School looks a little different (okay, a lot different!) for most of us this year. However you’re doing school this year, the last thing you want to add to your plate (pun intended!) is to make a Pinterest-worthy lunch, complete with star-shaped watermelon cut outs and a sandwich made into a friendly face. Unless this is something you love to do, chances are good this is a low priority for you this year…and, who are we kidding, every year.
Something that isn’t changing this year is the fact that our kids still need to eat lunch—every day! After 6+ months of preparing lunches while your kids have been at home, it’s hard to stay motivated. Believe me, I get it. I’m not here to tell you how to make elaborate lunches—nobody has time for that. But here are a few things that may help make lunches go a little more smoothly this year as we transition into a new routine.
- Prep your kiddos’ lunches in advance. Yes, I know they may be eating at home and you now have the luxury of waiting to make lunches rather than scrambling in the morning to get them all made in advance. But, maintaining the routine of “packing a lunch” the night before or in the morning for your kids will streamline lunches. Plus, this eliminates the debate of “What should we have for lunch?” and the disagreements or whining that may come with it. Once the food is packed, this is what lunch is going to be—just like it is when they’re at school. Give this a try for a week and see how it works for you and your family.
- As you prepare the lunches for your littlest kiddos, include them in the decision making. While it’s your job as a parent to decide what you serve your kids to ensure they’re getting a balanced variety throughout the day and week, you can still offer your kids a limited choice. This may look like giving them two options you’d be totally comfortable giving them. Instead of asking them, “What do you want for lunch?” ask them, “Would you like a turkey or ham sandwich?” or “Do you want Ranch or hummus dip with your veggies?” This not only keeps you in control of what you’re serving your child, it gives your kiddos a sense of autonomy with more buy-in for the meal.
- Have snacks at scheduled times. Constant snacking isn’t a snack—it’s grazing. While it’s tempting to have snacks available throughout the day for your kids to stay focused while they work, it’s not helping them in the long run. Kids don’t get snacks whenever they like at school, so it doesn’t need to be necessary at home either. For starters, eating with distractions (such as school work) leads to mindless eating and a loss of our kids’ ability to eat due to physical hunger and to stop when satisfied. Snacks also tend to be more beige, dry, and bland than foods at other meals (things like crackers, cereal, chips, or cheese crackers). If kids fill up on these foods, they’re missing out on a lot of variety and other flavors that come mostly at meals. It’s okay for our kids to feel hunger for a short period of time; it’ll help them recognize their hunger cues and come ready to eat at meals.
- Take time to eat lunch with your kids. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but if it is, make the most of this time with your kids at home. Kids learn the most by watching what you do, not always what you say. If they see you eating the same fruits and veggies that are in their lunch, they’re more likely to eventually give them a try. You may be exhausted by the time lunch rolls around, but simply taking the time to eat with them allows you to be the positive role model they need.
This school year may have some uncertainties, but lunch doesn’t have to be one of them. You’ve got this, mama!
Kara Hoerr is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in family and childhood nutrition. She’s originally from Iowa, but has called Madison home for the past 7 years. When she’s not helping families and individuals end mealtime battles or quit diets for good, she’s usually baking or cooking in her kitchen (she started making sourdough before it was the cool thing to do pre-Covid!), running or biking on the Madison trails, or relaxing with a good book. She never expected to start her own business, but here she is with Kara Hoerr Nutrition. She offers nutrition coaching and online courses to help moms (and dads!) out at the dinner table. To learn more or to set up a free discovery call, email Kara at [email protected], or find her on Instagram.