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Stefanie Tsabar

Tips for Packing Lunch



We all want our kids to love the food we pack for them, and we want those lunch boxes to come home empty!

We not only want to make sure they are eating enough, but since we spend a lot of time and effort on their lunches, we also don’t want that effort (and the food) going to waste.

So, how do we make that happen? The secret might lie in making some simple adjustments.

To start with, know that there is actually more to packing lunches than just the food.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I subscribe to the Division of Responsibility (DOR), in which parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding their kids. When your kids are at school, the where and when are taken care of, and some schools even take care of the what by providing snacks and/or lunch.

However, if you are packing your kids’ lunch, here are a few things that will help you feel more confident, while also supporting and delighting your children when they are eating at school.

First, find out what time your kids’ school has snacks and lunch.

The DOR says that toddlers and preschoolers should be given a snack/meal every 2-3 hours, and for school-age children, every 3-4 hours.  Knowing your kids’ schedule at school will help you decide how much to pack for them.

For example, if your children’s lunchtime is on the far end of the this time frame, you will want to pack a much heartier snack than usual. You also might consider talking to your school about changing the times.

And, if their schedule is already within this time frame, you can relax knowing that if your kids don’t eat much at snack, then lunchtime is not too far away.

Then, the question is: how much to pack?

You will want to pack enough food for each snack and lunch to fill up your kids’ tummies. According to the DOR, they get to decide “how much” and “whether”.  So, no need to worry about them eating “too much”.

Children have the natural ability to regulate how much they eat, so if you do your jobs with feeding (what, when, where), then over time, with your trust and support, they will easily do their jobs with eating.

Pack them with a variety of food, most of which you already know they will like. I keep most of the new, unfamiliar food that I want introduce to my son for dinner when he has the benefit of seeing my husband and me enjoying it first.

And, finally, what to pack?

Consider that lunch- and snack-times are generally pretty short. And with all their chit-chatting, you’ll want to make sure they don’t need to spend a lot of their time opening tight containers or peeling oranges. So, think in terms of ease, and make their food easily accessible.

Bento boxes are really great for this reason. They are also exceptionally inspiring.

I love the Planet Box, which offers separate compartments (2-5, depending on the size you choose). I plan lunch in terms of food groups: protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats. We have the 5-section bento box, which is the perfect size for offering a variety without being overwhelming for the kids.

Sometimes, it comes home empty, and other times there are a few things still left. Either way, I know I have done my job of providing enough food that is balanced, comforting/familiar, and easy to nosh. And, my son has done his job of deciding whether and how much.

Also, if your child’s school is serving snack and/or lunch, be sure to find out what they are providing. One of my clients just found out that the snack her kids get at their school’s after-school program is so small (e.g., small cup of carrots with Ranch dressing) that it was hardly filling them up for the next few hours. We’ve discussed how important it is for her to pack them a balanced, heartier snack for those days they stay after school.

And, one final note… actually letting your kids know that they do not have to finish all the food in their snack and lunch will feel exceptionally supportive to them. For good measure, add on that you trust them to eat however much they need for their bodies.

Even if you don’t believe it, yet, you will see that over time – with trust and support – that even your children have the ability to self regulate their food intake.

It is a gift you will be giving to them to trust themselves around food. So, when they are all grown up, they will eat just what their bodies need – no more and no less – even when presented with their favorite lasagna, a giant stack of pancakes or a big plate of cookies.

Now, it’s your turn! Please leave a comment letting other readers know what has helped you pack lunches more confidently.

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