By Christine Koh
Though some kids have already wrapped their school year, many — including my 7-year-old daughter Laurel — have several weeks to go. And this is the time of year when energy is flagging, whether it’s in relation to completing homework, getting up in the morning, or assembling lunch. So today, I wanted to share some healthy lunch ideas for breaking out of the lunchbox rut during the final school year stretch:
1. Take advantage of the seasonal change in fruits and veggies. ‘Tis the season for more fruit and vegetable options – and the perfect time to switch up the contents of your child’s lunchbox with seasonal options.
2. Take your kids shopping. Whether it’s to the farmer’s market or grocery store, I am a big proponent of taking kids shopping. Not only can it serve as time to bond (I’ve found this to be the case with Laurel, especially, since now we have a baby at home too), but also gives kids choice (control!) in the produce section – which increases the odds that they actually eat what gets packed. Also, it’s very easy to get in a rut with grocery shopping and sometimes kids will call attention to fruits and vegetables outside your normal habits. Giving kids some control in the produce section increases the odds they’ll eat what gets packed.
3. Plan out a full week (or a few days at a time) with your kids. Even diehard peanut butter and jelly fans may find their enthusiasm waning by the 150th day of school. Plan out a full week or several days of lunches, and do it with your kids. Related to the aforementioned control issue, kids are more likely to eat food if they have made a choice about it. To keep our process simple yet the options varied each day, we send Laurel with generally the same types of sides (e.g., strawberries, carrots) and snack (e.g., yogurt, granola bar) and mix up the main course. By inviting Laurel into the planning process, we were able to get her excited about lunch – moving from peanut butter and jelly every day to mixing up the options each day (e.g., vegetable soup, macaroni and cheese, egg sandwich).
4. Pick up easy to pack items. I try to minimize packaging waste by buying large containers (e.g., apple sauce, yogurt) and packing in small reusable containers, but if it improves my odds of mixing up the lunch box contents, I go for disposable snack packs (Stonyfield yogurts admittedly are a nice pick here since their packaging is eco-friendly!). We also ask Laurel to bring home her containers so we can recycle them.
5. Have kids help with the prep. Yes, they might grumble at first, but having kids help (again, control!) with the preparation will encourage them to eat. For the most part, we still cut up and cook what needs to go in the lunches, but Laurel will help assemble the contents. It’s even encouraged her to pack lunch for her parents from time to time. Bonus!
6. Pack the night before. Finally, you’ll feel more inspired to vary up lunch if you prep the night before (vs. during the morning rush). We tend to pack everything but the main dish in advance so that hot items can be prepared fresh and put in a thermos.
Christine Koh is a former music and brain scientist turned writer, editor, designer, consultant, and conversationalist. She is currently writing her first book, Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less. She tweets about it all at @bostonmamas.