Two of my grandchildren started kindergarten this year, and my daughter, mother of one of those new kindergartners, was concerned about packing nutritious school lunches for her daughter. Because she recently opened a shop that came equipped without refrigerator or microwave, my daughter knew what it felt like to eat sandwiches every day. She didn’t want her daughter to suffer the same boring fate.
I offered my daughter a list of lunches I had prepared for the children in my daycare, but most of those lunches had to be cooked; she wanted something that didn’t need to be kept warm.
Knowing my granddaughter needed something that was not only nutritious, but also fresh (foods that could be kept in containers for several hours), I decided to conduct a little research. Here are the results:
Don’t Always Differentiate Between Lunch and Snack
If you call something a snack, your child will consider it a snack. My daughter-in-law frequently refers to fruits as snacks. Raw vegetables with dips can be snacks too. If you get in the habit of calling nutritious foods snacks, your children will look forward to eating them.
And when it comes time for them to open their lunch at school, what they will find is a lunch filled with healthy snacks that can be used for meal time and for snack time.
Foods on a Stick
Linda Nickerson, an Associated Content from Yahoo! writer, provides numerous ideas in her 60 Ways to Eat Food on a Stick at the Wisconsin State Fair. Click the link and you’re bound to find some great ideas to use in preparing lunches for your own children. (Make sure sticks are allowed in your child’s school.)
Other Creative Solutions For Lunch Dilemmas
From the United States Department of Agriculture, you’ll find Healthy Meals recipes of all kinds, from Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes to Delicious Heart-Healthy Latino Recipes, from Fruits & Vegetable Recipes to Heart Healthy Home Cooking, African American Style. Click the link to get those recipes.
Let’s not stop there, though, because Good Housekeeping offers 30 Ideas for School Lunches: Sandwiches and Munchies (click the link). You could use one idea a day for over a month and your child would never become bored.
Even Disney’s Family Fun offers some creative solutions to the bland sandwich and they provide some great after-school snack ideas as well. Click the link to read about them.
Pack Your Child’s Lunch With Fruits
Most kids love grapes. They’re easy to eat and, other than washing them, require no prep time. Some other fruits, like oranges, though, take time to peel, so if your child is young, peel the orange and separate it into easy-to-eat slices.
Other fruits, like apples, can be eaten whole, but some younger children have difficultly taking that first bite. Also some kindergartners are already losing teeth, so biting into an apple is a little scary for them.
Another problem – apples that turn brown after being sliced. Try spritzing the apple wedges with lemon juice. The apple slices will stay fresh-looking and will taste great.
Never pack bananas or any fruit in brown paper bags UNLESS you want them to ripen quickly. If you have a peach that is hard and could use a little ripening, put it in a brown paper bag the night before.
Bananas, though, will turn brown and mushy. If your banana is green, putting it in the bag in the morning will help, but if it’s yellow, don’t use a brown paper bag.
Fruits like kiwi are difficult to eat, because they are slippery. If you want to provide slippery fruit, consider placing a toothpick inside your child’s lunch. Check with the school first to see if toothpicks are allowed. You never know what might be considered to be a dangerous weapon these days.
Pack Your Child’s Lunch With REAL Cheese
Don’t use processed cheeses. Read the labels. When I provided day care, I was not allowed to feed the children in my daycare cheese that was processed. You can locate real cheese in the dairy aisle but, again, read the label.
To save money, buy blocks of cheese and cut them into chunks. Cheese cut into chunks looks more like a snack than it does a food item.
Pack Your Child’s Lunch With Vegetables
If your children don’t like cooked vegetables, consider serving the veggies raw. Provide a tiny container of fat-free salad dressing and tell them they can dip their cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, red pepper slices, and more into the dip.
If you use a lunch container with separate compartments, don’t rely on one of the compartments to contain the dip. You might need a separate container to hold it.
School Lunches That Are Eco-Friendly
Another Associated Content from Yahoo! author, Danielle Crofford Fetters, offers great advice in her article, How to Pack an Eco-Friendly School Lunch for Your Child. Click the link to find lunches that help our environment.
More Back to School Lunch Specials
Back to School Lunch Special, written by yet another Associated Content from Yahoo! contributor, Marie Troy, wants you to “turn those lunch time disasters into delicious treats…” Click the link to read her ideas.
Packing School Lunches – Containers and Wrappers
Invest in a quality lunch container. Though older children might consider it “uncool” to carry one, lunch containers, equipped with an ice-pack, offer the best protection for keeping food safe. Some of them have compartments at the bottom that allow for an ice-pack and they fit well inside a large backpack. What kind of backpack should you use? Read Homeschool Tips: Choosing the Right Backpack for Your Learning Style by Associated Content from Yahoo! contributor, Lyn Lomasi.
Don’t just throw food into containers without knowing your child’s limitations. If little Mikey doesn’t know how to open the container, he won’t be able to eat the food that’s inside it. Practice at home before you send him to school with a container he can’t open. Not all lunchroom monitors are vigilant enough to notice a child struggling to get to the food.
I remember a time when I was a child trying to open a sandwich my mother had packed for me. The vacuum seal on the plastic wrap was so difficult to open, the edges so well hidden, it took me nearly the entire lunch period to figure out how to open it.
None of the teachers or monitors on lunchroom duty noticed my dilemma and by the time lunch was over, I had just figured it out. I didn’t tell my mother, because I didn’t want her to get upset with me for not eating my lunch.
Again, allow your child to practice opening all wrappings and containers before you send him or her to school with them.
Involve Your Children In Packing Their Own Lunches
Children are more likely to eat foods if they have a hand in preparing them. Slice fruits, vegetables, chunks of cheese, turkey breasts – whatever – and allow your children to place the foods in the compartments of their own lunch container. If they are excited about what they will eat the next day at school, they will look forward to lunch time.
And if you are one of those parents who has to sneak nutrition into your food, as suggested by Jessica Seinfeld in her book, Deceptively Delicious, prepare the food before you invite your children to help pack it. Brownies packed with nutritious veggies look deceptively like a snack.
Hopefully, the school has a policy that states children must wash their hands before meals. Perhaps they offer the children hand sanitizers. Before you pack a hand sanitizer, check with the school to see if they are allowed. Again, some products can be misinterpreted as weapons, and you don’t want your child to get reprimanded for something as innocuous as hand sanitizer. Always check school policy.
Packaged towelettes help, but if you can’t afford the packaged towelettes, moisten clean wash cloths and place them in eco-friendly containers that can be washed every night.
No matter what your child eats, bullies await that one child who looks more vulnerable than the others. Whether it’s to steal the child’s lunch or lunch money, make fun of the contents of the lunch, or knock the child down, lunch time is socializing time. Prepare your child for what he or she may encounter by reading, School Lunch, Riding the Bus, and Recess: Socializing, Peer Pressure, and Bullying.