What’s in your child’s school lunch? More people – including British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver – have been asking that question lately, hoping to encourage parents and schools to give children a more nutritious mid-day meal.
The best way to influence your child’s lunchtime habits, of course, is to pack it yourself. But how do you pack a healthier lunch and end up with something they’ll actually eat, and not toss in the trash, so 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 coldpacks 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, 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; 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, or 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.