September is here and the school year has started. For many parents that means the return of one of the most dreaded school realities – lunches. I have heard this question at soccer practice, end of summer barbecues and from many clients today: What should I pack for my kid’s lunch?
There are many wonderful websites giving us numerous options to replace sandwiches, add protein, or make your own healthier lunchbox treats. However, raising healthy eaters involves more than just providing them with nutritious food. It includes teaching kids basic nutrition and helping them implement those good habits themselves. It may be time to get your kids in the kitchen and packing their own lunches.
What are the Basics?
Start with the 4 food groups when you are teaching children how to pack a healthy lunch. Fruits and Vegetables, Grain Products, Milk Products and Meats and Alternatives provide a good source of vitamins and minerals as well as energy to learn and play. Consider making a large chart using age appropriate pictures and words to explain the building blocks of healthy eating. Include and discuss examples with each food group to help children build a nutritious meal.
Two basic concepts are important when discussing healthy lunch packing:
A minimum of 3 out of the 4 food groups
Fruit and vegetables are a must
The Packing Part
If you are new to having your children involved in the lunch making process then start at the packing stage. Even in kindergarten children can grab food already packed in containers to place in their lunch box. Assist them as needed and check off the food groups as they head into the bag. If your children are eager to do more, than encourage them to help put the fruit into containers, pack a muffin up tight, or put water into a reusable bottle.
The Making Part
We all imagine waking early on weekday mornings to make and pack lunches. In reality, mornings are often rushed. With the exception of things that need to be heated for a thermos, have your children prepare their lunch the night before and store it in the fridge. For many families, right after dinner works best when a parent can be around to help and it saves the kitchen a second cleaning.
It will take a while for your children to get the hang of making and packing a lunch. There will be many days when it would have been easier for you to just do it. Have patience. Making the process fun and enjoyable in the short term will have numerous benefits in the long run. Not only will you, the parent, have a few extra minutes in the morning, but you may be fortunate enough to enjoy the benefits of your children eventually packing your lunch!