It can take some work to keep kids happy with their school lunches, especially if they only like a few options and get sick of those too. Keeping bagged lunches tasty and nutritious can help kids stay fueled up, which is important because kids learn best on a full stomach. You’re about to learn how to pack a great lunch, and if you’ve ever wondered how to tackle picky eating, here’s what you need to know.
Lunch doesn’t need to be complicated; there’s nothing wrong with a sandwich or a wrap! Try boosting the nutrition by introducing whole grains, or if those are too scary, start with whole wheat or rye. Making use of leftovers can also be helpful. For example, leftover chicken can turn into a chicken salad wrap. For a warm meal, pack leftover stew or chili in a thermos or microwaveable container.
To provide even more nutrients, try packing each lunch with the rule of five. Pack one fruit, one vegetable, one whole grain and two protein-rich foods, for a total of five items. A few fun ideas include:
- Hawaiian pizza buns (mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce, pineapple tidbits, chopped green pepper and/or mushrooms) with watermelon cubes for dessert, and snap peas with a cup of milk to keep energy levels up until suppertime
- Chicken tzatziki whole wheat wrap (chopped cucumber and lettuce) with container of yogurt and berries for something sweet and a Babybel cheese for snack time
- Leftover muffin-tin omelet, fruit salad for dessert, and hummus with carrots and pita crackers to munch on throughout the day.
If you feel like you’re always running out of ideas, ask your kids for help! Children who help choose and make their lunches are more likely to eat them, which can help with picky eating. Keep a list of lunch and snacks that are a hit, and cycle through the ever-growing list. Take kids grocery shopping and let them choose fruit or a nutritious granola bar for snacks, to help them buy into the foods they’ll be bringing.
When it comes to preferences, it can take youngsters up to 20 times before they might learn to like a new food. Keep trying and serving items in different ways to increase acceptance. You might have carrots with ranch dip one day, boiled the next, baked with honey and dill afterwards, then shredded in a salad. Sometimes looks matter too. Some younger kids might really enjoy their food looking cool – for example, googly eyes on food packaging, a sandwich cut into shapes or a pretty water bottle.
Lastly, kids don’t hear, they see. The food choices parents make for themselves as well as their attitudes influence what their children learn is normal or ideal. For example, if they often hear that everything healthy tastes bad, how might that influence their own thoughts towards food? It’s helpful for role models to keep a positive attitude toward food and to find ways to enjoy nutritious options.
Packing lunches to help with performance at school can be simple and doesn’t need to be fancy. Pay attention to the attitudes kids learn with regards to nutritious foods and try involving them in lunch bag assembly. This can take energy but sets your family up for success and less food fights down the road.
Michelle Broughton, Registered Dietitian