Do you know what I remember most about my packed lunch as a kid? Besides the plastic Care Bears lunch box with matching thermos, I vividly remember the handwritten notes that my Mom used to add. That’s it. I can’t remember a single other thing about what I ate. If my sandwich was cut into a heart shape (which I’m confident it wasn’t), if the crust was cut off my favorite peanut butter and jelly or if a bologna sandwich was hiding inside that box, guess what? I couldn’t tell you. The only single thing I remember, aside from the cute chubby bears on the box, is a note from my Mom.
I am not clear at what point a six-year old’s lunch box became a work of art (probably the year Pinterest was launched), but what I am clear on is that it’s too much for me. In the words of Heather Land and her Snapchat filtered voice with ginormous teeth, “I ain’t doin’ it!” And you don’t have to either. I’m giving you permission. That should be at the bottom of your worry list. It is definitely at the bottom of mine!
Do you know the things that used to creep to the top of my Mom Worry List? Specific to packing lunches, things like “are her lunches big enough or too big?”, “is she throwing away food at school?”, and “is she getting enough fruits and veggies?”. Clearly, I worry a lot. If these were my worries, I’ll go out a limb and guess that you can relate to these worries too. Keep reading to see if our worries are valid? And how I worked through them.
Is she throwing away food at school? Are her lunches big enough? Too big?
No, yes, and no. How do I know? Because I asked her. We talk a lot in our house about wasting food and I’ve asked my daughter if she packed food she doesn’t want to eat (or have time to eat), please leave it in her lunch box so I can see. This should make it easy to spot any patterns. I did notice she was bringing home her chocolate milk quite often with several ounces left. After a few times, we talked about it and decided water might be a better option. That way, not only is the milk not getting wasted but neither is the plastic bottle. She’s already taking a water bottle to school daily anyway. #problemsolved
When it comes to lunch size, again, we talk. My only rule for packed lunches is that they must contain a food from each food group. BONUS: This is an easy way to teach food groups (and portions). This year, as a third grader, she packs her own lunch. I asked her to let me know if her lunches aren’t the right size and explained we can always add more or make smaller portions. Easy peasy. My favorite saying to her about food is “listen to your body”. At this point she knows what her body needs in terms of portion sizes and I rarely see food come back home.
My golden rule for lunches “pack a food from each food group” has also helped with the next question.
Is she getting enough fruits and veggies?
Let’s start with veggies. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans , which provides guidance for choosing a healthy diet, the U.S. population as a whole does not meet the recommended servings of vegetables per day. I’m not talking just kids, I’m talking ALL OF US. So, this question is a valid worry. Back to kids, vegetable intake is lowest among boys ages 9-13 and girls ages 14-18. My golden rule for lunches “pack a food from each food group” will only help if I buy items my daughter likes and if she packs them. The solve here, and every lunch isn’t perfect, was creating a list of foods she loves from each group and always having those on hand. The list helps me know what to buy each week and it helps guide her on what to pack. If you’re interested in giving this a try, I created a list here to get you started. You can put it right on the fridge (that’s where we keep ours) and I added a blank page, so you can let your child personalize it! TIP: As the school year progresses and they get tired of some of the same things, challenge them to add some new things to the list. Maybe a “Try it Tuesday” or something to help encourage new things.
When it comes to fruits, kids ages 1-8 are on average ARE meeting the recommended number of fruits per day, although part of this accomplishment is from drinking juice. Fruit intake is lowest among girls ages 14-18 (and adults). According to the Dietary Guidelines, most of us (kids and adults) would benefit from increasing our intake of whole fruits. In other words, skip the juice. Whole fruits provide fiber and are more filling. To help with this worry, besides applesauce, the Stewart Lunch Box contains a fresh fruit on days when lunches are packed. (see our list for ideas mentioned above) If you are afraid of wasting fresh fruit, canned fruit (canned in juice) or frozen fruit thawed out will do just fine.
Side bar, if you’re worried about buying organic versus conventional (which could likely be a whole other blog post), my quick advice is first to do what you feel is right for your family and next know that increasing your kids’ intake of fruits and vegetables is encouraged (no matter what type you choose) to improve health and prevent disease. I personally buy conventional produce. Conventional produce fits our budget and is nutritionally identical to organic produce. A quick site visit to Safe Fruits & Veggies will give you science-based information about produce safety, supported by facts (not fear)!
I hope you’ve marked a few things off your worry list and found some great resources. Involving your kids is the best way to ensure they are eating what's packed and enjoying what's packed, because it's not nutrition, until it's consumed!
Adding a sweet note or a fun joke is a great way to make their lunch memorable (it worked for my Mom!). If you're creative juices aren't flowing and you need some lunch box love ideas, try a fruit or veggie joke or check out Happiness is Homemade for some other inspiration! Here are a few more resources:
Thanks so much for stopping by! I enjoy sharing tips that may help your family. It gives me #allthefeels. As always, feel free to share things that work for you!