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Lunchbox Battles: Helping Kids Make Healthy Lunch Choices

Lunchbox Battles: Helping Kids Make Healthy Lunch Choices

Instilling healthy eating habits into my kids has always been one of my focuses as a parent. With some instances of obesity in both mine and my husband’s families, I know that if we’re not careful, genetics won’t be on our side. From the time my children stopped nursing, I strictly followed the recommendations of nutritionists and pediatricians. The kids eat what we eat and we eat as a family for every dinner. The kids’ lunches were relatively controlled while they were at Bright Horizons daycare centers and honestly, what I didn’t realize was so important until now, was that their friends’ lunches were relatively controlled too. Specifically, candy in the lunchbox wasn’t allowed at their Bright Horizons center. And except for rare treats, I steered clear of packing any junk food.

Enter public school and the elementary school cafeteria where “the world is the child’s oyster!” Early on, my husband, daughter and I agreed she could buy lunch once a week and buy milk on all five days. At our school, as a parent, you deposit lunch money into the school’s account, but there’s really no way (online or otherwise) to know exactly what your child buys with it. This past Monday I found out that my daughter wasn’t satisfied by the contents of her lunchbox so she bought lunch too. She said she was still hungry at lunch because her morning snack wasn’t enough (I had packed her a 100 calorie bag of  Multi-Grain Tostitos) so she had eaten some of her lunch (yogurt and part of her sandwich) during snack time too. She told me I always send in a snack that is much smaller than her friends and I never send in cookies like her friends get. She then went on to ask why I don’t send in a full-sized candy bar like John Doe’s mom does or a package of chocolate chip cookies like Jane Doe’s mom does. She’s right, I don’t and won’t send in a full size candy bar (or any candy bar for that matter). And cookies, well, except the rare treat, cookies are a dessert that we have at night on occasion – not as a food to fuel her during the day.

Little girl eating lunch at schoolThat evening, my husband and I decided to talk to her about sugar, calories, protein, fiber, fat and what role they all play in nutrition. She pulled out ketchup, mayo, jelly, yogurt, peanut butter, wheat bread, white bread and milk and we had a discussion around what to look for in foods. She asked about carrots and hummus (another lunchbox item) and we talked about natural sugar and man-added sugar. Did she understand the conversation? Absolutely! Will it make an impact? I hope so, but probably not if her friends continue to eat candy bars in front of her at school.

In public school, kids can’t bring in cupcakes for their birthdays (yeah!) but they can have a candy bar for a snack? Something seems a little off. I’m all for having options at lunch but there should be some limitations about what’s acceptable. I’m concerned about what happens at school as she gets older and the choices (bad ones) increase.

How does your family cope with the lunchbox struggles? Are you facing these same challenges?


One comment

  1. Media Mom June 3, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    My daughter always complains that I don’t pack her enough snack, but she never eats all of her lunch. I’ve learned that the issue is not how hungry she is at snack time, but that she wants her snack to last through all of “sharing time,” which is quite long. Right then and there I decided to ditch the squeezy applesauces and cute little apricots, and now I give her at least one big piece of whole fruit, like an apple or pear, because they take longer to eat. I also throw in carrots, pretzels or peppers with hummus. Because she always eats her snack, I’ve found it’s a good place to get veggies into her diet. Now that cherries are in season, they’re a good option too. But she’s like every other kids and wants the occasional treat, so I’ll make her “pantry trail mix” which is essentially anything I have in the pantry. It’s often a bunch of Cheerios, a few raisins and a small handful of chocolate chips. Pirate Booty is also a treat in our house, and I’ll sometimes give her a Fiber One Kids Chocolate Chip Granola bar, because they are nut-free (required for snack at her school). I now worry a little less about her not eating much of her lunch because I know she’s getting at least one big fruit and maybe a just a small treat on the side.

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