My youngest son is starting kindergarten this year. As a dietitian, I know that a healthy lunch will provide him with the energy he needs to thrive at school. But as a mom of two, I realize that sending children out the door with a kid-approved meal can be a challenge. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few strategies to make this parenting milestone a bit easier.
For kindergarten-age kids, I recommend bento-style lunch boxes. These kits are fun—once the lid is open, everything is accessible—and they make it possible for you as a parent to whip up a Pinterest-worthy meal (if that’s your goal!). Silicone baking cups make colourful dividers if you need more compartments. A leak-proof water bottle that is easy to open is a must. Twist caps are challenging for little hands, so I recommend a pop-up lid and a straw, like the Thermos FUNtainer.
Start serving lunch in their lunch boxes in the summer. Try out everything that they will be using at school—the containers, snack packs, water bottle and lunch bag. Set a time frame for the meal. Most schools provide 15 to 30 minutes for lunch. The goal is to make sure your kids can unpack and open their food as well as tidy everything up at the end of the meal by themselves. Working on these skills at home will go a long way to help kids feel confident and eat better when they are distracted, have limited one-to-one adult support, and are time-crunched.
A weekly lunch and snack schedule eliminates the stress of wondering what to pack the night before or during the morning rush. Many kids don’t love opening their lunch box to a “surprise” meal, so having a planned menu may increase food acceptance. Bonus points if you involve your child. Even young kids can brainstorm lunch and snack ideas. Having them help with simple food prep on the weekend—like portioning snacks, washing fruit and cutting up vegetables—not only makes packing lunches easier but encourages them to interact with the food ahead of time, which, in turn, may lead to them actually eating these foods when they show up in their lunch box.
Parents often ask me how much variety they should be providing. For many kids, the simpler, the better. It is OK if you offer pretty much the same lunch regularly, just try and mix up some of the sides or snacks. Always include one favourite food item your kid will eat if hungry. Focus on whole foods that are minimally processed as these will have more staying power. Ideally lunches are made up of 1 to 3 ounces of protein (tofu, dairy, meat, fish, legumes), 1 to 2 slices of bread or 1/2 cup grains, some fat (avocado, yogurt, pumpkin seeds, mayonnaise, margarine), and a few pieces of fruit and/or vegetables. Try not to get too hung up on what your kids “should” be eating.
This story was originally published in 2020.