Thinking Outside the Lunchbox

Ten-year-old Annie is extremely social. Because she’s chatting with her friends, she rarely finishes her school lunch. After her mom noticed food returning in her lunchbox, she warned Annie to stop talking so much during the lunch break and “to eat her lunch!” Food did stop coming home. Regrettably, after their talk, in order to avoid a scolding, Annie began to throw away the uneaten portions of her lunch.

How do you convince your child to eat the lunch you send to school? This is a real dilemma for moms, who are concerned about developing healthy eating habits in their children. The answer could be as simple as adjusting the amount of food included. A half a sandwich, with the other items in a lunch bag, might be all that a six-year-old can consume during the time allotted.

Since parents have no real control of what their kids eat at school, I suggested that Annie’s mom have another talk with her. She should once again explain the necessity of eating the lunch prepared for her. Her mom assured her that she wouldn’t be punished if she didn’t eat all of her lunch. Annie should do her best to eat during the lunch break and bring home what’s left over—that way mom will know exactly how much food was consumed. For the child who isn’t eating much of her lunch, control what you can at home. Pack fewer items, so that less food will be wasted. Prepare a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast full of protein and whole grains. Make sure your child’s after-school snack is a mini-meal.

Trading Food

Eight-year-old Joey trades parts of his nutritious lunch for the junk food his mom isn’t packing. Trading is also outside of parents’ control. Sometimes children won’t ‘fess-up to their trading food in order to avoid discipline. Affirm how much you love your child and the benefits of the food you’re including in his lunch bag. Discuss with your child the reasons why junk food is unhealthy might help some. Provide nutritious yummy treats will help more. Again control what you can at home. After school snacks should be healthful.

Repetitive Lunches

Many times kids don’t eat their lunches out of plain boredom. PB&J can be tolerated only so many times. Adjust your thinking to nutrients, not sandwiches. Healthy snacks can become yummy lunches. Many times appealing lunches involve “planned-overs.” That’s making enough of something for dinner for a “planned-over” lunchbox item.

Think Outside the Lunchbox

Exciting lunches happen when you “think outside the lunchbox!” Try something different than the traditional PB&J sandwich. For variety, make an almond butter and banana sandwich cut into a fun shape with a cookie cutter. Don’t forget a “planned-over” sandwich with meatballs and sauce or meatloaf on a whole-grain roll. Get creative with BLT (use turkey bacon) and egg, chicken, or tuna salad sandwiches on whole-grain bread. Draw a funny face on a hardboiled egg.

Include yummy lunchbox sides: Chopped nuts, cheese sticks, granola, popcorn, homemade oatmeal or peanut butter or pumpkin cookies, raisins, lunchbox sized applesauce, energy bar (check the sugar content), and add fun fruit like kiwi or carambola/star fruit.

Food Safety

Always, wash fruit and pack lunches with a cold pack to avoid harmful bacteria growth. Lunchbox leftovers aren’t always edible. Most food returned home should be used to gauge the amount consumed at school. If your child takes a lunchbox, rather than a paper bag, to school remember to wash it out after each use.

Alternatives to the Sandwich

  1. Hardboiled egg and whole-grain muffin. For the younger child, practice cracking and peeling eggs at home.
  2. Tuna in 3 ounce can and a small plastic container with Italian dressing. Show him at home how to take the tuna out of the small can and mix it in the container with the dressing. You may have to practice opening a pull-top can, using the plastic fork as leverage.
  3. Apple, carrot, and raisin salad
  4. Veggie sticks and a dip
  5. Brown rice salad with bite-sized chicken pieces
  6. 3-grain salad with barley, brown rice, and corn
  7. Cold slice of pizza
  8. Small cheese ball with whole-grain crackers
  9. Chicken wings or a drumstick
  10. 3-bean salad (if you purchase this ready-made, be sure sugar isn’t listed in the ingredients)
  11. Any green salad; pack dressing separately
  12. Sliced apples and peanut or almond butter. Send the nut butter in a separate container for dipping. Add whole-grain crackers or a whole-grain muffin.
      About the author: Nonna Joann Bruso is a speaker and the author of "Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater." "Baby Bites" is a guide for parents of Picky Eaters that actually works. In only 7 days, your finicky child will be tasting new foods! For more information on how multi-sensory learning will catapult your picky eater to loving nutritious foods go to: