Healthy Lunch Healthy Child

Lunch. Lunch can be one of the most challenging meals of the day. Morning activities can be draining. Afternoon activities will require energy. A midday meal is critical.

Often, you can recognize your energy levels and  identify hunger as the source. You also often foresight to have lunches and snacks readily available to address the issue, or to have the option, within your workday, to acquire your midday meal.

And you know that a healthy nutritious midday meal, according to your individual dietary needs, will create a productive afternoon.

In creating a healthy dietary lifestyle for yourself, you have the opportunity to share this knowledge with your children and teach them a little responsibility at the same time.

Planning and packing lunch.

Now, you have a dilemma: to have your child pack a lunch or to buy a school lunch. For some this may be a time versus money issue. It may also be an issue of what healthy nutrition options are available. This will  involve learning what options are offered at the school cafeteria, vending machines, and how much time your child has for lunch. It may also include observing your child’s eating habits and a frank discussion on what your child actually eats at school.
Incorporating your child into the lunch planning will provide a sense of agency and responsibility.

1. Lunch planning. 
Lunch planning starts with the food itself. Your child can’t pack his/her lunch if you haven’t already decided what kind of food to have available for them. Include your child in the grocery shopping decisions as well as selecting healthy options. It is particularly important to read the nutrition labels  on foods marketed specifically to children. Kid-sized or finger-foods, pre-chopped fruits and vegetables, and single-servings are also useful for smaller hands.

2. Lunch transport. 
Taking your lunch to school (or work) involves more than just the food itself. What are you taking it in? A lunch box or bag? Is your sandwich wrapped in foil or a plastic bag? Do you have a thermos or water bottle? Do you need condiment containers? Or cutlery? Will your lunch need to be heated, and therefore in microwave safe containers? If you can’t refrigerate your lunch, do you have cold-packs? Are the container leak proof? Can your child open these containers without assistance?

When it’s time for everyone to put their lunches together, it is convenient to have these items in a central area.

3. Lunch packing.
When it’s lunch packing time, it is another opportunity to teach your child good nutrition. Provide a clean space and to wash your hands. Give them guidelines for healthy choices of the items available like including all five food groups and eating the rainbow, as recommended by the Whole Kids Foundation.

Your family routine will help you determine packing lunch the night before or in the morning, especially if someone wants to have dinner leftovers for lunch.

4. Lunch evaluation.
Once your children have begun packing their lunches, you may need to evaluate it from time to time, particularly if you are helping them. How much lunch is being eaten versus being brought home?

  • They may be taking too much food lunch, or the morning snack made them full. There may be an underlying health issue or an undiagnosed allergy.
  • A lot goes on at lunch time: locating their lunch, getting to the lunch room, chattering with friends, wanting to get outside to play games. Distractions abound, so sandwiches may be better than soup, bite-sized mini-meals may work better.

5. Other lunch habits.
There are other lunch and lunch packing habits that are worth reinforcing with your children:

  • washing your hands before and after eating
  • disposing of perishable food that would be potentially harmful if eaten later
  • tossing wrappers and trash away at school to avoid breeding bacteria
  • cleaning your lunch containers before packing your lunch every time.

6. Additional benefits.
When your child packs his/her lunch, they will learn some other valuable skills: time management, responsibility, nutrition, as well as a sense of agency. These skills will spill over into other aspects of your child’s life.

You can engage your child in lunch preparation and nutrition at any time during the school year, and take one more chore off of your list of household things to do.

Contact your local Metabolic Medical Center to discuss you and your child’s weight management goals and developing a healthy lunch plan.

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