As parents we tie ourselves into knots just thinking about what to pack our children for a mid day meal, and when the hours spent agonizing in the grocery and kitchen yield an end of the day lunch bag with everything still inside, or worse, nothing inside, did they eat the lunch or toss it? We panic!
Packing a lunch for school, school age programs or summer camp does not have to be stressful. Yes, lunch box contents sometimes have to stand on their heads and do a dance to draw children’s attention away from their lunchtime friends, but for the most part children do eat their packed lunches. But to get the most out of the mid day meal here is a fresh perspective from a both a teacher and a parent of two school age children.
THE PICKY EATER
· First of all, don’t worry. What children turn their noses up at home will probably get gobbled down in care. Even the fussiest eater will succumb to peers eating beside them. Normal, healthy children won't starve themselves - even though it's fun to have adults believe they'll waste away to nothing if they don't get MacDonald's 24/7. If your child refuses breakfast, don't fuss; they will probably eat a snack and/or lunch during the course of the day. Most childcare programs and summer camps offer two nutritious snacks.
· If your child has allergies or food sensitivities, make sure they know the rule that most childcare centres and schools have: Your lunch is your own. Food from home is something we don't share. Always update the childcare if your child develops allergy or food sensitivity. Some children with food sensitivities can tolerate a little bit of something: eggs for example, one day but react to the ice cream that is served the next day. Try to review program menus as often as possible and find out what goes into certain recipes. Some cooks use eggs in mashed potatoes.
· In a child's lunch box is a mother's love. This Chinese proverb, though well meaning, can have parents packing lunches big enough to feed an army. Small quantities of a variety of foods is perfect for most children, and the chopped grapes, orange segments, celery and carrots sticks, or cheese chunks that don’t get eaten at lunchtime will be of great value at recess or after school during the ride home.
THE LIGHT EATER
· If your child is a light eater, packing a variety of lunch foods works here too. Reassure your child that they do not have to eat everything you pack. This will cut down on lunchtime anxiety for children prone to worry. Some children, especially kindergarten age can become quite anxious when the other children finish eating and they are still working on their sandwich.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
· Lunchtime in group care can run anywhere between 15 - 45 minutes. Try to pack a lunch that matches the allotted time. Pack things in easy to open containers, unbreakable thermoses, or snack baggies. This keeps children independent.
HINTS AND IDEAS:
· BE CREATIVE but don’t overdo it. Putting fruit juice in thermoses and soup in sealed cups is a great motivator to get children to eat them. Just make sure the teacher knows that there has been a switch to avoid having the juice heated and the soup served cold. Don't roll your eyes, it has happened.
· AVOID SENDING CANNED LUNCHES: beans, spaghetti-o's or Kraft dinner that teachers would have to prepare before serving. Boxed and canned foods are wonderful choices for lunch, and many children enjoy them, but please prepare them ahead of time and store them in a microwave able container. Teachers have limited time to heat up lunches during one of the busiest times of the day.
· PUT A WET WASHCLOTH IN a zip lock bag and freeze over night. Put it into the lunch bag to keep things cold. As it melts it doubles as a great clean up wipe for hands and face.
· FREEZE FRUIT JUICE IN ICE CUBE TRAYS. Put orange juice in a drink container along with a few fruit juice ice cubes. Children can shake up the melted ice cubes in the container for fruit punch by lunchtime.
· LABEL EVERYTHING! Lunch bags and containers arrive in lunchrooms by the dozen. Label, label, label. Imagine twenty children, all with heated lunches in clear plastic containers.