Sarah was the youngest of my clients at age three when I used to cook for her family as a private chef over several years. With large clear green eyes and a head full of shiny curls, Sarah was an excellent eater and enjoyed plenty of veggies when I cooked for her at home. When it was time for her to start school, I packed her lunch with all the things I thought she loved. But when the lunchbox came back, I was surprised and disappointed – with most of the food uneaten. Why?
Was it the excitement of starting school? Did the other kids have a “cooler” lunch? Well, Sarah was growing up, maybe her tastes were changing. Whatever the case was, I wanted to be sure that Sarah would keep the same healthy eating habits that her mother and I taught her as a toddler. When it comes to doing well at school, sending your kids off to class with a healthy lunch is one of the best ways to help them. Kids who have excellent nutrition are better able to focus, have more energy, and sleep better at night, and are less prone to being overweight.
Since Sarah shrugged when I asked her why she didn’t like her lunch, I decided to pack her a little fun along with her lunch. Here are some of the simple ideas that I used to make lunch more appealing.
Ask and Get the Answer.
After dinner, when I started to clean the kitchen, Sarah and I would plan together what she wanted in her lunch. At first she would say “cookie”, so I would pop in a lightly sweetened whole grain cracker, along with fruit and her sandwich. But the more we planned, the more she looked forward to having new things in her lunch. She also learned that lunch should have many healthy components and choices beyond cookies.
Size it Up.
The first time I packed her sandwich, it went untouched. Sometimes, kids are intimidated by large servings and hard-to-hold foods. So I used the same filling and soft whole wheat bread to stamp out mini sandwiches with a set of heart-shaped cookie cutters.
Make it Special.
I wrapped the sandwiches in wax paper and wrote a picture, or a simple note on her sandwiches with non-toxic marker. Kids love surprises and when she’d return home from school, she’d ask me questions about the note or picture, but best of all, the sandwiches were eaten! Sometimes, I would make veggie and cheese mini-kabobs with cherry tomatoes, edamame, and little cubes of cheddar.
Here are some more tips on packing a healthy school lunch:
- Kids love soup and it’s easy to make or buy healthy soups. Add your own fresh veggies, but cut them up into small, bite-sized pieces. Whole grain pasta is a great way to add whole grains to their diet. Perfect in any soup, tiny shaped pasta is the best!
- Cheese and crackers are always a hit with kids- so here’s your chance to opt for whole crackers and 2% cheese. Include some veggie sticks and sliced fruit and you’ve got lunch.
- You know what your kids like for dinner so pack a mini portion for their lunch. Kids love spaghetti and meatballs, so next time you make it for dinner, set aside some plain pasta and let them mix the pasta with a small container of sauce. Meatballs heat easily in the microwave and pack well in a thermos.
- Don’t make lunchtime a mystery. Get creative within the comfort zone. Stick to things you know your children like, but make it healthier. If you know bologna sandwiches are a hit, try switching to turkey bologna on whole wheat.
- Pack low sugar snacks that still taste sweet. Fresh fruits are always the best, it’s mother earth’s candy after all. Pack fresh berries or cubed pieces of fresh fruit into small fun containers so they won’t get mushy.
- Start them young on whole grains. Use whole grain breads, pastas, and crackers whenever possible. Many mothers complain that their children don’t like the taste of whole grain because they are stronger. But there are a lot of products that are soft and mild tasting.