You might know what's best when it comes to your kids' lunch. But if they aren't eating it, who cares?
We have all seen it: That uneaten and mushed sandwich, mustard bleeding through the pores of compressed slices of bread. The apple decomposing at the bottom of a backpack. A mysterious and empty potato chip bag floating between homework papers.
Parents often struggle with the lunch game. Packing five meals a week for the kids is not always easy to manage. The misconception is that micromanaging this tricky task will produce healthier results.
While nutrition is important, so is eating. Experts say that getting your kids involved and having them participate in packing their lunches can tackle an important part of the school year and hopefully bring home empty lunch boxes.
This really speaks to self-sufficiency. They ultimately need to know how to take care of themselves and one of the tasks that we need to do is make ourselves lunches.
Banana or apple? Chicken, turkey or veggies? Yogurt or cheese? Children can be picky, but giving them the power to decide what food comes out of the fridge and into their brown bags is a powerful example of ownership. By taking part in the lunch packing process, their choices are recognized as something they want to eat.
Young kids get really excited about getting the bologna from the fridge and putting it on the bread and getting the mustard and smearing it on, because they are making their sandwich. A lot of parents will think if they pack the lunch, kids are going to make poor choices, but it's actually a great opportunity for parents to teach about food. You can put the Canada Food Guide on the fridge, or whatever food policies you are following, and say 'do we have one thing from the protein, two things from the vegetables?', so that you are able to show them what balance looks like – and yet they still get selection.
Timing also comes into play. Mornings can be rushed, while preparing in the evening is asking a lot of pre-planning from a busy family. The idea is that you find the formula that works best for you and if you find doing it the night before is better – great! If you find doing three lunches in a row and keeping them all pre-packed and in the fridge is going to work for you, then great! It's all about thinking creatively about how to do it better so that it's not a stress point.
This can also be great chance to get some quality time in with the kids while you take care of the task at hand.
Don't forget, being rushed or grumpy about picking out a piece of fruit or the filling for a sandwich is going to rub off on your kids. If you put on some great music and you show that it's supposed to be fun time, things will unfold in the spirit of that. What you are really trying to do is get yourself out of a job. Eventually you are going to wake up in the morning, read the paper and have your coffee and your kids are doing everything on their own, which is what you want. No rushing, no hassles because you have spent time doing the proper training.
Some reasons why food returns home:
- Too much food. Sometimes parents have no idea that they put so much food in their child’s lunch. If it's coming home, it's because you are over-packing.
- Lunch is boring. There are a lot of fun ways to get kids to actually eat. They have these great little things called bento boxes that have come out of China and Japan and they are great because it is a way for food to look fun, be fun, but still be small, reasonable portions.
- Timing is everything. Some schools have a policy where the kids eat and then play. In those schools, kids take two bites of their sandwiches because they want to get out and play. It's the only time they are allowed to socialize in school now, because everything is about learning and desk work, so they get very little free play and they want to get to it. In schools that flip it around and say you can play first and then eat, kids eat much better. So you might actually be curious about what is going on at lunchtime, because it may not just be appetite, it may mean that the school schedule is against them. You may want to see if the school wants to try something a little bit different.
- When and where they eat. A lot of kids don't want to eat in public. They find it a private thing, like going to the bathroom, so sometimes it takes them time to feel comfortable.
I would lay off and pack a little less and trust that over the course of 24 hours and 7 days, most kids manage to compensate and get it in at other meal-times. It's probably ineffective to nag, it's just going to hurt the relationship and it won't really bring about the change you want.
About the Author:
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t Misbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at www.alysonschafer.com.