Imagine a world where your child packs a healthy lunch every morning all by themselves while you sip your coffee and congratulate yourself for your awesome parenting success.
This dream can be your reality. Seriously. It happened at my house.
My kids are 8 and 12, which means that we’ve packed thousands of lunches over the years. At first it was exciting. Everything about kindergarten is exciting. But then, year after year, they started getting sick of the same handful of options, and yet they were unwilling to try anything new. In fact, it seems like I’m always hearing about things they used to like but are no longer willing to eat. Wrong direction. Sigh.
To make matters worse, my kids are not sandwich kids. This is probably my fault. I’m not a sandwich person either, though I do remember happily eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bag of doritos, and an orange soda every day for lunch when I was a kid. Actually, my kids would probably happily eat that lunch. But my standards for a healthy lunch are very different than what my mom’s were back in the ’70s.
Last year, we took our first important step towards solving this problem. I fought the bento box lunch for years, because I associated them with adorable shaped sandwiches and hand carved fruit pieces that creative moms posted about on Pinterest. This lunch is gorgeous, and not something that would ever come out of my kitchen:
(If you love this, feel free to go see Alpha Mom where you can learn how to do this yourself)
Eventually, though, I realized that if my kids weren’t going to eat sandwiches, a bento box might be perfect for us, and I didn’t have to ever take a picture of it and show anyone the hodge podge we create.
So I bought (and we love) these yumboxes:
I picked this brand because my kids sometimes take pretty wet, goopy things, and this one seems great for being spill proof.
The kids used their yumboxes all last year, and it was generally a huge success. We didn’t have to think of a sandwich they would eat, we just needed to come up with a good variety of foods that they liked and put them together to make a healthy lunch.
The real brainstorm came, though, when I made them a lunch box checklist. This editable list is wonderful for three reasons.
Awesome Reason #1
The first didn’t come as a complete surprise. My kids now know how to ensure their lunch is healthy. They just have to pick one item from each category. We had already been steering them towards healthy lunches, but we had to be there watching to make sure the 4 compartments didn’t get filled with:
- a bagel
- goldfish crackers
- a hershey kiss
Seriously – my youngest thought that was a balanced lunch because it was different shades of orange/brown… or something. I don’t know.
Now, with his checklist, he puts a different category of food in each compartment, and only takes one starch each day. In fact, he knows he’s allowed to take extra fruit and veggies if he wants, so he often actually does. He also talks a lot now about what foods have protein in them, which ones are starches, and he’s super excited to know how to “do it right” by keeping it balanced.
Awesome Reason #2
This one was a surprise to me, though it probably shouldn’t have been. It turns out that I am the keeper of all information about the contents of the refrigerator. I know what goes in, what comes out, what is too old to eat but hasn’t been thrown away yet, what is slated for a meal later in the week and shouldn’t go in a lunch box, etc. But no one else knew all of this, so they dealt with it by asking me (every morning. for years on end), “What should I take for lunch today?”.
With the lunch box checklist, I can create a new list each week to include items I know are in the refrigerator and available for lunches.
We took this one step farther at our house, too, and spent time brainstorming what foods in each category the kids would actually eat. I use the list of things they’ll eat to inform my shopping each week, and I come home from the grocery store confident that the things I’ve bought won’t go to waste because they’re things my kids actually like.
If we do run out of something during the week, I can just cross it off the list (or the kids can, when they use the last of something!).
So now, the kids can look at the list and know what their choices are without having to put me through a daily inquisition.
Which brings me to the last, related awesome reason:
Awesome Reason #3
The list serves as a reminder of all the great options that all of us, including me, have forgotten about.
Although we knew at one point in time that my younger son likes to take cold edamame to lunch (and it’s a super easy thing to stick in his bento box in the morning), we often forget about this great source of protein when we’re all fuzzy from lack of sleep and lack of coffee, and are digging through the fridge to see if there’s any deli meat, anywhere, that he can take that day. But with the happy soy bean smiling at us from the list reminding us, we don’t have to rely on our fuzzy morning brains to remember.
The end result of all of this awesomeness is that once I set the kids up at the beginning of the week with things they like to eat in the fridge and the pantry, and with a lunch box checklist that shows them which things are currently in stock, they can pack their lunches all by themselves.
To make sure the list is easy to find every morning, I bought an inexpensive plastic magnetic frame for it and stuck it on the fridge.
Try out the list for yourself at http://thetripclip.com/tc/Main/Activities/index.php?activityID=33.
And just to prove our bento lunches aren’t beautiful, here is a healthy lunch my 8-year-old son packed all by himself: