Healthy lunchbox options might be the last thing on your mind right now. As a parent, you’re either on the cusp of that first day back from summer break or still in recovery mode from seeing the supplies lists, forms, and requests for volunteer time.
Feeding your kids right was a given all summer when you kept the kitchen stocked and could oversee almost everything that came in the house and went down the hatch at mealtimes. Now you and your children are at the mercy of school cafeteria managers who have to look at the bottom line as much as and sometimes more than the nutritional value of what goes on your kids’ plates.
Brown-bagging it is one answer, but the popular choices can still be a minefield of processed foods that are loaded with fat, salt, and sugar, not to mention a host of other ingredients you might not be able to pronounce, much less want anywhere near your kitchen.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that your kids will always make the right food choices, but there are ways to encourage them to make healthy lunchbox options when faced with a choice.
Include Your Children In The Selection Process
Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes, authors of Lunch Lessons: Changing The Way We Feed Our Children, believe that empowering your children by involving them in the selection process and affirming and empowering them to decide what they want with help from adults will lead to a tendency to choose healthy lunchbox options.
In their recent article for Gaiam Life, the authors stated parents should include their children in the selection process when it comes time to filling their lunch boxes and brown bags.
“One way to help them learn is to make a point to take them grocery shopping with you…. It’s important for them to see foods in their raw states so they can explore and ask questions.
“Take them when you’re not in a hurry and spend a lot of time in the aisles that contain unprocessed foods — the produce, meat, and fish departments, for example. If your child appears to be interested in a certain type of fruit or vegetable, encourage him or her to explore that item; don’t just assume that your child won’t like it. Take it home and let him try it so he can make his own decisions.”
By modeling and encouraging good decisions while allowing for individual preferences, children are more likely to continue to pick the healthier options when it comes to breaks for lunch and snacks.
Availability Of The Right Foods Can Make A Difference
Think back on what was in your family’s kitchen when you were growing up. If there were mostly (if not exclusively) fresh, whole foods, you probably already chose those types of things to eat instead of less healthy options you had to train yourself to avoid later on. By filling your pantry with foods that are better nutritional choices and that appeal to your children’s natural preferences, they are more likely to develop good eating habits.
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The experts at PBS Parents write that this is particularly important during the school year. The nature of structured classroom time, not to mention the added time spent commuting to and from activities can cause a slide into less than ideal dietary choices.
“Some kids eat more when they’re in the car than when they’re at the table simply because active play isn’t a viable alternative when you’re strapped in. Make sure you’re prepared with nutritious snacks whether you’re driving the carpool or going to soccer practice. Good choices include sliced apples, carrot sticks, whole grain crackers, light popcorn, raisins and water bottles.”
So don’t be afraid to empower your little scholars to make the right choices. They’ll see the healthy lunchbox options in front of them as something they helped put together. Who knows? The next step might be to a passion for cooking a lunchbox full of their own healthy creations.
[Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images]