Writer, adventurer and wrangler to little people and pets. Follow me on Instagram @whereiholiday.
Banish the lunchbox blues
School holidays are coming to a close and we are moving into 'Back to School' time. While most parents and kids are excited to get back to class, it won't take long before the battle of the lunchbox begins. Mums pull their hair in frustration, children whine about what is on offer and everyone starts the countdown to the next school holiday and a reprieve from school lunches.
While there are lots of tips for what to put into the lunchbox, parents can be a bit more strategic in their approach. Devise your plan of attack and the humble lunchbox will throw up the white flag of surrender in no time.
Communication is important in all relationships but it is vital to set the ground rules for lunch with your kids early on. Before my son started Prep we began to discuss what was involved in making lunch each day, the cost of food, healthy choices and types of food he wanted in his lunch. We also talked about how his lunch might be different to other kids (i.e. no chips or lollies).
As he got older, we have a new rule - no food in the bin at lunch. If he has something leftover or that he did not eat, he brings it home. I never get angry (although some days it's harder than others) about what might be left in the box. It's important that he knows he can talk to me about his food choices and there is no anger associated with his eating patterns. If he doesn't like something - bring it home, let's talk about it and he can help me to make an equally nutritious substitute choice. And don't forget to have a conversation about how Tuck Shop will figure into your lunch plans.
Consistency A lot of tips focus on boredom as a contributor to lunchbox battles. You are urged to try lots of new and different foods. While this may work with older children, primary school kids crave consistency. And while you should try to expand their diet - repetition is not such a bad thing. Jennifer Aniston famously ate the same lunch every day for 10 years and she hasn't turned out too bad.
My son went through a phase on only eating bananas in Prep, apples in Term 1, Year 1 and strawberries for another term. If it's only ham and cheese sandwiches for your kid - no problem. Try to circumvent the issue by including half of a sandwich and bulk up the other choices. Or offer a deconstructed ham and cheese sandwich (ham rolled up, cheese slices and crackers) to ease them into trying new things. Help them know lunch will be predictable in that it will always have 1 fruit choice, 1 veggie choice, a main meal, etc.
A piece of fruit a day keep the cranky lunchbox fights away
Stealth not Surprise If you are going to sample new menu items always road test these on a weekend picnic or family lunch. Don't surprise little Tommy at lunchtime with the latest Tuna Muffin recipe. The lunchtime food is supposed to be their fuel for learning. You don't want the surprise meal to go un-eaten and have your child struggle throughout the day. Stealth is a far better option. Find ways to sneak extra nutrition into their lunch. Avocado instead of mayonnaise or butter on their sandwich, a vegetarian sausage roll instead of the high fat and salt variety, chocolate muffins loaded with grated veggies. The options are endless.
Ease of Use Make sure everything that goes into the lunchbox is easy to open and easy to eat. For most kids getting onto the playground is the primary focus of their break - not eating. They know they have to shovel something in their mouth and want to make a quick and clean getaway. Fancy yoghurts in squeeze tubes, finicky containers that are impossible to open and foods that are just too time consuming to eat, all get in their way and add to their frustration.
Carrot sticks were a point of frustration in our house. I would cut them up and they would come home uneaten because "I ran out of time Mum". Once we discussed it further I found out that my son thinks they take too long to chew so we swapped to grated carrots on sandwiches instead. Funny enough, if I cut the carrots into round chips instead of sticks they magically become easier to chew and we no longer have carrot leftovers. Go figure.
Made with Love A little note or an unexpected reminder that you love your child to the moon and back will always be appreciated. As kids get older the displays of affection may need to be less conspicuous but even teenagers want to be reminded that you love them. It may be lunchbox notes (do a Google search to find lots of free printable templates and ideas), a little drawing, a special sticker or just a little secret code between the two of you. You can prep a whole weeks worth of notes in under 5 minutes.
Or use a cookie cutter one day to turn your teenage son's sandwich into a dinosaur. He'll get to tell all his friends what a dork his mum is and while they all laugh they will be secretly wishing they had a dorky mum too. And if they are old enough to pack their lunch, surprise them anyway by leaving a little note in the fridge, putting funny stickers on the apples, or maybe offer to make their lunch for them one day out of the blue- just to save them some time in the morning.
I'm going to diligently try to remember and follow through on all these tips myself as we move into the school year. Because remember - even though school holidays offer a respite from packing lunches it means you have kids in your house all day saying, "Mum, I'm hungry".
My kids only eat their bananas if I write on them. Just use a fork to lightly etch into the banana a little love note. By the time they open their lunch box the etched lettering will have gone black and they have a note to remind them of how much you love them.