When I read articles on preparing healthy school lunches, I used to feel frustrated. My children were finicky eaters, and the typical suggestions did not work for our family. That didn’t (and doesn’t) stop me from trying, and I’ll include the cut up veggies, the hummus, and the pieces of fruit. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t come home mushy, neglected, and uneaten.
I have learned through the years that there are ways to provide healthy school lunches that are a bit off the beaten path. At least two of my children do not enjoy eating lunch at school. When they were in preschool, it worked out fine. They would eat their lunch when they came home at one o’clock. Once they entered full day school, it became more difficult. I found that when I packed a complete – or typical – lunch, most of it came home. When I packed a bunch of snacks, they would be consumed, tied my child over until the end of the day, and allow him to finish lunch after school at three o’clock.
Here are some ‘out of the (bento) box’ ideas for healthy lunches:
Muffins. I make muffins sweetened with apple juice that include carrots, zucchini, or beans.
Fruit Sticks. This is like candy for my children and you can purchase fruit bars that are made from all fruit – or you can make your own. Sometimes a stick or a bar is more fun to eat than the real thing.
Spreading and dipping. Not all my children enjoy hummus – or even dipping, for that matter. Some of them, however, will eat more of their lunch if I send crackers with cream cheese that they can spread themselves or peanut butter with celery. If I add some Enjoy Life chocolate chips, a few more sticks will be consumed.
Frozen yogurt tubes. When taken out of the freezer in the morning, they’ll still be nice and cold by the time lunch rolls around. While most yogurts are loaded with sugar, I choose an organic brand and consider it a treat.
If you have to stick in a little sugar – there are still ways to make better choices. Whole-wheat pretzels, chocolate chip cookies made with tofu, or a homemade version of a favorite store-bought treat might do the trick.
If your child is a macaroni and cheese fan, and you can’t seem to get her to eat anything else – try mixing some butternut squash into the macaroni and cheese. It’s easy to do when you buy organic baby food – you don’t have to spend time cooking the squash yourself.
I’d love to send my children to school with brown rice, cut up avocado, a dash of soy sauce, and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. But I know my beloved lunch would return home to me at the end of the day – as my children would not share the enjoyment I feel when served such a dish. When you have a really finicky eater, it requires some patience, creative genius, and willingness for flexibility. Do not be ashamed, and keep trying!