Tips for packing your child’s lunch
Parents and caregivers face the sometimes daunting responsibility of packing school lunches. If you’re dreading the task, consider school lunches an opportunity to show your child your love for them while also providing them with the nutrition needed to fuel their brains and bodies so they can have a successful day at school.
Below are answers to a few questions pediatricians are frequently asked about school lunches.
How do you choose the right lunch box for your child?
The lunch box should provide easy access to food and be convenient to transport. Allow your child to help pick their lunch box, and practice opening it with younger children before the start of the school year.
How do you know you are sending enough food?
Pack nutrient-dense foods such as whole-grain bread with a protein (hummus, non-deli meats, non-nut butters like sunflower butter, avocado or cheese), sliced vegetables and fruits, granola, sunflower seeds and dried fruits. Leftovers are also a good choice. Avoid packaged foods which typically have a high amount of salt, sugar and fat and promote cravings for more of the same. Real foods grow and will help keep your child satiated. If your teen stays after school for a sport or activity, they may also need a second quick meal.
Your child brought their entire lunch back home. What do you do?
Calmly ask your child why. Younger children may find the lunchroom to be busy and the lunch period too quick for them to settle down and eat. Maybe something got soggy and turned them off to the entire meal. Some children may feel different with their homemade lunch. No matter your child’s response, you can make changes, but don’t give up on healthy, homemade lunches. If your child wants to eat what their peers are eating, consider letting them have the school lunch twice a week and homemade lunch three times a week. You can offer their untouched lunch to them after school as another opportunity for them to look at what was offered. Stay calm and involve your child in problem solving. Don’t give up. Nutritious foods are a key factor in kids’ physical and mental health.
How do you keep them interested in their lunch?
- When children are young, try leaving small surprises in their lunch boxes like notes.
- As they grow, they can provide more input by coming to the grocery store or farmers market or choosing items from a list.
- Have them help with meal prep based on age-related abilities.
- Use small, reusable containers and utensils – these are both sustainable and fun.
- Try different shaped foods or rolling things up for younger children.
Parenting isn’t easy. Find your network. Don’t hesitate to speak with your child’s pediatrician for additional advice or collaborate with other like-minded parents for further support and ideas. And remember – children notice your actions. Model good nutrition and behaviors around food for them. They are watching.
Dr. Lori Walsh is the medical director of pediatric integrative medicine at Advocate Children’s Hospital. She practices at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital Center for Health and Integrative Medicine, where she does integrative consults for infants, children and adults
About the Author
Dr. Lori Walsh is the medical director of pediatric integrative medicine at Advocate Children's Hospital. She practices at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital Center for Health and Integrative Medicine, where she does integrative consults for infants, children and adults