Back in the 90s, Staples, the office supply store, released one of the best TV commercials for the Back to School shopping season.
In the commercial, Dad is dancing joyously through the store to the Christmas song, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, while his morose children follow behind, frowning glumly as he happily tosses notebooks, pencil sharpeners and other school necessities into his shopping cart.
The message is clear: it’s now time for them to return to school. In addition to supplies, sustenance must be considered. After a long summer, what will they eat for their school lunches? Needs and tastes change with each approaching year. So each new school year offers new challenges and new opportunities.
As parents, we want them to get the best start possible for their day, week and school year. We all remember the mantra; breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It has not gone out of style. True, as adults, many of us choose not to eat anything first thing in the morning. Sometimes our appetites kick in around mid-morning. But small bodies and developing brains need nutrition before they leave for school.
And breakfast is something we have a little more control over, since they are eating it in our presence. Fruit, oatmeal, eggs, and frozen waffles all work for filling small tummies.
Lunch is a little more of a challenge, for obvious reasons.
Here are some tips to get kids to eat well at noon during their school lunches.
- Take your children grocery shopping with you and allow them to pick out those items they (think) they will eat. If they make the decision instead of you, they may be more likely to honor their own choice.
- Choose color when shopping. It’s no mistake that toy stores and products are lush with wild colors. Children respond to this and are more likely to indulge in different colored foods than something that is monochromatic.
- Try to design a colorful, nutritious lunch with a combination of the following:
- Fruit (cut in small wedges)
- Vegetables (sweet red bell pepper strips, peeled carrots or zucchini rounds with ranch dressing or a tasty dipping sauce)
- Whole grain bread, bagel or pita chips
- Protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds)
- Dairy products (cheese or yogurt)
- Consider sandwiches without bread in their school lunches. Try bagels, tortilla wraps and pita pockets.
- For kids that don’t have nut allergies, the time-trusted PB&J is still noteworthy. However, other wonderful nut butters are on the market. Try Sunflower Seed Butter and orange marmalade or Almond Butter with honey and thin green apple slices.
- For kids that really detest vegetables, mince them finely in a mini-processor and mix them into these various nut butters for the crunch that young people love.
- Cheese and fruit has always been a classic dessert for adults: Why not for kids?
- Layer thin slices of Gouda cheese cut in quarters with sliced smoked turkey and thin fresh pear slices.
- Roll diced pineapple in a slice of ham. Roll again in a spinach or whole-wheat tortilla and secure in plastic wrap.
- Slice a sweet Persian cucumber into rounds and top with pepperoni slices and Jack cheese.
- Layer pita chips with salami or turkey, top with cheese slices and sprinkle with diced spinach or carrots.
- Try including dipping sauces such as ranch dressing, applesauce, hummus or salsa.
- Children love finger foods (chicken strips!), so put their small digits to work by cutting sandwiches into circles and triangles with cookie cutters.
In other words, adults can often take what they enjoy having for snacks and lunch and simply redesign for their child’s healthy school lunches. Also, the internet remains a terrific resource for creative ideas in feeding children.
In closing, we may have neglected pre-teens and teenagers:
Those lunch answers are easy: pizza and burgers.
That’s it. Really…until they grow up a little, and start developing a taste for those detestable foods they were forced to eat when they were very young (read: lima beans, peas, etc.)
Until then, as parents, we still have (a little) control.