There are few things worse then starting Monday morning off with the discovery of an uneaten lunch rotting in your child's lunch bag all weekend. I'm not sure which is most disappointing; the wasted food, the hard work wasted, or simply the stinky, gross food that now needs to be scraped out of the lunch bag. This familiar scenario is repeated time and again from September to June in many households. This school year things are going to be different. This school year the kids are going pack their own lunches and eat them too.
It's time to face the facts: your maturing tween may have outgrown the lunch bag you picked out in kindergarten. I clearly remember skipping eating lunch because I was so darn embarrassed by my hideous lunch bag. Set a realistic budget and go shopping with your kid, for lunch supplies. A few things to remember - lunch bag, water bottle, bento boxes, leak-proof resealable containers, cutlery and a thermos.
Brainstorming sessions aren't just for the boardroom. Kids are fabulous brainstormers. Grab a pen and paper, sit down with your tween and write down all the different foods you kid might like to eat for lunch. Consider anything that your kid likes to eat. Can it be made portable? Take the opportunity to talk to your tween about what makes a balanced, nutritious meal. While she may love pasta, don't forget to add in some fruit and vegetables too. You might be surprised where the brainstorming session leads you.
Being a tween means testing your growing independence. If your tween has decided to try vegetarianism, or has made other dietary choices that aren't the "norm" for your family, start a conversation. Pick up a vegetarian cookbook and experiment with recipes that your new found veggie lover will enjoy and will provide her with the balanced diet she needs. Treat your child with respect and take a food journey with them.
Now that the brainstorming is over, it's time to make a grocery list. Have your digitally minded kid open a word processor and create a grocery list. No fancy apps are required, a simple document will suffice. Create a checklist of school lunch staples (juice boxes, crackers, cheese, etc) and leave a blank spaces for recipe specific ingredients. Print the grocery list and post it where your kid can update it on his own. Make it your tween's responsibility to keep track of the lunch groceries.
As parents, we know how challenging lunch preparation can be. As you pass the torch to your tween, lend a helping hand. Your assistance in the beginning will help your tween gain the experience and confidence they need to take on the task week after week. Take the opportunity to teach your kid some kitchen skills; how to use a sharp knife, how to properly store food and the importance of a clean work area. Knowledge your child will carry with them into the future.
Do as much of the food preparation ahead of time as possible. Set time aside on the weekend to bulk cook and bake, with your tween. Prepare the pasta salads, bake muffins, prep rice dishes, slice veggies, wrap crackers and cheese. Anything you do on the weekend frees up time in those busy weekday mornings.
Every school has a different lunchroom facility. Some schools offer paid milk programs, others serve hot lunches, and other lunchrooms are simply a gym filled with tables and benches. Does your child's lunchroom have a microwave? Before you send your tween to school with a big slice of frozen lasagna, contact the school and find out what type of lunchroom your kid's school has.
When it comes to packed school lunches, the end of the day is equally as important as the beginning of the day. Make it your kid's responsibility to empty his lunch bag, every single night. Let's put an end to the surprise mouldy containers, inside a stinky lunch bag at the end of the week.
Life is all about establishing helpful routines. Work with your kid to create a lunch preparation routine that works for you both. If bulk cooking on Sunday afternoon doesn't work, pick another day that works. If lunches are coming home uneaten, sit down with your child and talk about it. Sometimes we make assumptions that aren't accurate. An uneaten lunch might be an indication of negative peer pressure, bullying or time management challenges. The routine you establish now will help your child learn the importance of healthy eating and personal responsibility. Packing lunch together is an opportunity to connect with your tween - it truly is more than a simple packed school lunch.
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