School is back and it’s time once again to think about what to put in your kids’ lunches. For busy parents, it can be hard to find time to plan and pack nutritious lunches for our children every day. If you have a picky eater, this task can be especially challenging. What is the frazzled parent of a picky eater to do?
Kids want to know why. Talk to them about why eating healthy is important. Explain that their young bodies need “premium” fuel to help them be at their best at school and for their favorite activities. They can’t expect top performance with sub-par fuel.
The USDA has a great visual to help kids (and adults) understand how to give our bodies premium fuel. Check it out at www.choosemyplate.org. Even young kids can understand that half their plates (or lunch boxes) should be fruits and vegetables. Laminate this tool and put it on your refrigerator or make a note card- sized copy and hide it in their lunch bag.
Kids like to be in charge, so let them have some input. Take a trip to the grocery store or farmers market with a list of healthy choices. If you don’t have time for a grocery store trip, get online and search for healthy options. Have them make their own list, so you know what to buy. Go shopping together for a special lunch box or try a bento box. Then get them involved in the preparation. Kitchen activities can teach math, science and reading and help small ones with fine motor skills. It is like school in the kitchen. They won’t even know they’re learning.
Sometimes we have to pick our battles. If your child wants to eat the same thing for lunch every day, think about how you can make that food as healthy as possible. Make small changes like substituting whole wheat white bread for regular white bread. Exchange the fruit punch for a flavored milk box. Try a new fruit instead of chips. If lunches are a battle, inject some humor by packing a themed lunch. For example, create an all-red lunch for Valentine’s Day or a spooky sandwich for Halloween.
Good nutrition is extremely important for a child’s health and development. But ultimately it is their responsibility to decide what and how much to eat. Caregivers should be there to support healthy choices, but no matter how much you might want to take that responsibility from them, you can’t. If you educate, involve and then step back a bit to let your child take the reins, you might be pleasantly surprised by the choices they make.
Cassandra Saxon, RD, LD, CNSD, is a pediatric dietician with Mercy Clinic Kids GI at Mercy Children's Hospital. For more information or find a physician, please visit www.mercychildrens.net.