my four kids on what main ‘dish’ they would want to see in their school lunchbox.

Here are the results:

  • Chef salad : 14-year-old daughter
  • BLT sub sandwich : 12-year-old son
  • Grandma’s tuna pasta salad: 9-year-old daughter
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich: 7-year-old daughter

These were dream lunches, because in reality (and unfortunately for my kids and I) bringing a packed lunch is not an option for children going to school in France. Kids in French school either buy the hot (three course meal) or go home for lunch.

But it got me thinking. For the millions of parents who do have the option giving their kids packed lunches to eat in school, the challenge is on. What lunches can we give to our kids that are nutritious and that they will eat (and not throw away)? It sounds easier than it is (especially in a family with several children and several different tastes).

It brought me back to a story my sister-in-law told me from her experiences volunteering in her son’s school cafeteria. My sister-in-law was shocked, each week, on watching the same girl refuse to eat her packed lunch and see it get thrown away in the garbage (despite encouragement from the staff to eat). This carefully packed healthy meal, all lovingly prepared by her parents; the gourmet yogurt and soy milk, the sandwich and dessert all ended up in the garbage. As a mother, I thought about this child. How will she learn without lunch and food? And what about the wasted food and efforts by the parents who prepared these lunches? Upsetting.

Why did this girl throw away her whole lunch? It really is a challenge to provide healthy packed lunches to kids. Just ask a nutritionist. On a recent Huffington Post article entitled, “Nutritionist Moms Reveal What’s in Their Kids’ Lunch Boxes” I was impressed on some of the lunch offerings nutritionist moms pack for their kids. I began to wonder, would most kids really eat what was packed in these lunches (or just kids that are used to eating like this at home)? Some of the comments under this article made me understand the challenges parents face to provide their children tasty and healthy packed lunches.

Why don’t we ask kids what they want to see in their packed lunches?

So I thought a good start to getting kids to eat their packed lunches is to involve them in selecting and preparing their food.

From there, as parents and with our kids, we can find compromises and balance to offer a nutritious meal that our children will eat and fuel up with (and not end up in the garbage)!

Here is are my tips on how to get those healthy packed lunch essentials

  1. Get your kids involved: This may require some time at the beginning with your children; but open up the conversation, go to the grocery store with your children to pick out lunch food and getting your kids to help make the lunches will all help them feel involved in what they are eating.
  2. Plan ahead: Organizing a school lunch meal ‘schedule’ and making sure you have those healthier food options in stock at home is also a way that these foods get into your kids lunch boxes.
  3. Variety: Your son or daughter may insist on eating peanut and butter sandwiches every day, but focus on variety and encourage them (with their involvement) to try other foods. If your child is adamant on eating the same sandwich for all their packed lunches, offer different sides and rotate their favorite fruits, vegetables, yogurt, cheeses and desserts.
  4. Fresh fruit and vegetables: A great way to keep every packed lunch balanced is to offer both a fresh vegetable and fruit at each meal. Involve your child in selecting their favorites and rotate: cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, raw zucchini sticks, carrot sticks, cut up bell peppers. Have your child select different fruits to try from the supermarket and include a raw fruit with every lunch.
  5. Water to drink:  Water is the perfect drink for every school lunch. If a child has a fresh fruit, they do not need juice to drink.
  6. Fun Day (this tip is taken from a friend who does this for her two daughters): One day a week of your child’s choice, their school lunch can have a fun (less healthy) food in it. My friend, who does this for her kids, labels it “fun lunch day” and her kids pick out food that they like (such as potato chips) and these get packed in the lunch once a week.

Assessing how the packed lunches are eaten

Now comes the fun part. How are the lunches liked by your kids? This part is equally important because good conversation and feedback helps to keep everyone happy and lunches eaten.

Here are some ways to assess how well lunches are eaten:

  1. Ask your kids to bring home the rest of the lunch meal they have not eaten.
  2. Ask your kids what they ate and if they liked it (this question is part of a great dinner conversation).
  3. Ask your kids how the atmosphere is in the cafeteria. Is it a relaxing place to eat? Are they rushed through their meals? Peer pressure is a big issue – are they exchanging foods? other kids stealing some of their lunch? Take time to ask your kids periodically how things are going in the lunchroom.
  4. If your kids are consistently coming home ravenous from school find out if they not eating well or need more food at lunch.

Eating a balanced and nutritious lunch gives your kids the tools to learn in the afternoon

You are the parents who know your children best and want to give your kids the tools to succeed in school. Part of the tools is the brain fuel that keeps your child focused, alert and growing well.

Eating a healthy balanced lunch is important for every child and if it isn’t eaten well, this leaves your child missing one of the most important meals of the day.

So good luck and let me know if you have other healthy packed school lunch tips that you would like to add by submitting a comment to this article.

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2 Responses to Packed School Lunch: The Healthy Compromise Your Kids Will Eat

  1. ~ The Lady in Red ~ September 3, 2013 at 17:33 #

    I love the photos you posted with this blog. In my experience kids love finger food and get tired of “the sandwich”. There are many options with containers and “bento boxes” where you can provide a variety of lunch fixings in a fun way. It’s always good to think outside of the sandwich. Heated soup in a thermos is a good option, too, with crackers on the side, maybe a cheese stick, too. My biggest challenge is finding a way in the warmer months, especially, to keep food from spoiling. That means no mayo on sandwiches….no yogurt… or anything that can sour. I’ve tried ice packs, but sometimes it just doesn’t keep things cold enough. Then to add to this challenge, some schools have a “no nuts, no peanut butter” rule in the U.S. because of food allergies that other children may have. That rules out a lot (granola, granola bars, nuts of any kind, peanut butter). It’s enough to pull your hair out. *sigh* And you’re right – there’s the competition of what the other kids bring for their lunches. Unfortunately in the U.S. many times, you’ll still see kids bringing M&M’s, potato chips, and Twinkies as side dishes to their sandwiches. There’s nothing wrong with a lunchtime treat! Don’t get me wrong… but it’s really hard, even if you cut up cheese cubes in the cutest way, or carve smilies in your carrots, to compete with that as a parent. *sigh*
    ~ The Lady in Red ~ recently posted..Operation Huey Restoration Takes Flight at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation’s Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center    

    • mbrighton September 13, 2013 at 08:59 #

      Hi Lady in Red! I am sure you pack some great lunches for your daughter. It isn’t easy to consistently provide healthy creative ways and foods to keep our children eating all their lunch, but it has to be a priority, right? Just one note about the yogurt: normally yogurt can stay 8 hours outside the refrigerator and still be safe to eat. Just a FYI for your daughter’s next packed lunch. Have a great day!

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