How To Get Your Kids To Finish Their Homemade School Lunches.

I make my kid’s school lunches, and I have made them for the last 7 years. But, it doesn’t matter what you send, if they don’t eat it. So! How do you make sure they eat what you send, so that their bodies are ready for daily exercise and learning? I have a few pointers for making lunches and then I’ll show you my fun solution for encouraging my kids to eat.

Prek lunch at home.

First off, your kids are not going to eat what you send if it isn’t something you eat as a family at home. So, if you are eating only: fast food and chips and fries at home; your kids are not going to be interested in the apples and broccoli you send in their lunches. And: just because it looks cute in a picture you find online, doesn’t mean it’ll fly in your kid’s lunches. Don’t send something they’ve never had before, unless you have a miracle child, that enjoys trying new things in front of their friends and the whole school.

Second, you don’t need to switch out what they eat every day. I mix up the ratios but rarely the ingredients. If you have to plan something new for both lunch and dinner, daily, you are going to burn out, or at least I would. I cover all the food groups, sometimes more than once, but I send the exact same lunch every day (although, I use seasonal fruit.)

My job, as I see it, with my kids lunch is:

A. to encourage variety through different colors of fruit and veggies (my granny started this idea in my family {my grandfather had a PhD in biology and another in education, thanks to the WWII GI Bill; so I’m sure he helped her come up with this theory} and my mom and I followed it, too. It’s second nature now. Different colors: equal different vitamins. Here’s a good article on that: Fruit Color And Vitamin Content)

Recipe for the best rainbow fruit skewers and dip out there!

B. Include enough calories to keep my kids growing and going (my boys are super active. They play team soccer, jump on the trampoline or are playing nerf gun wars, with our neighbor’s kids, in our 103 degree heat down here. So you need to keep activity levels in mind as you choose your lunch ingredients.)

Third, rethink breakfast.

If you really have no way to cook a couple of eggs for breakfast each morning take a weekend evening and make omelets in cupcake tins. You can freeze them and microwave them as you need them. Plus you can put anything your kids like in these.

Make sure they start their days with something with protein and fat to get them going in the morning.

I always had cereal. So did my husband. We both always fell asleep in our morning classes. That’s not something I wish on my kids. Lunch isn’t the only thing you can focus on to help your kid’s attention spans and activity levels. Breakfast is important. We do eggs and omelets for breakfast. It takes 5 minutes to cook some eggs and toast, instead of 1 minute to pour a bowl of sugary cereal or an unhealthy pre-made snack food.

This is a photo of what I sent my younger boy in prek.

Four, model those food beliefs in front of your kids. Just like: “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work in your regular parenting, it won’t work here. Everyone needs to be on the same page, whatever those goals are, you’ve got to to share them or it won’t work.

Lastly, sugar is a big evil in a kid’s life. I work at limiting sugar in my kid’s diets. I don’t ban it, but I make sure it’s not the first or second, or even the fifth ingredient in most of what we eat. Then, when I need my kids to do something, (that they would normally not focus on without help), while I’m not at lunch with them: I can add a treat. I don’t mind giving them something sugary as a reward. I figure if I got them to do what I want (eat what I consider a healthy lunch), then I am happy to give them something that they want.

Fourth grade lunch for my older boy. Yogurt is always included. We especially like Greek God’s strawberry-honey flavor.

With all of this in mind I’ll show you what I choose to make for my kids.

Everyone seems to have engrained personal views on diet. I’m an older mom, I’m in my mid 40s and I have a long, and I believe, educated (through personal experience and research) view of what I agree and disagree with in terms of diet. I’m more low-carb and paleo, although I don’t push that on my kids as heavily as I do myself. If I’m going to limit something it’s going to be sugar and empty carbs. If I’m going to encourage something it would be adequate protein and healthy fats.

My view of grains comes from my lineage. My family were farmers and grain is used, across the board, to fatten animals. Plus, I, personally have a severe wheat allergy: so I’m already excluding a huge chunk of grain based carbs. It’s not hard to just avoid grain heavy diets altogether when one of us (me) can’t have it. We eat a lot of veggies on top of all of that, and I limit dairy (if I let my kids do what they want, they’d drink milk all day and all night. My mom let me do that, and I ended up with milk induced anemia. That was really difficult: to grow up constantly anemic, and not knowing why. There were many times when I sucked down milk instead of eating.)

My kids have yogurt, cheese and milk at lunch (but the milk is replaced with water most of the rest of the day.) Dairy is just something I keep an eye on, because: I know where it can go if it is unlimited. Everything in moderation.

First and fourth grade? Something like that.

I recognize there’s a ton of diet preferences out there, this is just mine, and my family’s. I’m happy with it and I’m not interested in what works for others, as this works for us. So, I won’t try and push my personal beliefs on you. This is your child, whatever your food goals, go for those, I’m just offering a template.

