Written By: Elizabeth Elam, MS, RD, LDN
Whether your child takes their lunch or purchases it at school, there’s always the lingering question, “What is my child really eating for lunch?” Do you open the lunchbox at the end of the day to find the sandwich and yogurt remain but the ships and snickers are gone? Perhaps you ask your child, “Did you enjoy your lunch today,” and you get the response, “No, I traded with Billy.” So, you think, ‘What did Billy have?!’ Or maybe you’re weary of the school lunch line. No matter your lunchtime conundrum, below are 5 tips that can assist you in helping your child make better choices at lunch.
1. Set Your Expectations
You don’t want to be controlling, but setting your expectations can help guide their choices. Let your child know that you expect them to eat most of their food at lunchtime. It’s helpful to pack 4-5 options from different food categories (for example: yogurt, apple, sandwich, carrots and dip, and a dessert) in the lunchbox and encourage them to choose 2-3. Giving them a choice is empowering!
2. Connect the Dots
When communicating your expectations to your child, provide some reasoning. Help him understand that his attention and memory work best with a brain and body that’s fueled properly. Grades, mood, energy level, and even athletic performance can be highlights in the conversations.
3. Involve Your Child
The more involved your child is in their food preparation, the more likely they are to eat it. Set time aside to teach them to make their own sandwich. Ask them to look in the fridge to pick their fruit, vegetable and dairy option. If your child will be purchasing food at school that day, review the menu that morning and have them tell you what they will be purchasing. Offer guidance and recommendations to create better balance, if needed.
4. Plan Ahead
Every school has either a printed menu that the child brings home or one posted on the school website. Hang the menu on the fridge at home for easy access. At the beginning of the week, review the menu with your child to determine which days he will buy and take his lunch, depending on his or her preferences. Planning gives you a better idea or how much food to purchase for lunch-box packing and ensures that your child gets a balanced meal each day.
5. Discuss Trade Offs
Tradeoffs are a normal part of the school lunch routine. However, you don’t want your child trading their PB&J for a pudding cup! Discuss what’s called the “same-same rules” to ensure an even swap. A sandwich for a sandwich, fruit for fruit, dessert for dessert – and so on.
When it’s all said and done, your child has the last say in what they eat for lunch. Set your child up for success by explaining what you expect and why and involving them in planning and preparation.