Think Outside the Lunch Box


Ten-year-old Annie is extremely social. Even though she’s not a picky eater, she rarely finishes her school lunch, because she’s chatting with her friends After her mom noticed food returning in her lunchbox, she warned Annie to stop talking so much during the lunch break and “to eat her lunch!” Food did stop coming home.Regrettably, after their talk, in order to avoid a scolding, Annie began to throw away the uneaten portions of her lunch.

How do you convince your child to eat the lunch you send to school? Is your child a picky eater? This is a real dilemma for moms, who are concerned about developing healthy eating habits in their children.

The answer could be as simple as adjusting the amount of food you send with your child. A half a sandwich, with the other items in a lunch bag, might be all that a six-year-old can consume during the time allotted.

Since parents have no real control of what their kids eat at school, I suggested that Annie’s mom have another talk with her. She should once again explain the necessity of eating the lunch prepared for her. Her mom assured her that she wouldn’t be punished if she didn’t eat all of her lunch. Annie should do her best to eat during the lunch break and bring home what’s left over-that way mom will know exactly how much food was consumed.

For the child, who isn’t eating much of her lunch, control what you can at home. Pack fewer items, so that less food will be wasted. Send your child off to school with  a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast full of protein and whole grains. Then, make sure your child’s after-school snack is a mini-meal.

Trading is also outside of parents’ control. Eight-year-old Joey trades parts of his nutritious lunch for the junk food his mom doesn’t purchase. Sometimes children won’t ‘fess-up to their trading food in order to avoid discipline.

Affirm how much you love your child and the benefits of the food you’re including in his lunch bag. Discuss with your child the reasons why junk food is unhealthy might help some. Providing nutritious yummy treats will help more. Again control what you can at home. After school snacks should be healthful.

Many times kids don’t eat their lunches out of plain boredom. PB&J can be tolerated only so many times. Adjust your thinking to nutrients, not sandwiches. Many times appealing lunches involve “planned-overs.” That’s making enough of something for dinner for a “planned-over” lunchbox item.

Exciting lunches happen when you “think outside the lunchbox!” Try something different than the traditional PB&J sandwich. For variety, make an almond butter and banana sandwich cut into a fun shape with a cookie cutter. Or draw a funny face on a hardboiled egg.

Plan for left-overs: A meatball sandwich with sauce or meatloaf on a whole-grain roll. Get creative with egg, chicken, and tuna salad sandwiches on whole-grain bread, add sprouts for texture and extra nutrition.

Healthy snacks can become yummy lunches. Here are a dozen alternatives to the sandwich, just to whet your appetite:

>Hardboiled egg and whole-grain muffin. For the younger child, practice cracking and peeling eggs at home.

>Tuna in a 3 ounce can and a small plastic container with Italian dressing. Show him at home how to take the tuna out of the small can and mix it in the container with the dressing. You may have to practice opening a pull-top can, using the plastic fork as leverage.

>Apple, carrot, and raisin salad

>Veggie sticks and a dip

>Brown rice salad with bite-sized chicken pieces

>Cold slice of pizza

>Small cheese ball with whole-grain crackers

>Chicken wings or a drumstick

>3-bean salad (if you purchase this ready-made, be sure sugar isn’t listed in the ingredients)

>Any green salad; pack dressing separately

>Sliced apples and peanut or almond butter. Send the nut butter in a separate container for dipping. Add whole-grain crackers or a whole-grain muffin.

>3-grain salad made with barley, brown rice, and corn.

Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater has more ideas for healthy lunches!

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