So with school well and truly back, I’m regularly contacted by anxious mums of kindi or prep kids who ‘won’t eat at school.’ So I thought I would share some of my ideas for preparing your toddler to be ‘lunch box ready.’ The day they start school will come around before you know it, so here are some tips to ensure it will be smooth sailing and they’ll be completely lunch box ready.
You only have to look inside a kids lunch box to understand that the industrialisation and commercialization of our food chain has a strong hold on this next generation. Combined with the peer pressure to conform to the processed food norm, convincing your kids to eat ‘real’ food at school or kindi can be a challenge. All the same, I can’t help but feel it’s such a shame that whole food lunch boxes are considered ‘hippy’ or just plain ‘weird’ and that ‘pack a packet’ lunch boxes are normal.
One thing I’ve noticed from consulting with patients and conversing online is that many kids who are generally not too fussy, become fussy when it’s time for them to eat independently (surrounded by classroom distractions) from a lunch box. So I thought I’d share some tips for preparing your toddler to be lunch box ready, which will make your life immeasurably easier come time that they start kindy or school.
1) Start now
If when you are out you feed your toddlers packets of food, then thats what they are going to expect their lunch boxes are full of when they start school. When my kids were little I regularly gave them raw or cooked vegetables in a container when we were out for the day, so they were fine with eating them at school when the time came.
So when you are out and about NOW, start packing a small lunch box of the sorts of things you want them to eat. Decide on what style of lunch containers suits best (lots of individual containers or a bento style box) and if possible allow them to open and shut it themselves. Also, start talking to them about the order they should eat foods. I taught my kids from an early age that the cut-up fruit and certain vegetables were best eaten early in the day (morning tea time). When they ignored me and then found that say a piece of cut-up fruit wasn’t so appealing when they went to eat it later in the day, I would again reinforce the need to eat it first-up. Even kids live and learn!
2) Get them used to eating ‘cold’ leftovers
One of the ways I make my lunches easy to make and really nourishing is to work with leftovers or cook ahead in batches. Unless your child has access to facilities to heat food, they will need to get used to eating cold food. I do use a thermos in winter to send some warm lunches, but mostly, my kids eat everything cold. I don’t and never have microwaved my kids foods, so unless I had time when they were little to heat it on the stovetop or oven, they ate it cold and I now know, this has helped them to eat anything that I pack. I know many kids who’s eating habits have deteriorated significantly since starting school, just because they aren’t used to raw or cold leftovers. A lot of parents are distressed by sending their kids with cold meat or leftovers, but trust me, this is way better than sending them with a ‘packet.’ It also allows for so much variety which is really important nutritionally, and also to keep them interested in eating well at school.
3) No surprises and set boundaries
Food boundaries and guidelines are really important, even when it come to eating from a lunch box. I’d always recommend that you don’t pack a ‘new’ food first up in a lunch box (trial it on a weekend), before packing it and expecting them to eat it independently.
I have set boundaries, even when they were little, that I expect them to eat what I pack. I don’t force them to eat something that’s say gone soggy, but what they don’t finish at lunch, they generally have after school. You need to get them used to eating what you’ve packed, so you won’t be doing them or yourself any favours if you jump to get them something else if they show displeasure as to what’s in their lunchbox. I’m not suggesting you force them to eat anything, rather talk to them about what’s in their lunch as you pack it, perhaps even offer a little choice e.g.; carrots or cucumber today? My kids always, even to this day, like to look at their lunch before they put it in their bag.
4) Offer a variety of foods
My kids get really bored if I feed them the same thing over and over again. Variety in their lunchbox not only keeps them interested, it also ensures they are deriving as many different nutrients, from as many different sources as possible. Feeding them the same things over and over really limits their potential to be truly nourished. Just remember – anything goes, don’t be constrained by fruit and a plain sandwich. You might like to join my Well Nourished (closed) Facebook group here – it’s a lovely community where so many ideas and recipes for feeding kids real foods are shared.
5) Get them involved
Kids are always more likely to eat what’s in their lunch box if they’ve had some say or involvement in making it. Even if it’s as simple as directing little ones to pack the fruit from the chopping block into the lunch box – it doesn’t need to be complicated. When my kids were little they loved flicking the switch (supervised of course) on the blender to make a smoothie; now that are older they make their own from scratch.
I hope this post gives you a few ideas to implement before school comes around. It is always best to prevent rather than fix, so hopefully these tips will have you both ready to tackle this next phase of your child’s development.
For more on what to do when you child wants what the other kids are having (i.e., packets of processed foods), click here.
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