You can't monitor them 24/7, and once they're in school you don't know what your kids consume vs. what they pitch into the garbage can in the cafeteria. How do you pack a healthy lunch that you're kids will actually eat? Food sociologist and blogger Dina Rose, Ph.D., offers some great ideas, and a surprise for parents: It's not about nutrition
. Here are a few of her guidelines that will help you feed your kids each day, but also help you teach them a lifetime of healthy eating habits:
- Try not to stress about the nuances of nutrition. Contrary to everything you hear, you do not need to focus on details like calcium, protein or saturated fat. You only need to pay attention to whether your children eat fresh, natural foods (including fruits and vegetables) more than anything else, eat a variety of foods, and only eat when they’re hungry (and never after they’re full).
- Unless your children love surprises, agree on everything that goes into the lunchbox. It’s not worth the risk that lunch will go uneaten because your kids don’t feel like eating chicken salad today.
- Pack food you already know your children will eat. We always hope that kids will try new things, but lunch at school may not be the best time to spring something new -- it's more likely to lead to a seek-and-destroy habit. Try new foods at dinner time when you can have a discussion about taste, texture and appearance.
- Make sure that every lunch includes at least one fruit and one vegetable. It’s the right lifetime habit.
- Never pack the same lunch two days in a row. Not only does variety make nutritional sense, but by getting your kids used to the idea that they eat different foods on different days you’ll be setting up a foundation for introducing new foods.
- Be sure to make lunch different than other meals served during the day. If your children have eaten peanut butter or cheese on their morning toast, forget about serving PB&J or grilled cheese for lunch and if your kids are eating pizza at lunch, skip it at dinner.
- Don't include chips (or Goldfish crackers, pretzels, or veggie chips, or any chip substitute) on a daily basis unless you want your children to develop a daily lifetime chip habit.
- Let your children eat school lunch one or two times per week if they want it. It may be nutritionally inferior, but it’s cool and being cool matters to kids.
- Remember you can break the rules (but only from time to time).
- Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. If you focus on the big picture, the details will take care of themselves.