Kids get bored with food, just like adults do. But while most of us over the age of eighteen can navigate past our epicurean dilemma, a child’s boredom usually manifests in a singular manner: the refusal to eat what’s given to him. In their parents’ presence, a child can be cajoled, tricked, or threatened into submission. But what about when a kid is in school? For the parents of school-aged children, preparing our kids’ lunches is a major source of ire. How can we make sure that our kids are eating what we given them?
It’s not always easy. But these five tips might help bridge the divide between what is packed for lunch and what actually is eaten.
1. Gotta Keep ’Em Separated
This may seem a little OCD, but try separating all food items into small containers. This makes the amount of food not appear insurmountable, which is one of the reasons for a partially eaten or untouched lunch. It also makes lunch fun as your child can eat a little of this or a lot of that. Separating foods can also prevent what some kids refer to as food “contamination,” when one food item causes another to taste funny or lose its original texture.
Packing food into separate containers makes lunch fun and less wasteful. Put cubed cheese, slices of chicken breast meat, whole-wheat crackers, and grapes in separate reusable containers and be sure to provide your child with a paper plate and some tooth picks. It’s an indoor picnic for one!
2. The Bento Box
Preparing bento boxes are another way to make lunch entertaining as well as appetizing. “O-bento” is the traditional Japanese “packed meal,” which is usually a box with dividers and multiple layers. They are metal or plastic and can be stackable. Children’s bento boxes are available with cartoon characters, like Hello Kitty, and the main aesthetic for these boxes is compact cuteness.
The ingredients to a bento box lunch are usually leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. But with egg molds, rice shapers, and reusable plastic skewers shaped like flowers or animals, many inventive parents are styling their kids’ lunch foods into edible works of art.
3. Making a Sandwich Less Boring
Sandwiches are a lunch staple. When in doubt, most of us will put together a sandwich for our kid. But how often does that sandwich find its way into the nearest trash bin? Using a cookie cutter to cut out shapes in a sandwich can add some fun to it. And don’t discard the remaining piece. Cut that up and create a jigsaw puzzle for your child to assemble—and eat—at lunchtime.
Another way to reinvent the sandwich is to pack all the ingredients in separate containers and let your kid assemble it at lunchtime: two slices of bread in a sandwich bag, the deli meat in a reusable plastic container, and the tomatoes and lettuce in another container. Throw in mustard or mayonnaise packets and a bag of potato chips or pretzels. Include instructions on how to assemble the perfect sandwich on an index card and leave space on the back so your child can write down her comments.
4. Making the Special Days Count
Is a birthday or holiday coming up? Include something in your kid’s lunchbox that reflects these momentous occasions, or even some not-so-popular holidays. For instance, we all know that the second Monday in October is Columbus Day, but did you know that October 15th is National Grouch Day? Or that October 24th is National Bologna Day?
Looking up holidays and putting something in your kid’s lunchbox to celebrate it may be a way to get you picky eater to pay attention. Some holidays are easier than others are, like Homemade Cookie Day (October 1) or National Cake Day (November 26). What to do if it happens to be Trivia Day (January 4)? Write down a trivia question on the skin of an orange and toss it in your kid’s lunchbox.
5. You Made It, You Eat It
Get your children involved in the packing of his or her lunch. Let them choose a special snack. If they are old enough, let them make their own sandwich.
Have a conversation with your children about what types of foods they want to eat. Let them help you create a weekly or monthly schedule, and then stick to it. Rotate the lunches that are successful lest they become boring and overdone.
So don’t get angry with your child for doing what you probably did to your own parents. Give these five ideas a try and remember that you are not alone. Kids can be fussy eaters, but sooner or later they do grow up.