December 17th, 2018
Pack a lunch or buy? That would be the daily morning question after perusing the school lunch menu. “Pack a lunch,” she replied. Yet many days, my daughter would come home from school ravenous and ready to eat dinner. We tried the after school snack and a pre-dinner tide-me-over and yet, she still seemed hungry.
I soon learned from a friend who worked as the school lunch lady, that many children would often toss their packed or purchased lunches in the trash, but surprisingly, it was not because of “yucky” food.
While I was meticulous to ensure the healthy foods, there were other a few other factors I had not even thought about:
Time of day: Most kids eat breakfast between 7-8am. Elementary schools usually have some type of morning snack about 90 minutes into the school day and then lunch is late morning. For my child, she was not hungry (again) before noon. She was hungry however, at 1pm. Unfortunately, children are not allowed to eat in the classroom, so an afternoon snack was out of the question. What I learned was to provide a lighter lunch but with healthy fats and slow digesting carbohydrates so she would feel full longer. A great alternative to the standard sandwich was hummus on pita triangles, nut butter on bread cut into strips, or dry trail mix with Cheerio’s, almonds, pretzels and granola.
Mouth issues: Over the course of K-4th grade, my daughter was losing teeth, getting teeth and beginning her pre-braces treatments. Needless to say, I didn’t factor the notion that her gums, teeth or jaw was sore when eating certain foods. Not painfully sore, but uncomfortable. Beside asking my daughter which foods were more difficult on a particular day, I paid closer attention to snack foods for their density as well as nutritional value.
Time: Beside the time of when your child eats, most schools only allow 20 minutes for the kids to walk from the classroom to the lunchroom, get their lunch and begin to eat. As this is the first opportunity to socialize, many kids are talking and relaxing (as it should be!) instead of “just” eating. Consequently, they could be rushed through their lunch and unable to finish the whole meal. What I found helpful was to have my daughter bring home what she didn’t eat so I could better gauge the quantity of food to pack based on the time they are given to eat. Packing a thermos of soup would be unrealistic. Packing hard boiled eggs would be better.
Related read: 6 Ways Your Kids are Making You Fat
Meal killers: One time, I discovered the other lunch lady was being super nice to the kids and would treat them to ice cream once a week. Nice gesture, sure, but for my child, choosing ice cream over the cheese, crackers and grapes is a no-brainer. Plus, we had ice cream as a reward and an ‘on occasion’ treat; unbeknown to me, kind lunch lady was derailing my “good behavior” incentives. We had a little chat….
As you can see, it is not difficult to pack a lunch kids will eat. Understanding the idea that lunchtime is more than just removing the crust and chocolate milk will help your child eat a great meal that is nutritious and preferred.
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