Back to School
“How was lunch for you today, Zane?” I asked my nine-year old foodie, secretly praying that I passed his very exacting taste. He looked at me and said, “Horrible mom, just horrible. Sorry, but chicken and salad don’t go together. I opened the box and all I could smell was balsamic vinegar! And there was lettuce in my chicken!” I was disappointed with the harsh feedback, but made a mental note to place the grilled chicken and the side salad in two separate Tupperware containers, and use a milder dressing.
I think I speak for all moms when I say that a major cause of back to school anxiety that comes in right after making sure your child completes his homework is the mindboggling question of what to pack for lunch. This is a favorite topic of discussion at school drop offs, pickups and chance meetings at the grocery store. We peer surreptitiously into each other’s shopping carts looking for inspiration into that breakthrough meal that will put an end to all boring meals. So after many failed lunch boxes, I decided to institute meaningful change. This was my four-pronged game plan:
Getting Them Involved
My three kids have been my source of creativity – after all I was packing lunch to suit their needs. We had a very productive brainstorming session where they proposed their desired food options. I told them that their choices had to be both healthy and delicious, and this is what they came up with: hummus dip with veggies; edamame; Greek quinoa salad without tomatoes; rice cakes; bagels with cream cheese; roasted chicken drumsticks; chicken escalope; fruit salad; watermelon cubes; and chicken quesadillas.
Cutting the Sugar
We also made a pact to try Lisa Leake’s “100 days of Real Food”, but with an allowance for weekend cheat days. It was heartbreaking for me to hide all their favourite packaged snacks and I was labelled the ‘meanest mom on earth’ when I told them they had to say goodbye to Oreo cookies, the extra-large Nutella jar, and the Biscoff Lotus spread. I knew that the only way I was going to win them over was by involving them in the baking process and tempting them with made-from-scratch goodies. What I pack in their lunchbox now instead are: banana and date, or apple cinnamon muffins, cheese and tomato quiches, and carrot bread. But they’re always open for new recipes!
Limiting their Choice
I also discovered around breakfast time that when you don’t give your kids too many options to choose from they are much more likely to eat their food – and enjoy it! With that in mind, I slowly replaced our white whole-meal bread with protein bread rich in fiber and grains, and I exchanged our white basmati rice with brown rice. But until now I haven’t dared tamper with the pasta. The kids resisted the change at first, but then one night I saw them miraculously finishing their plates of brown rice.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve done is over-pack their lunchbox, worried that they might starve at school. I know now that this will never happen! I’ve also found that it’s more important to mimic your child’s personality and eating habits at home; they will not suddenly become different eaters at school. Just enough food is best so they can still have a proper meal when they arrive home. Make sure also that the lunchbox is colourful and offers a balance of protein, fruit, vegetables and carbs.