Back before my older boy could finish a full sandwich. That’s a yellow watermelon slice. I am an avid gardener and really enjoy being able to feed my kids with things that I’ve grown myself.

Here is what I feed my kids. This doesn’t change day to day, month to month or even year to year. It’s almost always the same, until one of them picks something they like more. (For instance: going from hotdogs to ham.) And unless I’m noticing growth spurts, or slow downs, I don’t change the ratios much. My two boys are in third and sixth grade. I ask them a couple of times a month if they need more or less and try to adjust. But most of the time it’s really obvious, because they’ll come home for a week with a half eaten sandwich or eat everything I send and then hit the kitchen right when they get home.

This is obviously more food than we started out with in prek and kinder and I’m sure we’ll need even more food whenever they hit puberty.

The days when my younger boy would only eat hotdogs (without prodding) and my older boy couldn’t finish a whole sandwich.

My youngest son likes chocolate milk and doesn’t like sandwiches. I’m OK with both of those things and work with him with his lunches. I chose ovaltine for his chocolate milk. I prefer the taste of it, and it’s full of vitamins. There was a time when all he wanted for protein was hotdogs and seemed to otherwise subsist on air. I found the healthiest version I could, and just celebrated that he would eat it without my supervision!

My older boy likes regular milk and certain things on his sandwich, like mustard and mayo, so I go with that. One kid only likes red grapes. The other one likes red, and green grapes. One is a picky eater, the other one is proud (as am, I!) that he’ll try anything. We have had a lot of practice with the saying “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”

The point is: to have a framework to work around and to swap things out as their preferences change. I want everyone to be happy with our lunch situation! Otherwise nobody eats, and my efforts are all for nought. Nobody needs a weird relationship with food. It’s too basic a need for unhealthy emotional attachments.

Lunch at grandma’s in the “way back”.

Here’s my regular list between the two kids:

Third grade lunch: three slices of ham, a slice of cheese, broccoli, carrots, snap peas, grapes, a cup of yogurt, a small bag of chia seed with some candy sprinkles (for the yogurt), chocolate milk, whole grain cereal bar and beef jerky for the daily snack.

Sixth grade lunch: ham (3 slices) on whole grain sandwich bread with mustard and mayo, broccoli, snap peas, carrots, grapes, 1 cup yogurt, a small bag of chia seed with some candy sprinkles (for the yogurt), milk and whole grain crackers for the daily snack.

I also have always included a bag of chia seeds (with some sprinkles to make it more appetizing). I figured if Aztec warriors could carry around chia for quick energy, my kids might benefit from them too. Chia is the only grain I can think of that is fully digestible without cooking.

I do actually use these big containers. It takes about 6 months to empty one. With the addition of the sprinkles, my kids love this part of lunch!

So, now that we have the ingredients I choose for my kids: here’s how I make sure they finish.

Ta da! 🎉 Marshmallows.

I mean: what kid doesn’t love marshmallows? Mine certainly love them! You don’t have to decorate them (although I do), you could use any kind of motivator your kids like, like a small piece of candy or a small cookie.

Something that won’t ruin their lunch but that they REALLY want included. The rules we have at our house are: if you eat ALL of your lunch, including the milk and snacks that I send, then you get a marshmallow the next day. If my kids don’t finish, 1. I don’t send a marshmallow the next day and 2. If it is happening frequently I rethink the amount or type of food I’m sending and adjust it so they can finish, so they can earn their marshmallow.

Also it’s a good indicator as to their health. If they are sniffling and not eating, it may be time to get out our thieve’s oil, hot turmeric milk and sambuca!

It’s that simple, and I have two kids who eat everything I send: everyday.

I also decorate their marshmallow. It is much better received than notes in their bags. I could also send decorated marshmallows well before they could read a note. I use food grade, edible markers and cake aerosol spray, food coloring. (Please don’t try to use regular markers for this!) You can find these things at Michael’s arts and crafts and other craft stores that have a baking department.

(As a tip for a beginner: You can’t push a marker across a marshmallow. You have to drag it. Scissors are how I add mouths, tongues, ears and eyes. Don’t use toothpicks to add extra marshmallows unless your kids are old enough to look out for them AND you’ve warned them ahead of time that they’re in there. I spray color onto the marshmallows in a zip lock bag. I keep a bag for each color and reuse them. They need to set out on the counter to dry before you work on them any more. If you don’t like the idea of aerosol sprays you can color a couple of Tbsp of powdered sugar with a couple of drops of food dye. Massage the bag until the color spreads evenly. The color will be lighter than the spray but you can save the excess and reuse it.)

Here’s some examples of what I’ve done over the years.

3 thoughts on “How To Get Your Kids To Finish Their Homemade School Lunches.

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