At the beginning of last year’s school year I was the Queen of Packed Lunches. My kindergartener would skip off to school each day with nutritious and varied treats in her bag each day.
And then winter came. Cold and flu season rocked our world. I was exhausted, we were stressed, and lunches became a rut. I succumbed to the temptation that is the school cafeteria. I loaded up my daughter’s ID with some cash and sent her off with a water bottle assuming that she would be given a “relatively” nutritious school lunch option each day.
When I was a kid, hot lunch meant the one single menu combination of the day served up on a plate. I failed to do my research and assumed things were the same now.
Big Fat Parenting FAIL. After a few weeks (yes, weeks!) of our new lunch routine, I went to have lunch with her at school. I was horrified by my discovery. Our school does indeed offer up healthy options for lunch. In fact, I was pretty impressed by their spread. What I did not realize is that the children are given the ability to pick and choose from a long line of items.
Skipping over the chicken, vegetables, fruit, and rice side dishes they had available, what actually made it to her tray?
A chocolate milk, a juice box, a bag of potato chips, and a pudding.
The only person I was mad at was myself. It was my fault for not realizing how hot lunch worked. It was my fault for not checking the computer registry of her purchases the school makes available. I had trusted the school too much, not prepared my daughter at all, and had dropped the parenting reins on one of the more important matters!!
I very quickly realized we had not spent nearly enough time discussing nutrition in our household. I manage the food decisions, we do talk about the importance of fruit and vegetables, but actual meal planning is not something my child ever really had to do.
So though I plan to take control of lunches via packed lunch again this year, I know there will be days (weeks?) where I’m going to take the break where I can get it and rely on hot lunch. This time we’ll be prepared.
1. Pretend Play:
I started with some role playing games with my daughter. Using the Melissa & Doug Make a Meal sticker pad, I gave her a scenario for a pretend meal:
“What would we eat for Sunday breakfast?”
“What choices would we make at school lunch?”
“What would be on your birthday dinner plate?”
I used these scenarios to open up discussion:
Which foods give our body energy to do work?
What variety of colors are on our plate?
Are the colors natural or artificial?
(Red M&Ms do not count towards the food rainbow!)
2. Real Meals:
Continue these conversation prompts over the dinner table using your real food as example. As a foodie, I also like to talk to my kids about why certain flavors compliment one another in a casserole and how the textures of one food can enhance another.
I also share my own eating history with the girls. I despised onions as a child but they are one of my favorite flavors now. Preferences change over time and you’ll never know unless you try it.
One Last Parenting Tip: Child nutrition should be considered over the course of a whole day or even a whole week. A few poor choices for lunch can be evened out with better choices at other meals or snacks. Part of learning to make those healthy choices includes the opportunity to do it independently. Just keep the conversation going!
Not ready to rely on hot lunch yet? Gear up for back to school with my 30 Days of Lunch Box Menus: No Repeats post over on Peanut Blossom.