Every parent with children in school knows that packing healthy lunches for every child, every day is definitely a challenge. The morning rush may have you grabbing for the nearest pre-packaged convenient lunch to throw in your child’s backpack, or maybe it’s the exhaustion as you get home from work late in the evening that makes it easy to say, “You’ll just buy tomorrow.” Both of these scenarios happen to everyone at some point, but making them the normal standard can create a lack of proper nutrition for the ever-developing bodies and brains of our kids. Here are a few practical tips to help ensure your little learners are fueling up with food that will help them perform their best.
1. ENLIST HELP
If time is the main issue in getting healthy food into the lunch box (and let’s be honest here, this goes for everyone), then you need to recruit some extra hands. Since they’ll be eating the food anyways, who better to help than your kids? Children as young as 3 and 4 can grab a box of raisins, pack a napkin, or pack the lunch box as you hand items to them. Older children can wash and slice fruit, make sandwiches, pack a bag of veggies, and fill up their own water bottles. You may find that you invest more time up front teaching these skills, but it won’t take long for you to see a big pay off. An added benefit is that your children will learn to become responsible to meet their own needs.
2. USE THE STORE
Convenience packages are not all created equal. Costco is now the leading seller of organic food in the US, and they offer wonderful prepackaged lunch box items like hard boiled eggs, small cups of hummus, sliced apples, string cheese and meat packs, small bags of popcorn, and much more. You will pay a little more for the convenience of not having to prepare these things yourself, but buying at Costco ensures you’re getting the best value for your dollar. It is also helpful to make a list or meal plan so you can ensure you have enough supplies on hand for lunches for one or two weeks ahead of time.
3. MAKE YOUR TIME COUNT
The weekends can be just as busy as the weekdays, but if you can grab a kid (or two) and spend just 20 minutes prepping lunch box items on the weekend, you will be amazed at the benefits. Here are some ideas for your 20 minutes of prep time: Wash, slice, and bag veggies and fruit. Create a bin or two in the pantry and/or fridge and stock it with healthy snack choices that are easy for small hands to grab. Pre-bag crackers, pretzels, cheeses, and meats if your child refuses sandwiches. Fill up water bottles. Make a quick batch of pasta and sauce that can easily be reheated and sent hot the morning of school. There are endless ideas (Pinterest!) for bento box lunches, hot lunches, and creative lunches if you have the time or inclination to go that route.
Don’t feel guilty for using the school lunch program, as there can be some really yummy and healthy options available, but limiting the experience can also produce good things. Some parents use ‘buying lunch’ as a reward for a job well done at school or as an incentive for behavior modification. Making lunches at home and ahead of time is a good skill for your children to learn, it saves money, and typically it is the healthier option, since you control the ingredients. Children will model the behaviors that adults teach them, so let’s start early on teaching our kids about good food choices and that it’s definitely okay (and fun!) to have special meals once in awhile. Here’s to eating well and enjoying it!