Santa Monica schools are back in session, and with school comes daily homework and lunch duty for parents. Some parents become so frustrated with either complaints or uneaten food that they just give up after a while and turn to the lunch program. I rotated through the school lunch program during my training as a registered dietitian nutritionist and know first-hand how much they rely on prepared, processed food and condiments to meet the daily fruit and vegetable quota.
In Santa Monica we are more fortunate than others as we have access to fresh fruits and vegetables from the Farmers’ Markets. Schools are incorporating more of these products into our kids’ lunches, but there are still plenty of parents who want to provide nutritious, tasty lunches themselves that will be the envy of the lunch table and a powerhouse for schoolwork. Some feel they just don’t have the time or don’t know where to start. Following a few simple strategies can make lunch preparation quicker and more balanced.
Interview your child
Time and time again, research shows that when kids are involved in the discussion, purchase and even the preparation of their own food, they are more likely to eat it. Ask your kids what they like. This will reduce waste and untouched, returned lunches. Take a few minutes and make a list with your kids of what protein-rich foods, whole grains/starches, fruits, vegetables, and snacks or treats they would like in their lunches. This list will become your shopping list and from there you can mix and match, creating different lunches.
Lunch box design
There are a couple of lunch box basics worth investing in: a good thermos and small, individual cold packs. A thermos can open up the meal ideas for both hot and cold foods. The trick with keeping hot foods hot is to fill the thermos first with boiling water and let it sit before draining and adding hot food. The same for cold foods; add water and ice to the thermos first before the cold food. Smaller cold packs can be used to keep appropriate foods chilled without affecting the contents in a hot thermos.
Junk food envy
We don’t tend to think about this with kids, but lunch time is also social time. Kids want to be part of the group. They don’t want to stand out or be left out of what their peers are doing or eating. Parents can offer healthy substitutions in place of the trendy or popular junk food so they can still feel part of the group.
A personal note from you can make even the most boring lunch a little more palatable. It can be positive affirmations, sayings, jokes, riddles or just a picture of their pet. It’s that special touch that makes them smile when they open their lunch box instead of groaning in disappointment.
Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. Learn more at www.eatwelldailynutrition.com.