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Preschool Packed Lunches

Posted by felicity Sunday, September 02, 2012

So your little one is starting preschool and for the first time you’re sending in a packed lunch. When you were little it probably wasn’t uncommon to be sent with a sandwich filled with some awful paste (and a token slice of cucumber), a packet of crisps and a Capri-sun. How things have changed! Children’s packed lunches are being scrutinised everywhere to ensure they’re nutritionally balanced, and so the pressure is on for you as a parent to get it right.

Is My Lunchbox Healthy?

Have you seen Parenting.com’s healthy lunchbox maker? You can drag and drop the ingredients in your child’s lunchbox and watch the nutritional information pop out at the other end! However, you can waste quite a while on this and at the end of the day, only get a bunch of numbers that mean very little; so instead why not spend the time reading on....!
We know that every parent probably worries about whether their child’s lunchbox is healthy enough, particularly because your child’s lunch is now seen in public every day for the first time. So here are some tips - some for your lunchbox and some for you!

Don’t spend too much time worrying 

Don’t get too caught up in trying to create The Perfect Lunchbox. It’ll mean you end up worrying too much about what goes in it every day, and you may then end up worrying about whether it all gets eaten. If you invest too much in this, you may find yourself getting needlessly stressed, which won’t help. Many mums find themselves worrying about what their child is eating at each meal, when considering nutritional intake at each meal in isolation matters a lot less than what your child eats over a day, and even over a week.

Don’t send foods you HOPE they will eat

We hear from preschool teachers that children are being sent in with foods they won’t eat at home in the desperate hope that they will eat it at preschool. On one hand you’re right, they are more likely to eat a food when sitting among peers who are also eating it, as they want to fit in.  Also, there really will be no alternative to the lunch you have provided – no sneaky bowl of yogurt or pack of pom-bears to make sure they have something. On the other hand, just because your child eats the food when among peers doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly eat it at home, so you probably will not actually be solving the problem. It just means that their need to be included was bigger than their need not to eat the food, when surrounded by their peers. You can use strategies to exploit this social need at home, but you need to do the work.

Understand your important role

As a parent, your child looks to you for reassurance that what they are eating is safe and they trust you more than anyone else. This goes back to Neanderthal times, when it might have been unsafe to eat certain berries so a healthy distrust of new foods served a child well. An older, wiser, trusted person would have played an important role in helping them eat the safe food and avoid dangerous ones. With this in mind, your child doesn’t have the same relationship with their teacher as they do with you. Therefore, the preschool dining room is not the place for a relative stranger, who cannot spend repeated time one to one with them, to undertake the task of helping your child become familiar with a new food.

Reframe a problem as an opportunity to help your child

The best way to really change your child’s attitude towards a particular food is undoubtedly to help them become familiar with it yourself, in a safe environment, with lots of time and patience. If your child isn’t eating a food at home, ask yourself what you can do to help change things? What is the problem here? Is it about lack of familiarity or is it about something else (e.g. using the food to exert their will)? How can you help them with this problem? When you work out how to help them and it works, it’ll have a positive impact on your confidence, your self-esteem as a mother and the trust between you and your child. It will also promote a dynamic of collaboration and unity between you, instead of resistance.

Be realistic

When you do your weekly shop, sit down and plan your lunchboxes for the week and more importantly WHEN you are going to prepare them. It’s all very well planning a fabulous gourmet each day but if you’re juggling other children or work, your enthusiasm will probably wane and you’ll resort to the same old stuff. Then you set yourself up for feeling like a failure. So don’t do it to yourself - be realistic.

Plan a Week of Lunches In Advance

Your little one should be eating different foods on different days to prevent boredom. Exposing them to a variety of foods will expand their tastes. A healthy lunchbox should ideally contain protein, carbohydrates, dairy and fruit / vegetables. Don't fret if you can't get all of these into a single box, though. Your child can make up deficiencies in other meals and snacks if necessary when they get home or at breakfast time. Remember, it’s what your child eats over a day, or even a week, that matters.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Variety can simply mean sending in a sandwich on Monday, stuffed Pitta on Tuesday and a Wrap on Wednesday – this is variety and keeps your lunchbox interesting. The key to keeping your child’s interest and to having a better chance of your lunch being eaten is to use your imagination when it comes to the foods you offer. Would you want to eat the same thing, day in and day out, all the time? You want your child to be interested in eating the food you send – food is the fuel for your baby’s developing brain and body and if the tank is running on empty it will run poorly. So don’t let boredom get in the way of your goal – aim for increasing curiosity instead. However, repetition is also good to some extent, and familiarity is also one of the keys to getting your food eaten - so aim to rotate a variety of lunches involving familiar foods rather than giving your child something completely new to eat in their lunchbox.

Send in the food in an accessible, edible format

If your little one can’t peel an orange, then send it already peeled. If you know the cherries need deseeding and halving, then do it beforehand. Make sure the food you are sending requires very little adult intervention or supervision, and make it friendly for little hands to pick up and enjoy at their own pace. If you do this, you’re maximising your child’s opportunities to make decisions and act on them, and this will build confidence. You’re also maximising your child’s opportunities to interact with food unimpeded. If an adult has to ‘interrupt’ this process by taking the food away to peel it, for example, just as your child has picked it up, then they are getting in the way of your child’s learning process by exerting a level of control – you want to give your child maximum control here.

Use Leftover Dinner as Lunch to Save Time

Make your life easier whenever you can. If you plan your dinners as well as your lunches, you can get clever and kill two birds with one stone. For example, our Tortilla Tapas recipe works great as a hot dinner served with salad as well as cold in the lunchbox a day or two later. 
 Image courtesy of frredigitalphotos.net

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Thank you x