The Happiest Kid in the Cafeteria!

Eating meals together at home is important for families, but don’t underestimate the importance of the meal you send to school with your child each day. In the same way that it is important to sit down and break bread with our family, kids sit down at school and do the same with peers of their choosing.

A positive experience eating lunch at school begins with a positive experience opening up that lunchbox and finding out what’s inside. The same old ham sandwich, pretzels and apple may work for the first couple of years of school, but as a child gets older and develops more sophisticated preferences, you can do better. Work together with your child to create portable, healthy meals your child will feel proud to eat.

Instead of complaints about how friends have better lunches, you’ll start to hear stories about the funny conversations that happened at lunch or who traded what for what. With a little bit of effort, you’ll notice that your child conveys a content, relaxed tone about lunchtime, exactly like the one you strive to create at dinnertime at home.

Expand your sandwich-making repertoire. For variety, cut sandwiches into halves, triangles, quarters or use a cookie cutter to make shapes. Use whole grain rather than white bread. Experiment with whole-grain wraps, bagels, pita, flatbread or naan.

Send real fruit instead of fruit-flavored or artificial fruit snacks. Stock up on small, no-leak containers before school starts so you won’t be afraid to chop up ripe fruit and send it to school. For variety, use whatever fruit you have on hand and make a simple fruit salad every Sunday night.

Chop up whatever veggies you have on hand on Sunday and separate into bags or containers for the week. Include a bit of damp or dry paper towel to keep veggies moist or dry - whichever helps them last.

Try homemade trail mix for snack time. You can come up with combinations that are customized for each child if you visit the bulk foods section of your grocery store and create combos to offer a week at a time.

Have 'Thermos Thursdays' and send something hot to school like soup, mac ‘n cheese or pasta. Be sure to heat the food up well before pouring it into your child’s thermos. Put the lid on tightly but not so tightly your child can’t get it open.

Send low-fat milk in a thermos instead of sugary juice or let them buy milk at school. If you don’t want to send sugar-loaded juice, try flavored waters. In a pitcher, refrigerate water with lemon, lime, berries or herbs. Test flavors to discover what combinations your kids prefer.

Make homemade cookies or bars over the weekend and store properly to last all week. Freeze, if necessary - they will thaw by lunchtime. 

If your child is new to the school, include an extra treat to offer to new friends. Remind them to eat veggies to keep the treats coming.

Why not give them something to look forward to each week? Offer bonus sweets in moderation. Keep a secret stash to offer on the last day before the weekend. Just a little something to help them celebrate the weekend with their friends like a tiny bag of jellybeans, a lollipop or two, or a couple of chocolate kisses.

Once a month, let them get hot lunch - but only once a month. Make a big deal about going over the hot lunch schedule and picking out a day. Then see which type of lunch they prefer. If you play your lunch-making cards right, hot lunch once a month won’t steal the show.

Healthy Lunch Foods to Try:

Hummus

Yogurt

Dried fruit

Cheese sticks

Rice and beans

Granola or Granola bars

Rice cakes

Trail Mix

Popcorn

Whole-grain crackers

Hard-boiled eggs

Pita or bagel chips

Fruit Leather

Protein Bars

Veggie Chips

After-School Snacks for Growing Kids:

A cheese quesadilla

An ice cream cone or frozen yogurt bar

A bagel with cream cheese

Fruit and cottage cheese

Yogurt and berries

An English muffin pizza

Bowl of cereal with fruit

Oatmeal with dried fruit

Whole-grain toast

Cheese melted on whole-grain chips

Protein bar

Fruit Smoothie

Christina knows better than to slack off on shopping for inspired school-lunch foods or she’ll have to hear about it all the way home from school. Her latest book is The Writer’s Workout from Writer’s Digest Books.  

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