A few parents at school have noticed my kids’ (healthy) lunches, and have asked me for some suggestions on packing them.
You’ve probably heard things like: “make it colourful”, “make it look pretty”, “cut the vegetables into fun shapes”. Meh. That stuff never worked for us. And the “get your kids involved in planning”, “make sure everything is easy to open/access”… you’ve probably done that already. Or “have your kids help make their lunch”: my kids are 4 and 7, and they have no interest in helping to make their lunch.
The suggestions below are assuming that there are foods that your child likes to eat. If your child “doesn’t eat anything” and all meals are difficult, there may be a different issue. I can help you with that as well: you are welcome to contact me for some suggestions that can help get your child back on the right path of healthful eating.
Here are some basic suggestions for school lunches from a health conscious, realistic and well-researched mom:
- Don’t Stress. Your own health does not need to be compromised over this. As well, your child can sense the stress and will react to it.
- Your responsibility is providing a healthy lunch. It’s up to your child to decide whether they eat it or not. Let the rest go.
- Enjoy the process/Put love into it. This may sound a little corny or "woo woo", but if you are not enjoying the process, that negative energy is going into that food. Have you ever noticed how the exact same recipe tastes different when different people make it? It's because different people have different energy, which is going into that meal.
- Don’t pack “crap” just because “at least they will eat it”. (I need to be direct. And you already know this anyhow). If you want your kids to eat food, give them food. Bear Paws and the like have no nutrient value, and are simply fillers loaded with chemicals that our body does not know what to do with, replacing a spot that something nutrient dense could have taken. Personally, I’d rather my child eat nothing. (See “Pack more healthy fat” below for more related info). Note: if your child will literally eat nothing ever other than processed/nutrient void items, and if the child will choose to eat nothing for days otherwise, then there is another issue that needs to be addressed/resolved. I can make some suggestions that can help you get on the right path, feel free to ask.
- Pack water to drink. Water is essential to health. Fruit juice is just water and sugar (even the “no sugar added” options), it usually contains unwanted additives, and is void of nutrients (unless it is freshly pressed and drunk within a few hours). As well, drinking fruit juice regularly can lead to a range of problems, such as increasing children’s cravings for sweet foods and drinks. (Whole fruit to eat is a better option than offering fruit juice to drink). Water keeps the body hydrated and working efficiently. Kombucha and kefir are other drink options that are full of nutrients and probiotics. If you don’t know what these are, ask me or Google it. I’ll even show you how to make them at home.
- Pack real food. Real food comes from nature, and already comes “packaged” with the nutrients that our body needs and recognizes. A basic rule of thumb: if it didn’t exist when your grandmother was a child, then it’s probably not real food. Something that is “fortified” might have “nutrients” added, but they are synthetic and the body does not recognize them nor does it know what to do with them. It’s just marketing. (So don’t get excited by the iron added to the yogurt… besides it being a synthetic addition, know that calcium inhibits the absorption of iron so adding it to yogurt just makes no sense).
- Pack more healthy fat. Don't fear fat. Recommendations for low fat anything are just wrong. (Re: the suggestion above to eat what your grandmother would have eaten as a child... didn't they churn their own butter?!) We all need more healthy fats in our diet, especially developing brains! Too many carbohydrates from bread, cereal, sugary foods, etc. can cause blood sugar to spike giving a burst of energy, but then the blood sugar crashes and energy levels drop leaving you tired and low in energy. Fat, on the other hand, provides stable energy for hours. (A better time to eat carbs to help avoid the blood sugar highs and lows would be in the evening, and this way the body will use them to do everything it needs while sleeping).
- Pack what you know your child will eat (still keeping the above points in mind, like keeping it real). I'm sure you've read the "10 Foods your Kid is Guaranteed to Eat" or "Kid Friendly Lunches Your Kids Will Beg For" articles... ha. "But MY kid will not eat that!" …. Don’t worry about packing the same thing every day. I figure, if it's nutrient dense, that base is covered. It doesn’t matter if it’s “breakfast food” or a "lunch full of snacks” or finger foods. As long as there is variety and it’s real, nutrient dense food. Smaller amounts but more variety may be less overwhelming. Variety may also offer the child a sense of control because there are more things to choose from. Also, respect sensitivities to texture and smell.
My oldest son had the same thing for lunch every day in Sr. Kindergarten, because I knew that’s what he would eat. He also likes one vegetable these days (romaine lettuce hearts) and I don’t mind putting that in his lunch every day knowing that he will (usually) eat them. (And if he doesn’t eat them, I let it go). You might be thinking “if only my child ate just one vegetable…!” Try offering something new or presented in a new way without pressure. If they insist they don't like it, don't push it. Maybe they will like celery and sunbutter with raisins. (Mine don't).
- Incorporate fermented foods as much as possible. This is one of those suggestions where you may think "But MY kid will not eat that!" There are so many options here and I know that there is definitely at least one that will work. Ask me. I'll find at least one.
- Quality is important. Does your child only eat bread and butter? Buy the best quality bread: ie. I prefer the Grainfield’s brand sourdough because it’s sourdough (which is more easily digested, and it's fermented!) The ingredients are just flour, salt and water (no additives, oil or yeast). Choose organic butter (or better yet, grassfed butter). Grassfed butter is a superfood and is a good source of healthy fat and nutrients like Vitamin K2. Spread it liberally!
- Concerned about variety? Try a new or different snack at least a few times a week. At minimum, they will get exposure.
If you would like more specifics, feel free to contact me or stop me if you see me in the schoolyard. If you'd like a list of food suggestions, let me know and I can put it into a blog. I also teach moms how to Healthify your meals so that healthier ingredients become a habit and an easy routine that fits into a busy (and limited budget) lifestyle.