Kids lunchboxes are under a sort of continual scrutiny for some reason which is pretty hard for me to understand. From schools giving us weird guidelines such as kids needing a “grain” instead of a starch, to Instagram mommies boasting of their healthy, ornate, cultured bento boxes, it seems that what our children are munching on matters to absolutely everyone. And yet, the one thing we may be failing to consider is: this is our kids' lunch. It may sound silly, but between bending over backwards to comply to school lunch inspections and leaping to try and outdo celebrity kids' food, we are neglecting the central aspect of a lunchbox: putting together a healthy, wholesome, enjoyable meal which will keep our kids fueled all day long.
So how can we make sure that our kids are getting the very best, healthiest meal for their age, tastes, and activity levels? We've done some investigating, and these are the top five mistakes parents make when it comes to assembling a healthy and nutritious lunchbox.
1: “I don't have time to prep, just throw some chips in.”
When we are making a lunch box it can be very tempting to say “I don't have the time to do all that!” But this is actually an assumption we make based on seeing things like elaborate lunch boxes prepped for celebrity kids, or professional chef food. But a kid's meal does not need to be elaborate to be delicious and healthy. Your kid is not going to suffer, emotionally or mentally, if you don't give them hand-rolled sushi for lunch. So next time, instead of a pack of chips, “throw in” an apple, some roasted nuts, or even some finger-friendly leftovers.
2: Giving all our kids the same box.
I get it: if you do the same for everyone it's easier, nobody risks ending up with somebody else's lunch, and nobody can complain someone else got a different thing. But at different ages and with different lives, your 15-year-old artist will need a different lunchbox than your 8-year-old football superstar. This doesn't mean you need to make each kid a bespoke lunch! Just that you may give one kid one sandwich and the other two, or one kid some more pudding and the other some more protein. Just play around with the amounts.
3: Putting in “new, healthy, superfood treats.”
Another one we totally get! If the latest big thing has come out an it's apparently the healthiest food in the world, it can be so tempting to put it in Jr's lunchbox. But what if Jr doesn't like it? Of course, sometimes it can be better to go hungry than eat junk, but if there are plenty of healthy options, stick to what you know your kids like, to make sure they eat well. Try the experiments in the kitchen at home.
4: Giving them just what they ask for.
Kids may know what they want, but they have no clue what they need. We all know not to give our kids a sugary drink for their lunch, but when it comes to other things we often cede to them as the experts. But if we know for sure that they will eat half an apple, but a whole banana, then why do we agree to give them the apple? Combine their wants with your knowledge of them, to make sure they get everything they need.
5: Not paying enough attention to kids' fads and trends.
This one is much less obvious, but just as important. Many of our kids will not eat a food which has been condemned by their friends, and will relish a food which their friends enjoy. Therefore, if you want your kid to eat a whole, healthy lunchbox, then you need to pay attention to which foods they would be ashamed or proud to drag out in the cafeteria. If the kids have all decided, because of a cartoon, that eggs are smelly and terrible, then a hard-boiled egg may go uneaten. On the other hand, if a superhero's favorite food is tuna sandwiches, then everyone may want one.
By working with your kid's wants and needs, you can make sure that they get the best lunchbox for them, even if it isn't the best lunchbox for Instagram.
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.