What do you pack in a kid’s lunch box when they will not eat a sandwich? That’s right; my 12-year-old daughter, Grace, does not eat sandwiches. Not only will she not eat sandwiches but she also does not eat cheese, peanut butter, bread, pasta, nuts and very few vegetables. It gets really tough to make her lunch every day for school!
The best way to influence your child’s lunchtime habits, of course, is to pack it yourself. How do you pack a healthier lunch and end up with something they’ll actually eat and not toss in the trash so that they’re ready for an afternoon of learning, playing and growing? Get started here:
Get kids involved in planning: If your children go along when you do the grocery shopping, let them select some or all of their lunch components. (This works best, obviously, if you narrow down their choices first to just a few choices, so you don’t spend all day in the store.) If they don’t accompany you, ask for their requests before you head to the store. Again, this works best if you have a list of good choices to start from.
Get the proper packaging: Since kids don’t have access to microwaves or refrigerators, a small investment in thermal containers and cold packs is worth it. It will allow much more creativity in lunch packing – soups, pastas, cool desserts – and more importantly, it will keep cold and hot foods safe and appetizing to eat.
Pack ahead: Mornings are a rush job in most households. If you only have two minutes to throw lunch together, it’s far too easy to rely on leftover pizza and a bag of chips. Instead, pack the night before right after dinner and before you’ve cleaned up the kitchen. Make it a family project; older kids can make their own lunches while you load the dishwasher, or younger ones can help pull out lunch components with your supervision.
Make simple substitutions and phase them in gradually: You don’t have to make drastic changes, at least not right away. A few small substitutions will get you on the way to healthier lunches fast. For instance, substitute yogurt-covered raisins, trail mix or plain dried fruit for candy. Use mustard or fat-free mayo instead of full-fat mayonnaise or sandwich spread. Send pretzels or carrots with ranch dressing instead of chips and lean turkey instead of fatty pepperoni or bologna on a sandwich.
Experiment a little: We all tend to end up in a lunch rut. Get away from the sandwich-chips-fruit combo. Why not hummus and pita chips, bean dips and baked tortilla chips, or even a container of edamame? Make that sandwich on pita bread, a whole-wheat bagel or a tortilla. Try a Greek yogurt cup instead of pudding.
Allow the occasional surprise treat: Nobody can be perfect all the time, so it’s fun for kids to discover the occasional unexpected treat. A fun-size candy bar, a small bag of chips, a cookie – anything that’s school-approved should be included at least once in a while to mix things up and remind kids that moderation is the goal.