Insights from the hood
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Back to school lunches: 5 + 1 tips for making sure your kids eat
By Mona Andrei
Parenting, as we all know, is a role we grow into and it’s full of contradictions. We discover how much love we can hold in our hearts, while at the same time realizing how little patience we have. We uncover bounds of strength yet know what it is to collapse from exhaustion at the end of the day. We learn the importance of routine yet yearn for lazy Sundays filled with words that begin with the letter “n”, including nothing, naps, and Netflix.
Routine in itself is filled with inconsistencies. It becomes an important part of our daily lives and at the same time, pushes the boundaries of our creativity.
Overall, parenting is one of the most challenging yet fulfilling roles we play as adults. And then there’s back-to-school; that time of year that jolts us back into routine while reminding us that the fine line between well-nourished and ignored hunger is a good imagination.
The question that I struggled with was: “How do I keep it healthy AND fun?”
One of my biggest challenges when my kids were little (next to helping them with homework) was making their school lunches. The question that I struggled with was: “How do I keep it healthy AND fun?”
How many times have you cleaned out your kid’s lunch box at the end of the day only to realize that most of what you had packed went untouched? At this, we remain both hopeful and concerned. Hopeful, that they ate something; concerned because we know the impact nutrition has on our kids’ learning abilities. There are oodles and oodles of studies that prove the importance of food and the role it plays on making sure that brains are working properly. Nurturing little mouths and minds; a parent’s concern indeed!
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Dietician and Nutritionist, Kim Arrey. Kim shared a lot of great tips that are easy to implement, even for busy parents.
Start with a game plan
The first thing you want to do is find out what the school rules are. Allergies have become a big issue and some schools have strict policies such as no nuts or fish. And while you don’t want to endanger another child, you also don’t want to find out that your child’s lunch has been confiscated.
‘How many times have you cleaned out your kid’s lunch box at the end of the day only to realize that most of what you had packed went untouched?’
As well, knowing what your child has access to is also important. Do they have a lunchroom? Is there a microwave that they can use? Are they eating at their desk? How much time do they have to eat? These are all important questions that will help you plan the best options for your child’s lunch.
Being prepared is part of the fun
Having everything you need on hand for packing your child’s lunch, including a thermos and ice packs, makes the task that much easier. Today you can even find sets of utensils and small containers for organizing the perfect little lunch.
And since themes are everywhere, including on lunch boxes and containers that are decorated with popular movie characters, or colours and patterns, picking out a set that pairs well with your child’s taste can make their lunch that much more appealing.
A little imagination can make all the difference
While we don’t always have the time (or inclination) to go searching on Pinterest for lunch ideas, being creative can be as easy as an old-fashioned cookie cutter. It also turns a boring sandwich into a fun lunch.
‘… being creative can be as easy as an old-fashioned cookie cutter. It also turns a boring sandwich into a fun lunch.’
Tuna sandwich day? Why not cookie-cut it into two little fish? Chicken salad? Perfect for the star cookie cutter! It only takes ten extra seconds and can make the difference between a lunch that stays in the lunch box and one that gets eaten.
Get your kids involved
It’s a simple question but one that can go a long way: “What would you like for your lunches this week?” Whether they want soup or a specific kind of sandwich, getting the answer directly from your kids, will help you plan, shop, and prepare in advance.
As well, keep in mind that tastes are cyclical, especially for children. I’m sure we’ve all experienced a week where our kids can’t get enough baby carrots and hummus. We stock up thinking we’ve found the magic food to ensure they eat their lunch, only to find out that they no longer like baby carrots and hummus. Make this a weekly question: “What would you like for your lunches?” It could save you time, money, and frustration.
Provide your kids with options
This is one of my favourite tips from Kim, and one she practiced herself. When her kids were little she would keep containers stocked with lunch options. In the fridge, she kept a dairy container stocked with varieties of yogurt flavours and individually packaged cheese. In another container, she kept baggies filled with pre-cut vegetables. The container in her pantry was for crackers and cereal or granola bars.
‘… she would keep containers stocked with lunch options. She would then let her children pick the kind of veggies, dairy, and grain they wanted for that day.’
As one who takes nutrition serious, Kim is always mindful of all the food groups required for maintaining a healthy, balanced regime. She would then let her children pick the kind of veggies, dairy, and grain they wanted for that day.
“When they chose themselves, I knew they would eat something,” Kim admits.
Added bonus: A sense of empowerment
Another benefit to pre-stocking containers was that Kim was deliberately, yet subtly, teaching her kids a lesson in how to balance off a lunch.
There you have it: A game plan, a little prep time, some imagination, involvement, and a few options. These are all ingredients for making lunches that are both healthy and fun.
And most importantly, that our kids will eat!
. . . . .
From Mona Andrei’s forthcoming book, SUPERWOMAN: Confessions of a Single Mom, a funny, messy, reflective look at single motherhood.
Mona Andrei is a digital copywriter, writer, and social media strategist with over 20 years of experience, both on the advertising agency and corporate sides of the communication spectrum. When she’s not working on client projects, she likes to write irreverent posts for her personal blog, Moxie-Dude, where she writes about life updates gone wrong. Or right. She’s undecided. You can connect with Mona on Twitter or email her at Mona@MonaAndrei.com