Top 10 School Lunch Packing Tips For Reluctant Eaters
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Today, we’re going to be just a little bit serious. Parents everywhere are eyeing the calendar, getting ready for back to school. New clothes, new lunch bags, new backpacks – back to the old routine. For some families, though, back to school also means back to packing school lunches that routinely don’t get eaten. It’s not because they have a Social Sally or a Picky Pete. The medications that most effectively deal with ADHD and similar concerns also comes with adverse side affects. The most common one is a significant loss of appetite. These kids struggle to eat enough during the day because they simply aren’t hungry.
We pack five lunches every work day – Goose and all the kids have lunch bags. E4 packs a lunch, too. We can take it with us if we head out somewhere or he can eat it independently if I get caught up working on something. That way, I know Mr. Independent has consumed more than jelly beans, something he would do if left unattended. And independence and time allotment are important. Our school has a Balanced Lunch Day, meaning two 20 minute breaks to eat. There are also the allergies of other classmates to take into account. On top of that, we receive regular notes homes about sending healthy lunches and limiting high calorie foods. Easier said than done folks.
Here are my top tips for packing lunches that have an increased chance of being eaten.
- Make lunch packing a group effort. It doesn’t matter if you are packing one lunch or five. Having kids participate in any meal making activity is going to increase the chances that they will eat it.
- Avoid morning rush hour – pack the night before. To make sandwiches stay fresher, spread the bread with butter and skip the lettuce and tomatoes.
- Make lists of foods your children like to eat. Sweet treats, salty snacks, favourite fruits and vegetables. Stock up when they are on sale. Plan an afternoon once a month to stock up the freezer with baked goods. Yogourt drinks with a recloseable lid are a fantastic addition to a lunch bag. Ditto the yogourt and applesauce blends you can now get with easy twist lids.
- You are probably more worried about monotony than they are – there is comfort in familiarity. Don’t worry about packing bento lunches or ones that are Pinterest worthy. My kids love ham and cheese sandwiches and eat them several times a week. But they aren’t always sandwiches. Sometimes they are wraps. On occasion they are small hamburger or hot dog buns cut in half. Those little dinner rolls everybody serves at Thanksgiving and Christmas? Two of those make a great lunch, especially for the Balanced Lunch Day.
- Make foods as easy to eat as possible – even if it means doing some of the work at home. Slice up oranges, peel clementines, pull grapes off the stem. Apples and pears travel well if they are cut and and splashed with a bit of lemon juice. The boxes of pre-cut fruit and vegetables trays in Walmart’s fresh food section are designed to stay fresh and are ready when you are. Don’t let any well meaning individual (who is not raising your child) tell you they are ‘old enough to do that for themselves’. Of course they are – this is not what this is about. Thanks for the unsolicited advice.
- We also have something called a ‘Boomerang’ or Litterless Lunch. Essentially, everything that isn’t eaten comes home. This means granola bar wrappers, half eaten yogourt containers, and apple cores. It can get to be a huge mess. The school is encouraging parents to employ reusable containers. We were finding that the containers were often too hard to open and close and for that reason alone, food wasn’t being eaten. The mess that resulted from improperly closed apple sauce and half eaten fruit was off-putting to us and the kids. So, we have gone back to re-closable plastic bags and pre-packaged snacks.
- Bite sized is best. You know how you can mindlessly eat an entire tray of finger foods and hardly notice until it’s empty? Chances are this concept will work for your kids, too.
- Invest in a small hot foods container. Reheat chicken fingers, pierogies, small meatballs, cut up wieners, and the like in the morning. The enticement of a hot meal can be enough to get some kids to eat.
- As often as your family budget permits, participate in the class pizza/hotdog/sub days. Peer pressure, the thrill of something new, whatever it is, my kids tend to eat everything that is served. Alternatively, mark those days down and make sure to send a similar food. For us, Thursdays are pizza day at school. On Wednesday nights, we often have pizza. I wrap up the leftovers and off to school they go the next day. Voila! Now they are eating pizza (almost) like everybody else.
- Send along wet wipes for sticky fingers. The hassle of having to get up and wash (especially if you have to wait for a lunch monitor to pop into your classroom before you can go) is enough to throw some kids right off the eating track. Walmart generally carries them near the napkins and paper towels or you can re-package baby wipes into small re-sealable baggies.
Most of all, drop the guilt. Do your best to feed them a breakfast and supper that will carry them over. You are doing the best you can. No one who’s opinion actually matters doubts that, even for a minute.
These are my top ten suggestions. Do you have any others to add to my list? I’d love to hear your suggestions.