Packing our kids first school lunches and snacks are easy. We feed our kids incredible, wholesome, organic food at home, and we are excited to send them off to their first days of school with a shiny, reusable stainless steel container full of whole foods to fuel them during their busy day. But, then something happens that many of us didn’t necessarily anticipate…our children’s exposure to “food products” and their naturally sweetened eyes watching their friends rip open colourful packaging and eat all that we have chosen to not feed to our kids for a myriad of (good) reasons.
And, it’s not just the kids that are affected…as eco-parents, we realize that we are not the majority, and, it’s even possible, that we are taunted to “just relax”, and allow our kids to indulge in the “fun”, because, after all, “everything is ok in moderation”. For any parent who has had their kale-and-steamed-sweet-potato-eating-kid begging for a rainbow sprinkled donut in front of everyone, or watches everyone from the playground run up to the ice cream truck after school, knows how very difficult this situation is to manage.
School is most frequently the place where young kids encounter an environment where they are choosing what to eat without us watching over their shoulder for the first time. We might know what is best to pack for our kids, and we know what safe, durable, reusable containers their lunches should be packed in, but it’s more about our children being able to make the right choices, for themselves, on their own. If we do it right, they will be proud, and be grateful for the privilege of eating well, plus they will never feel like they are missing out on what their peers are doing and eating, in fact, they might even start new, healthier trends.
Food culture is changing, and not for the better, even with our valiant efforts – many schools are selling pizza and hot dogs to fundraise to buy more physical education equipment – how backwards is that? It is more clear than ever, that our kids are going to be the key to changing food culture, for the better or the worse, and, what better place to start than with our kids’ school lunches?
My son, who is now in high school, shared this with me when he was in grade 8. They are his own techniques on how he has “survived” the cruel comments, constant questions and odd stares, and shares how he thinks every kid can be part of changing the face of food culture. I weighed in on each of Ryan’s points, hoping to impart my parental marketing program – convincing my kids how very lucky they are, that we know as a family how to eat healthy, and feel good about it.
Ryan: Don’t be afraid to have different things than other kids. You can make your never-seen or tried stuff be a big hit, if you can explain why it’s so amazing that you eat it, and enjoy it. For example, “when I eat stuff like seaweed, it gives me a boost of energy after I eat it, so I can focus better”.
Lisa: Eating family meals together gives me the opportunity to make sure my kids are trying new things, and it also gives us all time to express what we like, dislike and how it could be better. We make it exciting to try something new, and when a dish or ingredient is enjoyed, we talk about why it’s so good to eat. My youngest son loves to hear something is going to make his muscles super strong and usually will go for a second helping.
Ryan: If someone bugs you about the food you are eating, tell them how much you are enjoying it and that it’s too bad they don’t appreciate such a good thing.
Lisa: I’ve always taught my kids to not bother arguing with someone that is ignorant, as that will just drag them to their level. And, I’ve also taught them that people who make fun are usually really jealous how much their parents care about them to pack them such a great lunch that is being thoroughly enjoyed. I also take the time to explain a great Ghandi quote, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” My kids love to think they have been let in on a secret formula to dealing with kids that can be mean. There’s nothing like a little insight!
Ryan: Junk food is junk. Once you know why you aren’t eating it, you’ll never want it. Even my 5 year old brother refused cupcakes in his kindergarten class this past year, he understands that it’s full of chemicals, and that it’s not good for his body. As a big brother to him, I can even set a good example by refusing junk with a smile when we are together.
Lisa: When my son’s kindergarten teacher told me that my child simply asked what he could do while the other kids ate the cupcakes, he was so floored that he sent me an email. I was even surprised (in the best possible way), and I made very sure to express how unbelievably proud I was, but also how proud he should have been about his brilliant decision. The child was beaming, and keeps repeating these smart decisions, because he is associating it with such a positive reaction. Try rewarding your kids for their decisions to stand on their own!
Ryan: Don’t take super stinky foods that will get “ewwwws” at lunch time, take things that look interesting though, they can be conversation starters, if you understand what they are and how good they are!
