At 10 P.M. you finally sit down to relax, when it hits you: You forgot to make your kids’ lunches. If only your kids would take over lunch-making duty. Well, why not?
“Even though kids at this age are capable of packing their own lunch, many aren’t doing it,” says Janet Nezon, a Toronto-based nutrition educator and founder of Rainbow Plate, which offers workshops and programs that engage and connect children and adults with real food. “Often, parents say their kids are too busy, or they worry that the lunch won’t be healthy.” But involving kids in food prep makes sense. “If they make their own lunches, they’re much more likely to eat them,” says Nezon. “Especially at this age, kids focus on weight and appearance. They want to fit in. Kids packing their own lunches are more likely to listen to their bodies’ cues about what they want to eat and how much.”
Lunch and learn
For the past few years, Ali’s two daughters have helped in the kitchen by preparing veggies and setting the table. So teaching her eldest, Sara, 10, how to tackle lunch prep was a natural progression, says the Ontario mom. Now, after dinner each night, the girls decide on lunch for the next day—something that cuts down on lunches returning uneaten. In the mornings, Ali helps her youngest while Sara packs a reusable container with her own lunch of soy butter on a bagel or dinner leftovers like sausages or lentil loaf. To round out the meal, Sara adds yogurt or cheese, veggies, fruit and water, and often a cookie.
“I’m surprised how quickly Sara learned to make good decisions,” says Ali. “Initially, she wanted to put in mostly chips and chocolate.” Jones admits shifting lunch-making duties does take effort though. “In the beginning it was a pain. Sara used to make a mess. It took extra time and energy to supervise and help.” While Ali still pitches in when asked, she thinks Sara will pack her own lunch completely independently by Grade 6. “It’s one less thing for me to do,” she says.
Despite the effort, the end results are worth it, notes Nezon. “Knowing how to eat well is something we need to model and to teach our kids,” she says. “We’re beginning the process of teaching our kids how to feed themselves. It is all about raising competent and independent kids.”
How to Get Started?
• Create a “lunches we love” binder or a Pinterest board together (check out our School Lunch Ideas Pin Board)
• Keep junk food buying to a minimum and make nutritious choices easy to grab
• Buy pre-cut veggies and fruit, or cut up your own ahead of time
• Pack lunches after dinner, when the food is still out and you are already in the kitchen
• Be a role model. Set out ingredients and make school and work lunches together
• Designate a cupboard or reachable drawer that is just for reusable containers