Whether your child steps into the lunch line every day or they bring lunch from home, the truth is that kids of all ages need their lunch. Studies (such as this one by Wilder Research) have shown that nutrition has a direct link with behavior and cognitive development in children, as well as indirect links to a child’s overall success rate in school via health and attendance. The quick summary? By ensuring that your child is eating healthy while at school, you are setting them up to not only learn and behave better by providing the nutrients their growing brains need, but you are also investing in their health and education in the long run by keeping common illnesses (like colds) away that would have otherwise kept them from classes!
That being said: what about the current state of school lunches? While there have been some improvements in the cafeteria, there is always more to be made. So what can you as a parent do to put your child on the right track with school lunches? Here’s five things you can do starting today to help your child meet their nutritional—and academic—goals!
Get Creative with Packing!
Oh so simple, but oh so important. Don’t worry about being a Pinterest parent when it comes to packing your child’s lunch—while it is important to keep things fun (especially for our younger eaters), you don’t have to break out the super creative meals that you see on social media every day. There are simple ways to liven up your child’s lunch! For instance, with a few large cookie cutters, you can turn any sandwich into a fun design, from hearts to stars. And when in doubt, go for bright and colorful food, such as bell peppers, fruit salad or dried/baked veggie chips (think carrot and zucchini)!
Make “Fancy” Food
This doesn’t necessarily mean to make your child steak for every lunch—think of it more as upgrading that peanut butter and jelly sandwich for something a bit fancier. If your child is an adventurous eater, swap out the usual cold sandwich for a panini! The change in texture (from soft to crunchy) can be enough to spark interest, but the sheer number of choices and flavors you can pack into a panini is also a win as well! (Plus, make an extra one while you’re packing their lunch and you have your lunch covered, too!)
Keep Things Bite-Sized
There’s a reason why Lunchables are so popular at the lunch table. With everything simple and small, there’s an inherent fun factor involved for kids, especially as they stack, switch and swap their way through different combinations in the lunch pack. But leave the Lunchables at the store and make your own! For one thing, you can personalize the combinations for even your pickiest eater, and you can ensure that they’re still getting their fruits and veggies. Just grab a bento box and go—the fridge is your oyster!
Pack Snacks, not Lunch
If you prefer to have your child buy lunch at school, but you want to make sure that they’re eating something more than cafeteria chicken nuggets and fries, send them along with a snack or two! It can be something as simple as a piece of fruit or some cheese and crackers from home, but something quick and healthy for them to eat at their locker is a great idea. For one thing, it assures you that even if your child went with the less healthy option in the lunch line, they’re still getting their nutrients for the day. Plus, they’re more likely to be focused on schoolwork if they have the snack between classes than on their stomach!
Teach your child about healthy choices.
At the end of the day, no matter how many healthy lunches you pack and how many snacks you send with your kids, an important thing to remember is to bring them into the process! Children learn by doing, so having them help you pack their lunch or go shopping for food are simple ways to get them involved and get them thinking about healthy choices. No matter how you include them, just know that you are helping to build healthy habits in your child—and that’s worth more than a few PB&Js ever could.