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The weather has turned cold, and your kids are probably tired of the same old lunch you’ve been packing them since school started. Lunches can be tricky even when your kids aren’t picky eaters. It may feel like there’s a limited number of options, but there don’t have to be. As with everything you do in parenting, creativity helps you get ahead.
Pack It, Don’t Buy It
As a parent, we’re presented with the opportunity to pack our children’s lunches or have them buy lunch at school. Depending on your child’s health needs, like food allergies and dietary restrictions, packing lunches may be a necessity. It allows you to control the foods they’ll come in contact with and it also ensures they always have something to eat that they enjoy.
Safety isn’t the only reason to pack a lunch. Even children without specialized health needs benefit from bringing lunch from home. School lunches aren’t always as healthy as we might like. Plus, picky eaters might not find a lot they’ll eat on the school menu. Brown bagging it also has another benefit; it saves you money.
The trouble is, packing a lunch that never gets eaten doesn’t benefit anyone. They’ll trade with their friends or just go without if you don’t keep their tastes in mind. It’s crucial to find things that your child loves and enjoys eating.
How to Get Started Packing Healthy School Lunches
Start by getting your child involved. If your kids are old enough, you could even ask them to make their own lunches. Doing this will kill two birds with one stone. It will teach them responsibility, and allow them to pack something they’d like to eat.
Sit down with your kids and talk to them about what they want in their lunch box. Make a list of options to use as your guide for grocery shopping. Age-appropriate involvement from choosing from a menu of options to making it all on their own will mean they’ll end up with lunches they’ll eat.
Tasks Smaller Children Can Do to Participate
If your child is too young to pack their lunch entirely alone, let them participate in the process. Your kindergartener (or slightly older child) can do a variety of things to be involved like
- wash grapes (or other fruit)
- Put fruits or other snacks in a container
- Get the ingredients our for wraps or sandwiches
- Fill their water bottle
- Place everything in their lunch box in the morning
Healthy Lunch Ideas
Finding creative, fun, and nutritious school lunches can be a challenge. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the norm and create a fruit burrito or a PB&J wrap. If your kids will eat it, try some dinner leftovers or a salad. Put together a rice or noodle bowl to break up the sandwich monotony. Find more ideas in our post on Game Changing School Lunch Ideas (and recipes).
Don’t Go Overboard with Healthy Meals
If you get in the habit of making lunches together the night before, you can work with your child to create a well-balanced lunch. As they learn and grow, you can gradually give the kids more and more control over making their lunches. Putting them in the driver’s seat will put them on the path to eating what they’ve packed. Not only are you teaching them to eat healthy meals, but you’re also teaching them independence and essential life skills along the way.
While we all want to encourage our kids to make healthier choices, insisting on healthy, organic food options and not allowing for any deviation isn’t the best strategy. Balance and compromise are critical. For example, your kids pack a salad, then let them Oreos for dessert. When you team them to make good choices, you’re teaching life long habits. Freaking out when they pack some potato chips or a brownie isn’t going to help them make better choices. Your goal is to get them to eat well, make smart food choices, and create lifelong habits, not restrict all access to junk food, causing them to trade with friends for forbidden Twinkies.
How to Maintain Success
Success is a careful balance when it comes to kids and food. Gently encourage them to help you purchase items they’ll eat. Get them involved in the process of making and packing their lunch. That gets you over hurdle number one, getting them to eat lunch.
Then, there’s hurdle number two, eating healthy, nutritious food. You’re not there at school to remind them to make healthy choices. Peer pressure makes it even harder to stick with nutritious options. Sitting in a lunchroom with candies and potato chips all around them can be very tempting. It’s also the reason you shouldn’t go overboard. Allowing some junk foods occasionally will help keep your kids on track. Take baby steps and you’ll set your kids on the road to lifelong health.