By Mariam Mazhar
It’s back to school time already, summer flew by so fast! Thinking about the start of another academic year leaves some moms in a cold sweat and fills others with glee. These days my social media is chocking with lunch ideas, tips, planners, and charts, places to get the cutest lunch bags and fanciest containers and what not. Pinterest has some really neat and kids-approved lunch ideas as well. If you have the time and energy to be crafting animals and characters out of produce at 6 a.m. before your coffee instills power in your body, then hats off to you!
I am not a cooking expert neither am I a nutritionist, but as a teacher I get to see a variety of packed lunches every day. Some are cherished and gobbled down in a jiffy and some lunches are stared at dejectedly and put away in the cubby for ‘later’. I have seen some of the fanciest lunch boxes and nicely-crafted snacks and have opened the tightest thermoses. However, what matters most is how much is consumed by the child and how healthy it is.
I am not going to tell you how to make butterfly out of your sandwich or a rocket out of your fruits. I am just listing some ideas for moms about what kids would enjoy in a school setting and what snack is easy to hold and open in their mom’s absence.
School lunch time is limited
In most of the schools, kids get two nutrition breaks (15 minutes each) and 20 minutes for lunch. Make sure what you pack can be eaten within this time. Keep portions small, but offer several items.
Pack easy-to-eat and easy-to-open items that do not require special tools, especially for younger kids. Give them small yogurt container rather than yogurt tube that is hard to tear and tends to splatter all over. Yogurt drinks are good option too but do not forget to pack a straw with it.
Muffin liners work great to keep foods separated, you can use either paper ones or silicon ones. Remember, the tighter you pack their lunch box, the less likely things are to spill about and get messed up.
Keep it cold
For safety’s sake, pack lunch with a reusable ice pack. Better yet, freeze a small water bottle or box of 100% juice and pack that in the lunch bag instead of an ice pack. Your child will have a slushy drink to enjoy at lunch and won’t have to worry about bringing the ice pack home.
I know for a fact that the more veggies you pack in a lunch bag, the more there’d be thrown away! Vegetables are part of a healthy diet but they do not always appeal to little ones. Instead of school-time, do vegetable tasting at dinner time, when you are around. You will be able to monitor how much of a veggie your child likes and if it can be packed for lunch.
Include more whole foods and less processed foods. Choose lunch items with higher amounts of fiber and nutrients children need (like calcium, protein, and vitamins). Include fewer processed foods such as cookies, chips, and snack cakes, which have higher sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat.
Keep it fun
Include items that kids can stack or mix up to their taste when they eat. Remember that kids like to dunk, and include healthy dips with vegetables or other items. Cut foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters.
Love notes and treats
Kids love to know their parents support and appreciate them. Don’t forget to slip in a note every now and then. Just make a smiley on the napkin in your morning frenzy and toss it in.
A small nut-free candy or a piece of chocolate as a special treat is fine, but advise your child to finish lunch before diving into sweets. Lollipops and big chocolate bars are a big no-no.
Be aware of the nut-free policy in your school or any other allergens in the classroom and pack lunches accordingly.
Dairy and milk products are a vital component of growing bodies and minds. However keep in mind that dairy is not just milk. It is not advisable to send milk to school just because it might go bad if not taken within an hour. Instead send them with some other milk alternatives. Yogurt and cheese sticks are good and more fun options. If you still want your child to have some milk in school, ask your school if they have a milk program. Most schools do have a program where they provide your child with a small pack of milk every day at lunch time, for a small fee.
Drink it up!
Send them with more water, preferably in reusable bottles or flasks to keep them hydrated throughout the day. Avoid sugary juices and beverages at all costs.
Your child enjoyed last night’s dinner? Here’s a quick lunch idea for next day: wrap up leftovers with some salad and dip on side and put them between buns or bread slices.
Get a head-start
Get things ready the day before. Morning times are always a rush, it helps to prepare a night before and cuts down on morning lunch making time. Slice up vegetables or fruit at night, prepare any Jell-O etc.
Have a designated area in your kitchen where you keep all your lunch making supplies. Store all your plastic containers, disposable utensils, Ziplocs and insulated lunch bag in one cupboard for easy access.
Food advertising and your kids’ friends’ food choices will influence them. Remember that not all children go to school with lunch boxes filled with chips and lollies, despite what your children think and say. It is important to keep offering healthy lunch box choices in a variety of ways, as children learn to eat what is familiar to them. It may take time to change your child’s food preferences to healthier choices.
Have a fun and healthy school year mommies!
About the author:
Mariam Mazhar is a teacher by profession, with a passion for kids, cakes and creative writing.