I recently wrote about taking a fresh approach to packing my kids’ school lunches. While researching that story, I got some great tips from fellow parents that were too good not to share. Today’s hint is three of these tips, and please share your school lunch tips and tricks in the comments section below.
1. Sometimes the basics are the best. In other words, don’t feel you need to recreate the lunch meal every day. A San Francisco mom to an 8 year old says her daughter’s favorites include sliced apples, blueberries, organic apple sauce, sliced Persian cucumbers, cheese sticks and yogurts, and thus, these items are lunchbox staples.
My husband, an elementary school teacher, agrees: He says if your kids only like one or two vegetables, just send those veggies with them. Children aren’t nearly as averse to repetition as adults are, and if you send food they don’t like, it’s likely to get tossed. He also echoes the oft-repeated advice to focus on fruits, veggies, and proteins, and limit carbs, processed foods and sugars. Sugary drinks, even juice boxes, and desserts can cause a blood sugar spike that’s often followed by meltdown – not a recipe for school success.
2. Make the food easy. A mom in Georgia who volunteers in her kid’s school cafeteria notes that some convenience foods can be difficult for littler kids to open – especially individual string cheese packets, applesauce containers and yogurt tubes. The applesauce and yogurt containers can also make a real mess if they’re tossed back in the lunchbox after having been opened.
3. Go for easy containers too. Easy-to-open, manageable lunchboxes and containers are crucial, says one dad who wrangles 3 to 5 year olds each week at a co-op preschool. Make sure the lunchbox is something your child can easily open and close. Do a walk-through with your kids before the first day of school or better yet, before you buy the lunchbox.
Much like my tips for handwashing and potty training, when it comes to school lunch packing, try to make sure that it’s as easy as possible for your children to do what you want them to do. Keep in mind there may not be enough staff to help your child with lunch-related troubleshooting or cleanup.
One child recently told me that her teacher has said, “If you can’t open it, you can’t eat it.” While that may sound harsh, perhaps it’s a good reminder to set our kids up for autonomy and success by packing them a healthy lunch they can independently open, eat, and clean up on their own.
When I worry that I’m expecting too much of my kids, I try to remember this Montessori chart of age-appropriate tasks or the stories from the Little House series, where Laura and Mary as very little girls are important helpers with the household chores. While entrusting our kids to pack their own lunch might result in days full of nothing but chips, pizza and cookies, they can certainly help with grocery shopping and basic food preparation. It takes more time to include them, but I’ve found that it can really pay off in the end.
What are your school lunch tips and tricks?
Karen Witham is a mother of two children who she can’t believe are already ages six and seven. She spends her time on both sides of the Bay, working full-time as an editor and writer in San Francisco and living in Oakland. A transplant from the East Coast, she spent ten years living in Boston and also loves New York and most of all, Paris. Karen has a B.A. from Brown University and an M.A. from Emerson College. Connect with her on Twitter at @kewitham or on LinkedIn.