It's back to school and back to making school lunch. Always a tough one. We want to be good parents. We want our kids to eat well. We want to be sane. These things don't always correlate. My son's elementary school doesn't have a cafeteria. It forces me to make lunch every day, so it's better, right? Sometimes. Or sometimes he gets a cheese stick, a bag of popcorn, a dry turkey sandwich, and an apple he never eats, just like the lunch my character Sage has everyday in book #4 of Phoebe G. Green. But sometimes my son gets homemade chicken vegetable soup, edamame, a bag of sliced red peppers, carrots, and cucumbers, and hummus for dipping. I feel good making it, but honestly he's not much more likely to eat that lunch than the other lunch. So I keep on keeping on. For what it's worth, here are five tips that make it easier for me, sometimes. Because in my parenting book, if it works sometimes, it works.
#1: Don't ask your kid if they want this or that. If you pack it, it's your call. The other way to go is to let them pack it and keep your mouth shut if it's somewhat healthy. You'd be surprised what a kid will eat if they make it, even if it seems weird to you.
#2: Sandwiches are lame. I don't know about you, but my kids hate sandwiches in their lunch box. These aren't lovely fresh sandwiches on toasted sourdough with prosciutto, arugula, and homemade garlic aioli. These are quickly smashed together lunch meats and cheese on dry supermarket bread. They'd rather have a container of rice and beans any day. But once in a while I still make them. I don't know why.
#3: Simplify the chaos. I put four things in their lunches: a fruit or veggie, a dairy or legume (like yogurt, a container of chick peas, or edamame), a snacky type food like popcorn or a granola bar. And last but not least, the main event like pesto pasta, lentil or chicken soup, rice and beans, a quick quesadilla with beans, salsa, and cheese in it, turkey roll ups with avocado, leftover meatloaf, turkey in a corn tortilla with hummus and sliced red pepper, or tuna fish with celery and crackers. Those are some of my kids' faves.
#4: Get all Super Mom and write down twenty low-prep things they like for lunch. Twenty sounds like a lot, but break it down into 4 fruits/veggies, 4 dairy/legumes, 4 snacks, and 4 main events. Then you have a go-to rotation and don't have to reinvent the wheel all the time.
#5: If all else fails, give them the same darn thing every day. I'm all for adventurous eating, but if it's well-balanced and they eat it, why not? Maybe dinners and weekend meals are times they try new foods. And maybe they'll get bored and beg for something different. Even better.
My kids are pretty good eaters. Some of that is just how they are naturally, but I also expose them regularly to new foods and they see me cooking and eating lots of different things. That doesn't mean they eat well all the time. It's about constant exposure, not constant success. One taste is a success. Then they can fill up on their regular foods. It's about setting them up as adventurous and healthy adult eaters, not having the fanciest eater on the block at age seven. That gives me hope when sometimes all my son wants to eat is pasta and yogurt.
Oh and buy them a copy of Phoebe G. Green: Lunch Will Never Be the Same or Farm Fresh Fun and see what it inspires!
*Stay tuned for info on my Lunch Will Never Be the Same event in Hastings on Hudson, NY at The Purple Crayon Center, Sunday, October 26 from 3-5pm: A family event including a reading/book signing, a food expert panel, tasty snacks, and lots of school lunch inspiration. More details to come!