Sep 28

It’s every parent’s challenge: ensuring the lunch box that’s packed with wonderfully nutritious food actually comes back empty. And to make sure it comes back empty because our little ones actually ate what we packed versus trading it out or worse, tossing it on the way out of the lunchroom.  So how can we make sure that happens, especially when we’re not there to see it with our own eyes? Here are a few back to school tips that can help the little ones stay focused on what’s in their lunch boxes versus the cafeteria line.

There’s been a growing concern that the lunch “hour” is shrinking and that it’s occurring earlier than ever in elementary schools. It’s not at all uncommon for lunch time to happen before 11 a.m. and to last for less than a half hour. In fact, a recent survey revealed the average lunch time for elementary and middle school kids to be just 25 minutes. That means kids might be eating before they’re hungry, they’re having to consume their food faster and worse, many say they’re hungry again before the end of their school day. This doesn’t bode well for a teacher who’s trying to keep the attention of a classroom full of kids whose tummies are signaling it’s time to eat.

The goal is to find foods that will stay with our little ones longer and that don’t compromise nutrition.

One way to meet those challenges is by including the kids in meal planning. Kids are far more likely to eat what they’ve helped choose and prepare. There are so many great options out there that are designed for that very purpose.

Want the kids to eat those apples? Cutting the apple up for them is a surefire way to make that happen, but then, kids are sometimes turned off by the natural browning of apples that begins as soon as they’re cut. Try cutting up an apple during a typical Saturday afternoon and before calling the little ones down, allow the apple to show a bit of the natural browning. Call them to the table to color or talk or any other activity and once they see you eating the “imperfect” fruit, they won’t feel as though there’s anything wrong with it and if they do ask you, just say it’s the pectin in the apple doing exactly what’s it supposed to do.  Once they see there’s nothing wrong and even better, they see Mom eating it, they’re not going to think twice when they see it in their lunch box. Also, consider the nifty compartments in today’s plastic bowls. Cut the apple up and put in the other compartment a nutritious dip.

Another great idea is to define a new family tradition on Sunday afternoons. A couple of hours spent making banana bread, chicken salad and other foods for lunch that week also reinforces those great eating habits. The healthier the choices, the fuller the little ones will feel, which will serve them well if they do have an early lunch. Plus, they’re more likely to eat it because they helped make it.

Don’t underestimate leftovers, either. Cut the leftover chicken in to bite sizes and send Ranch dip in their lunch boxes the next day. Heat the leftover chili up in the morning before school and put it in a thermos so it’s still warm and delicious by lunch time – which, by the way, is a great choice for those winter days. Send crackers too for a hearty winter lunch. Even if leftover spaghetti is too messy, take the meatballs and cut them up into bite size pieces.

The goal is to bring the little ones into the decision making process and eliminating the rush of driving them to school and hurriedly encouraging them to eat the food you’ve packed instead of trading it. A little preparation is the best ally in your efforts of encouraging better eating habits for the little ones when you’re not there.

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