With the kids back in school, the biggest benefit to busy parents is settling back into a nice routine.
However, school also brings the dilemma of packing daily lunches. The morning rush is difficult enough, with showers, breakfast and last-minute scrambling to find the soccer cleats and get kids out the door and yourself off to work. It can be tempting to throw in convenient but poor nutritional choices, just because they’re fast. But quick and healthy doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. A few simple organizing tips can put you on the path to packing healthy lunches efficiently.
Alicia on “Lists & Limits”:
Successful lunches start with successful grocery shopping. Go to the store with a shopping list, a full stomach and, if possible, without the kids. In a previous career, I worked as a marketer in the food industry. Unfortunately, it is true that the food industry targets children with fun characters and strategic eye-level shelving. The items most aggressively marketed to children are often ones high in sugar and fat, and they’re much easier to avoid if you don’t have a 4-year-old latched onto your leg screaming for those sugary, fatty, super-special cartoon-character treats.
Prepackaged treats also take a large toll on your wallet, as they are premium-priced. That said, eliminating treats altogether often backfires. Instead of banning foods, help your children learn moderation. Offer them the choice of one indulgent item for lunches each week, whether it be a Rice Krispy Treat, a mini-bar of chocolate or something else. Limit them to just one.
Sarah on “An Apple a Day”:
The school cafeteria can be a minefield for parents trying to instill healthful eating habits. You may hear “But Timmy gets a full-sized candy bar in his lunch” or “Jenny eats pizza every day. Why can’t I?” Even worse: “I traded my orange for three chocolate-chip cookies today!” We have to lead by example. If your children see that you are healthy and have good eating habits, they will be inclined to follow in your footsteps. It also helps to encourage activities and emphasize that a healthy body works better than a junk-food body. For example, if your child loves to play softball, explain how the protein and carbs in a peanut-butter sandwich made with wheat bread will help improve pitching. Children respond positively to explanations. The more they understand about a healthy body, the more they will want to eat healthful foods.
Making lunch preparation less stressful:
#1: Start on Sunday
Prepare as many of the lunch items as possible for the coming week — and enlist your children’s help. That means having older kids slice carrots or watermelon or having younger kids wash the fruits and veggies. All can help make trail mix and then divide it among individual bags. Anything you can get ready at the beginning of the week will make mornings go more smoothly.
# 2: Have a morning checklist
Post a lunch checklist on the fridge for each child to review each morning. Have four or five items, such as “milk/juice, fruit, sandwich, veggie, treat.” Get youngsters to help pack their lunches. This will take the item off your morning to-do list and give them a sense of independence.
#3: Make healthy fun
The more appealing the food, the more likely your child will eat it. Alicia’s daughter Lucy dislikes milk, but she drinks it every day when it’s packed in her Hannah Montana thermos. There are ways to make healthy food more fun, such as cutting watermelon slices into stars with a cookie cutter.