As children get older, it’s our job as parents to help them understand how growing up brings more responsibility.
One way to convey the principle is by having school-aged kids start packing their own lunch, which also provides a learning opportunity about making healthy food choices and also reinforces valuable life skills. Here are some things to consider when teaching this fun and easy task.
Organization and Prep
Your child’s age will dictate how much of the lunch making process he will be involved in. Kindergarteners and first graders may only do part of it, like pick out the fruit or drink to include. As children get older, let them do more, until they are making the whole lunch themselves.
Mornings are always hectic, so you’ll want to decide whether you make lunch in the morning before or after breakfast, or in the evening after dinner and stow it in the refrigerator.
The key to keeping the process as simple and efficient as possible is to be organized by doing any prep work in advance like cutting veggies or slicing apples, which are also tasks better suited for adults until children are older. And, it is best to supervise any cutting or slicing activities with older kids to make sure they are doing it safely.
Have a designated spot for lunch boxes and have your child be responsible for making sure it stays stored there. Keep sliced fruit, bread, peanut butter and other sandwich fixings, cheese sticks and drinks easily accessible for your kids on lower shelves in the fridge or pantry or in refrigerator drawers if possible. Keeping things organized will get the job done quicker and with much less stress.
Making Healthy Choices
Having your child pack his or her own lunch is also a great way to teach kids a nutritional lesson. Visit the government’s website on nutrition at ChooseMyPlate.gov together with your child. Show them the picture of the recommended food plate, which is divided into five sections: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. It’s easy to look at the picture and see that half of their plate for each meal should be fruits and veggies.
Help them make healthy choices based on this model as they pack their lunch. Carrot and celery sticks, grape or cherry tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, blueberries, an apple, a banana, cheese chunks, wheat crackers, and a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread are just some of the healthy options they can choose from.
If your child likes lunch meat, be sure to choose nitrate-free brands at the grocery store. And, be sure to adhere to your child’s school policy on bringing lunches with peanut butter and other nuts to school as it relates to students with peanut or nut allergies.
You should avoid sugary drinks like soda or juice pouches and desserts like cookies, cakes and candy. Reusable water bottles and milk from the cafeteria are the best drink picks. Focus on fresh fruit for something sweet, or trail mix and granola instead of potato chips.
Keeping It Fun
If your child is a picky eater, there are some things you can do to make lunches more appealing. Use colorful dishes and divider trays, use cookie cutters to shape thicker fruits like pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe like stars, hearts and flowers.
You can also use sandwich cutters to make crustless bread in fun shapes like circles and dinosaurs. Or, Pepperidge Farm makes bread shaped like their much loved goldfish crackers, in both wheat and white varieties.
Guide kids through the sandwich-building and lunch assembly process while they are learning and remember practice makes perfect! More importantly, remember to praise your child for a job well done. You can even do this by slipping a note into their lunch box as a surprise (using reward stickers are fun). You can simply say, “Good Job!” and of course, “I Love You!” can’t be said often enough!