Lisa: Ok, well, we learned this one at the same time. Leftover roasted cauliflower is a pretty bad offender, no matter how delicious it is the next day!
Ryan: Always take lots of treats – like big chunks of raw, dark chocolate…people will always think you are lucky if you get chocolate packed in your lunch, especially if you eat it for morning snack. Same goes for cookies or cake. When I take a chocolate cupcake to school, my friends are jealous, and they don’t realize that it’s applesauce, zucchini, chia and cacao based without any toxic sugar!
Ryan: If your friends are interested in something you are eating, let them try some of it, if you are allowed to share at school. If you aren’t, for allergies or other reasons, write down what you are having so they can take it home and have their parents make or buy it for them.
Lisa: I am usually class parent for at least one of my kids classes, which allows me the opportunity to share great ideas for class snacks to all via email, and to contribute to some food policies/ideas for the school year, and speak to the teachers about my reasons. It’s not foolproof, but it’s always been worth the effort.
Ryan: Go shopping with your parents so you can pick out different things that you might like to try for your lunches. I have found many of my own favourite things in the health food aisles myself. I have learned how to read ingredients, and tell my friends to read their boxes and make sure that they can pronounce everything, and figure out where it came from, but never do it in a mean way.
Lisa: We make shopping a family affair on weekends – to the market and the stores we frequent. We let our kids choose anything they want, provided it meets our family rules – and it’s a game…the kids LOVE when they find something new that qualifies and it’s good! They also start to come up with their own ideas for lunch, because they are exposed to everything, as opposed to just the things we would choose on our own.
Ryan: Make your own lunches before you go to bed or before school, so you can make sure your parents don’t put stuff in your containers that you aren’t in the mood for, or don’t even like! I love packing leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day, it’s so easy, and I know I’m going to be happy with it at school.
Lisa: It took us years to come to this process, and it’s been life changing in so many ways, including for clearing a little of the morning chaos of getting 3 kids out the door happy! My kids are in charge of making their own lunches, and ultimately it’s their responsibility, but if they ask, my husband and I will always do it for them. This also means no complaining after school that they didn’t like what we packed for them!
Ryan: Understand what you are eating, and why it’s good for you, so you can let people know, if they make fun of you for eating it. I bet if you ask other kids why they are eating what they are, that they won’t have an answer. It’s always best not to argue or feel badly, just make them be quiet and keep eating with a smile on your face.
Lisa: What else can a mother say about this? I’m smiling too.
Ryan: Get a cool lunch box, cool cloth napkins and neat cutlery like a spork – other kids will always think they are amazing, and then the food looks better to them.
Lisa: There’s nothing easier, and there are so many fabulous options. We have many different options that we keep in one big drawer, and the kids like to switch up what they take each day, again, another way not to get stale, and to keep lunch fun, and keep their friends interested and guessing.
Ryan: Offer to bring class snacks, so everyone gets to try how great vegan cupcakes are, or seasoned nori is, or even kale chips can be. Once kids go home wanting more of these things, it takes the stigma away from what you are eating everyday. I have had the best success with this one each and every year. My mom says that it’s her pleasure to do this since I have something to eat during parties, and it’s my opportunity to get people hooked on something great!
Lisa: It is my absolute pleasure. I know it’s my job too to show parents that their kids DO like new things. And, I always get lots of extras for parents and teachers and administration to try. It’s the first step to changing food fundraisers and school lunches – get those in charge to like what you are serving!
Ryan: My parents always say, “Know you are lucky, because you are”, which is totally true and I know it. It might be a bit harder socially to be different, but it feels great, just like eating great food makes you feel great too!
Lisa: It’s not easy – for the kids, or for us as parents, but, even as a multi-tasking mom, short on time, I can say that teaching kids to respect their bodies and encouraging them to always make the best decision they can for themselves, is ultimately, the best thing we can do for our children. It’s far more valuable than any love letter, or heart shaped sandwiches when it comes to school lunches.
“Never do a wrong thing to make a friend–or to keep one.” ― Robert E. Lee