After teaching Kindergarten PE classes at my boys’ school, I would often walk past the Kinder lunch tables on my way out. I’ll never forget that first day, peeking over the shoulders of each child to see the contents of their lunchbox. With it being my first year as a parent with school-age children, I wanted to see where I measured up with what the other parents were packing.
As a health and fitness blogger and someone who “walks the walk”, I know that my expectation of what constitutes a healthy diet is above average. But even still, seeing these children’s lunches made me feel like some kind of health-nut alien from an alternate universe. I stood horrified as I took in all the sugary, processed, and “food-like” products in front of them.
Dessert puddings void of any real nutrients, granola bars jam-packed with refined sugars, “fruit” gummies chock-full of chemical colorings (but no real fruit), juice boxes made with more High Fructose Corn Syrup than a bottle of soda, and despite the school district’s supposed “no-candy” rule, there were even a few chocolate bars. As a small boy tapped me on the arm, I snapped out of my horrified deer-in-the-headlights state to find the proverbial icing on the cake — he was asking me to open his Pixy Stix! I mean, an honest-to-goodness paper straw full of nothing but straight-up chemically-flavored sugar! I thought for sure I was about to get PUNK’D but sadly, Ashton did not appear, and what I discovered week after week was that this was just another day at the school yard lunch tables.
How can a health-conscious parent compete with sugar-filled dessert lunches? How do we send our kids with healthy and nutritious food that will help them grow, think, develop and thrive when their peers are scarfing down candy in between classes?
Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is: yes, it is possible! Our family is proof of that. Better yet, the payoff of healthy kids goes far beyond a normal body weight, regulated blood sugar, better mood, and fewer emotional outbursts (although those are great benefits!).
The bad news is: getting your kids to adopt healthier eating habits takes more than just changing your shopping list. It’s a process that takes time and is most successful when adopted by the whole family.
But if you’re willing to put in the effort, your child can experience a stronger immune system, laser-like focus, healthy bones, and a proper understanding of nutrition that will serve them long after you stop making their school lunches. Our family made the transition from junk food to whole food — and so can you — starting with these tips!
5 steps to raising healthier kids and creating healthy school lunches:
1) Educate Yourself
You won’t become a health-expert overnight but if you start making one small change at a time, you’ll find that come next school year, the eating habits of your family will have drastically changed and health school lunches will be a walk in the park!
1) You might start with:
1) Reading product labels and researching the ingredients or 2) shopping the perimeter of the grocery store (deli, produce, dairy, meat, etc) instead of the center aisles where most processed food is sold
2) Educate Your Child
When teaching your kids about health, get creative and think like a child. Don’t just say “eat this, it’s good for you”. Instead, tell your active little boy “You’ll want to try this! Spiderman is a HUGE fan of this because it makes your muscles grow.” Or next time they’re eating an orange, tell them, “oranges are really good for us! They have a lot of Vitamin C and that helps us fight the bad germs that try and make us sick!” Don’t underestimate your ability as a parent to shape and mold your impressionable child.
3) Plan Ahead
In our fast-paced lives, it can be difficult to throw together a healthy lunch when you’re first adopting better habits. Making a weekly plan will put you one step ahead of the game and prevent those stressed-out weeknights where you just want to order pizza and throw a Lunchable into your kids school bag.
Tips on planning for success:
Plan a week’s worth of meals and bring a list to the store.
Wash and cut your veggies as soon as you get home. Keep them stored in baggies or containers in the fridge so they’re always ready to eat.
Search Pinterest or the Internet to get ideas for “healthy school lunches”.
Buy reusable divided containers (like Ziploc’s Divided Rectangle) and pack a few day’s worth of lunches so they’re ready to grab from the fridge in the midst of the morning chaos.
4) Make it Fun!
Let’s get one thing straight — I am NOT the mother who sends a happy-face-shaped watermelon with googly berry eyes in my kids’ lunch! As much as I envy those domesticated women who can make a cucumber look like SpongeBob SquarePants, that is not me! But I do try to make lunches fun by using a few of the following simple tricks:
Foods with dips
veggies + Greek yogurt dressing
whole wheat pita + hummus
fresh fruit + yogurt
apple slices + almond butter
stackables: whole grain crackers + cheese slices + nitrite-free deli meat
lettuce leaves + tuna salad
veggie taco: mini tortilla + lettuce + tomato + shredded cheese
Think outside of PB&J
rice cake + natural peanut butter + raisins
Greek yogurt + low-sugar granola
rolled up whole wheat tortilla with cream cheese + nitrite-free deli meat
raw nuts trail mix + raisins + popcorn
5) Keep it Real
With our Monday to Thursday lunches being health-tastic, Friday became “Special Lunch Day”. One day a week where the boys could pick an out-of-the-ordinary lunch. Having a weekly treat helps keep all of us from feeling deprived and makes our regular healthy lunches even more enjoyable!
Finally, remember that good things take time. The positive outcomes of improving your family’s eating habits will serve you well into the future so don’t expect them to happen overnight! Make one small change at a time and when that becomes comfortable, move on to the next thing.