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Brown bag success – Packing school lunches

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Ideas for nutritious lunches your child will eat…

Perhaps one of the most challenging tasks for today’s parents is the simple act of preparing and packing your child’s school lunch. As parents, we want to prepare a lunch that is tasty, nutritious, and filling. A child’s diet can have an incredible impact on their ability to focus and perform well in school. Yet as parents we are faced with the pressures of today’s fast paced lifestyle. Face it-most parents are extremely busy, and despite our best intentions, we cannot escape the prepackaged chips, cookies, and other refined and processed foods that are on grocery shelves everywhere. Add to this mix the outside influences of peer pressure and junk food marketing, and it becomes clear why parents everywhere have thrown up their hands in frustration. The battle is far from over however, and the small steps and tips that follow in this article are excellent stepping stones to help you, your family, and your children make a transition towards a healthier “brown bagged” tomorrow.

Based on my experiences as a mom and as a teacher of kids cooking classes for the past 15 years, I have learned that it is very important to include your child in both the lunch-planning and lunch-making processes. Once a child is in the third or fourth grade, they can help to make at least part of their lunch. For instance, the night before they can help measure the ingredients for a recipe, mix something together, or even simply place their snacks into Ziploc bags or tupperware containers. I have seen many “picky eaters” eat more of their lunches when they were involved in the planning and the making of the meal. Including your child will allow them to feel important and valued, which can improve their self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, school lunch planning and making doubles as a fun bonding time for the whole family.

Organization and planning are crucial to making “brown bagging” a success for you and your family. Set aside a weekly time (Sundays work well) to sit down with your child before you do the week’s grocery shopping. Together you can plan the upcoming week’s lunch menus. As a parent, you can offer guidance about your child’s suggestions, ensuring that the result is agreed-upon, nutritious menu options. If your child is younger and does not have concrete menu ideas, you can offer them three (or so) options and ask them what they would prefer.

Good communication is also essential to making “brown bagging” as success. How often have you opened your child’s lunch box after school to find that they did not eat most of what you had packed? It is important to clarify what your child likes to eat, but also when they like to eat, and what portion sizes they prefer. For example, some children (especially five and six year olds) prefer to eat several snacks at school and have their lunch when they get home. In a case like this, leftovers from the previous night’s dinner could be the next day’s lunch. If your child does prefer multiple snacks instead of a full meal, just be sure that the snacks are nutritious (i.e. cut vegetables, nuts, dried fruit, tortilla chips, etc) and that they do not fall into the “junk food” category (i.e. greasy chips, sugary cookies, etc).

The loving effort you put into preparing your child’s lunch today will continue to reap benefits far into the future. The tastes we develop for certain foods as a child stay with us into adulthood and influence our dietary choices. That is why it makes sense to prepare tasty and healthful foods and let your child help in the planning and preparation as much as possible.

Here are a few creative, fun, and new lunch ideas to help make “brown bagging” a reality:

  • Younger kids love fun and creative things, such as food in unusual shapes. Use cookie cutters to cut their sandwiches in different shapes. There are tools to cut fruit and vegetables in unusual shapes, too.
  • Include a love note in your child’s lunch to remind him or her that you are thinking of them.
  • If your child will only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, try using a spread of equal parts peanut butter and almond butter (or another nut butter) to create variety. Try using new jams or add banana to the sandwich. Or top the nut butter with grated carrots and raisins.
  • Sandwich fillings can include: Almond butter with honey and banana, egg salad, cream cheese with strawberry jam (low in sugar), meatloaf, sliced turkey, cheese, etc.
  • Non-sandwich items can include: Quesadillas, burritos, potato salad, spaghetti with red/white sauce, pasta salad, rice salad, chili, baked chicken, egg rolls, last night’s casserole, etc.
  • Snack ideas include: Trail mix (mixed nuts and raisins), granola with yogurt, raw vegetable slices with humus or dip, pancakes or waffles with nut butter, string cheese, fresh fruit cut up in interesting shapes, healthy pudding, homemade dessert, etc.

I wish you the best in creating healthy lunches with your children. Enjoy!

[AUTHOR: Leah, kids healthy cooking]

August 26, 2014

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