Ask any parent with school aged children what’s one of the things on their everyday to-do list thats brings a slight quiver to their spine at least once a week and I would bet it’s coming up with innovative school lunch ideas that please their little ones. A task that may seem simple can become incredibly stressful and boring, especially when you are trying to make sure your family is eating as healthy as possible.
However, over the last couple of years, I’ve discovered a few ways to make planning and preparing school lunches easier, more creative, and stress free.
1. Get Your Kids Involved In The Planning
As parents, we naturally want the best for our kids, perhaps sometimes to a fault. We try to structure their food and meal choices around what we think is most nutritious. However, our rigidity may be what is getting in the way when it comes to tasks such as school meal preparation.
One easy way we can start making the process less stressful for ourselves and our little ones is by getting them involved in the meal planning process. This integration will take the pressure off parents from guessing the types of healthy foods kids may like by simply asking them for their input.
Start by making a game of it. Set aside a couple of hours to allow a fun brainstorming session with you and your family. Make a list of healthy foods they actually enjoy. Then, take a calendar and spread out the choices over the course of the month.
Allow them to draw carrot sticks and a water bottle on the space for Monday or fruit salad, and pasta with cherry tomatoes on Tuesday. Let them use markers and craft supplies to make the project more creative. Doing this will make them take ownership in the project and more excited about their new lunch options while bringing parents fresh ideas.
2. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
The one skill I had no idea I would exercise as much as I have since having my son is negotiating. For as long as I can remember, he has been a firm believer in finding a mutual middle ground about anything he did not completely agree with, and I have learned to work with it and not against it.
Little did I know, he was teaching me the best way to interact with him and others when trying to implement change in their lives. This is no different when it comes to figuring out tricky things such as school lunches.
Occasionally, he may ask to swap out the planned sliced apples on Monday or Wednesday for some cantaloupe or the pesto pasta on Friday for veggie spring rolls. He may even ask for a couple of cookies instead of the healthy choices we agreed upon. And although I could stand firm in my belief for him to have certain foods and not others, I believe in allowing him the occasional indulgence. This way, he does not feel completely deprived. I have found this method keeps him from overeating junk food since he get exposed to it in small quantities.
3. Explore New Items At Home, Not For Lunch
As much as we may want our little ones to try new veggies and fruits, I’ve learned that lunch time is NOT the ideal to introduce them. This was very clear after several days of snacks that made their way back home at the end of the school day.
Avoid the stress of major change by trying out several new options at home when you and your little ones have the time to explore and experiment with the new tastes and combinations. This can be made into a fun afternoon activity by taking them with you to the store and letting the fruits and colors spark their interest and conversation. Once you get home, let them help slice and arrange the food in ways that are appealing to them.
A couple of unexpected lunch items you can try to introduce to your family at home include:
- Roasted Veggie Wraps
- Cucumber Slices With Hummus
- Tomato & Cheddar Sandwiches
- Chickpea “Tuna” Salad
- Granola and Fruit Parfaits
These three approaches to lunch prep should help relieve some stress on you and your family. Incorporate each of these suggestions during the month and see which is the most effective for your situation. You never know, you might just come up with your own solutions for improving the school lunch making process.