It is hard to believe the summer has come and gone, and the kids are already back to school! As parents, we have the opportunity to teach our children about proper nutrition, fueling their little bodies, and the important link between the food we eat and our ability to think clearly, learn, and have energy to play. Packing healthy school lunches are an opportunity to set our kids up for success in school, prevent illness, and increase emotional and physical health. Making the switch from unhealthy lunches filled with processed foods to nutritious lunches filled with whole foods can be difficult, but I promise it is possible. Here are some ways to help make the transition smoother:
Set the example. Our kids are always watching us, listening to our words, and observing our habits. Be sure to make healthy choices yourself that you would like your children to make. When you find yourself tired and reaching for a soda or sugary dessert, think about your children and if you would want them reaching for those same items. If you use soda or unhealthy food as a coping mechanism, chances are your children will learn to do the same, through your example. Stay positive, be sure to get plenty of rest, and find new ways to cope with stress or negative emotions.
Start small. Sudden change can be hard. If your kids are used to buying a burger and cookies for lunch at school five days a week, transition slowly into packing healthy school lunches. Maybe shoot for packing lunch one day the first week, then add a second day the next week. You may be at your wit’s end, wanting to overhaul your kids’ school lunches immediately, but taking the time to transition to healthy lunches slowly will set you, and your kids, up for success in the long run.
Get them involved. Kids love to do things for themselves. Invite them, or assign them, to help pack their lunch. Bring them to the grocery store to help pick out fruits, veggies, and other nutritious foods to include in their healthy school lunches. When they ask for their favorite packaged cookies, let them know you found a recipe for homemade cookies that are better for their bodies. Here is a good one. When they ask for their favorite packaged crackers or chips, show them the ingredient list and point out all of the artificial ingredients and preservatives, and explain why those are not good for our bodies. Invite them to make homemade chips, crackers, or granola bars with you, or buy an organic version from a health food store with ingredients you recognize and can pronounce.
Let them choose. Our kids love to make their own decisions. So let them. Give them plenty of options for healthy school lunches and snacks, then let them choose. Turkey sandwich or Turkey wrap. Leftover spaghetti or soup. Strawberries or apples. Carrots or cucumbers. Apple chips or sweet potato chips. Almonds or cashews. Water or fruit infused water.
Educate them. Many kids are ruled by their taste buds, addicted to sugar, and craving unhealthy foods every day. As they ask why they cannot have their favorite unhealthy food for lunch anymore, use the opportunity to teach them about why sugar is bad for their body. Why whole foods are a healthier choice than processed foods. If you do not know why, it is okay. Google it. Gradually teach them a little more each day. Why strawberries are good for them. How drinking plenty of water helps their body. What nutrients carrots have that will help their bodies. Each day casually try to teach them a little more.
Ask them how they feel and lovingly support them. Change is hard. As you overhaul your kids’ lunch and food choices, be sure to ask them how they feel, physically and emotionally. Celebrate the victories with them, but also support them in their struggles. Let them know you understand, but that part of your job as their Mom is to help them be the best, healthiest, happiest person they can be. Explain the role that nutrition plays in being our best, healthiest, happiest selves. They may argue that eating candy makes them happy. Perfect! They are being honest with you, and it presents you with another opportunity to talk about true happiness, which comes from a number of other sources; family, friends, faith, service to others, hobbies, sports, and so on.
Transitioning from lunches filled with processed foods to healthy school lunches filled with whole foods may seem daunting, but I promise that it is possible, and worth every effort! Our family made the transition around a year or two ago, and it is now part of our family culture and second nature. It took time and effort, but our kids now understand the effect nutritious whole foods have on their wellness, happiness, and their ability to play their favorite sports and games.
“We need to encourage our kids to love to eat real food – honest, nutritious, healthy food. Less fast food. Less junk food. And they need to see us eating healthy by example.” -Karen Salmansohn
“Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” -Unknown
“You don’t need to be perfect. Just better than you were yesterday.” -Unknown