Creative ideas for school lunches – Part 1

By Tamara Mafilika Time of article published Jan 9, 2021

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There’s no doubt about it, back-to-school planning looks a whole lot different this year. In the past, our only concern was shopping for school stationery, and picking up tissues and toilette paper to satisfy school supply lists without worrying about product shortages.

Packing a healthy lunch is not only important for your child’s physical growth, but it can help them stay focused – mentally and emotionally sharp. The paradox is that the lunches might come back home barely touched. As frustrating as this can be (are my children not hungry, why don’t they eat?), there are steps you can take to increase the chances that your child will eat the lunch you pack.

Here are some creative ideas for lunches from that might make the meal appealing for kids, as well as some general tips for encouraging them to eat lunch.

Play chef: Let your child help you build the menu for their lunches. Having them come up with ideas (within reason) for what to include builds buy-in, excitement and pride, which encourages them to eat what's in there. Some kids will be motivated by making a chart where they choose their own meal rotation for the week.

Assign lunch-packing duty: In addition to having your child plan the menu, assign them the job of actually putting the items into their lunchbox. Not only is this a great opportunity to teach your child responsibility, independence, and basic meal preparation skills, but it might incentivise your child to eat what's in there.

Give specific options: Children can get overwhelmed with indefinite choices. It can help if you give them specific choices for each category of their lunch. For example, let them pick between a ham, cheese or nut butter sandwich for their main course; carrot sticks or cucumber for the veggie; and chocolate or gummies for sweets.

Use cut-outs: Sandwich cutters in fun designs are a parent's best friend. That ham and cheese sandwich might be more likely to be scarfed down if the sandwich is cut into a dinosaur, flower or star. Alternatively, you can keep it simple by cutting a sandwich into a fun shape or multiple small pieces using a knife.

Think small serving sizes: Big portions can be intimidating for little tummies and fingers. Aim to pack just how much of the foods they would typically eat. Check with them and observe what they eat all of or leave behind.

Don't overpack: It may be tempting to overstuff your child’s lunchbox with a big sandwich, full-size yoghurt, several snacks, and a big cup of fruit. Young primary school (and older) children are often too busy chatting with friends to eat so many items at lunch, and most don’t eat huge meals in one sitting in any setting. Too much can actually make it harder for your child to tell what’s in the lunchbox or bag.

Test new options on the weekends: Pasta salad with olives and feta? Cucumbers with cherry tomatoes and a barbecue dipping sauce? What about tuna and avocado rolled in a flaxseed wrap? Weekend lunches are the perfect time to try out different school lunch ideas to see what your child likes and doesn't like.

Avoid big surprises: Last but not least, variety is good, but the school lunchbox isn’t the time to try out a new recipe or food that your child isn’t familiar with. Dinner is a better opportunity to encourage children to try something new, because you’re there to eat it with them and talk about it.

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