It’s September and kids are going back to school. My daughter came home after her first day of middle school and told me that her cafeteria sells ice pops (and other assorted ice cream; but she was interested in the ice pops). This reminded me of my regular lunch in middle school—ice cream sandwiches. Junk food ruled my life back then. Now’s my chance to make sure that my kid makes better choices than I did when I was her age. Here are some simple ideas for guiding your kids towards healthy meals at school.
- Pack a lunch. This is the best way to make sure your child is getting the nutrients they need. The trick here is to get them involved. Talk to them about what goes into a healthy lunch and make sure they get a variety of foods each week. Another great thing about packing a lunch is that when your kids get older, give them this task to do on their own. That gives them input and responsibility for their health and nutrition (and it’s one less thing for you to do!) My daughter packs her lunch at night, since she leaves early in the morning; so figure out a timetable that works best for your family. This option can also save you money, and it’s a great teaching tool to show your kids how to plan meals for themselves.
- Have them shop with you. My daughter’s always gone through phases of what she likes, so she comes with me to the store and picks things out for the upcoming week. Make sure to have a couple of their favorite fruits and vegetables on hand so you can get those into the lunchbox. If your kids are small and bringing them with you isn’t an option, ask them what they want to eat during the week so you can purchase it for them. It also gives you a chance to introduce some new foods into their diet (like a new variety of apple, for instance, if they already like apples).
- Talk about choices. Sooner or later, you’ll be faced with the dreaded candy and/or soda machine at school. It’s really important to know what kind of snack options your kids have going into a new school, so you can talk as a family about how to make the right choices. In the event that they are running late and lunch isn’t made, they should be comfortable choosing a meal from the school lunch menu. Our school district web site has a link to the cafeteria menus at each school. My daughter also keeps a few dollars on hand in case she wants another snack or forgets her lunch.
- Give ’em some snacks. Fruits and vegetables don’t have to be the only snacks your kids have at school. My kid loves to take Peanut Buddy bars and also likes veggie chips and pretzels. Remember, if you don’t offer a different snack to your kids, one of their friends will. I like that my daughter has the freedom to try these things at home. If you and/or your kids like to bake, make sure to include a homemade cookie or snack in their lunch; it makes them feel special and connected while they’re away from home.
- Let them be creative! Making your own lunch can be a chore (I do it for myself every day), but it can also be fun. Kids can combine leftovers from the fridge or make crazy sandwiches with all their favorite foods. Giving them a chance to create their own meals and making it fun helps them think of eating as an enjoyable experience. It also fosters a sense of independence—and nurturing independent young people is really what parenting is all about.