Back to school was always my favorite time of year as a child. There was so much excitement: new teachers, a new classroom and new faces. I always loved to go food shopping with my mom for the latest trendy food craze to pack in my lunch. By November, however, the novelty had worn off. As the weather cooled, my enthusiasm had dwindled and my brown-bagged lunches became more and more sparse. Turns out my mom's back to school enthusiasm had dwindled too.
We know so much about how nutrition can affect kids from a very early age. Children need food that will not only nourish their bodies, but their brains as well. So what do you do when you’re fresh out of ideas, like my mom, and all you can muster up is a cream cheese and white bread sandwich? Here are a few tips to help with that winter lunch slump:
Follow Their Lead
Children have natural hunger and satiety cues that are much stronger and more effective than those of adults. They know what, when, and how much they want to eat. Research has shown that when parents take a very strict approach to a child’s diet, the child may grow to prefer higher fat and calorie foods. The solution? Take your tot to the grocery store with you, and let her get excited about the endless options. Let her pick a few foods to take home, and don’t worry too much about what they are. They can always be supplemented with healthy fruits and vegetables. Which brings us to our next tip…
I love the new “bento” style lunch boxes. The different compartments are not only perfect for teaching portion sizes, but a great way to combine different food groups. Not to mention this style will also save you a ton of time and Ziploc bags! If possible, let your child help to pack her own lunch. She can include an item she picked for herself at the store, and you can fill at least half of the box with fruits and vegetables. Make sure to point out how beautiful and colorful the selections are!
The bento box trend is also a great way to introduce new foods in small amounts, like a tablespoon of hummus as veggie dip or a handful of nuts or seeds. The more exposure your child has to healthful foods, the more likely she will be to want to eat them. Combine roasted, no-salt almonds with a tsp of chocolate chips for a healthy “dessert.”
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It can take anywhere from 5-10 attempts of trying a new food before your child accepts it, but familiarity can make the transition easier. When new foods look like shapes that kids know they are more likely to welcome them into their repertoire. Try cutting veggies or whole grain sandwiches into stars or hearts for a new twist, or encourage your child to come up with their own fun shapes to keep them involved.
I hope this helps inspire you to create fun, nutritious lunches for your children, and maybe even for yourself!
Redbook (cover photo)