As the school year goes on, the lunches we pack for our children slowly slide downhill. What once included at least one serving of fruit or vegetable became substantially more carbohydrates. One day I realized that my son's lunchbox contained pasta, crackers, and goldfish. It was a blur of yellow-orange processed foods and I was embarrassed and sad about how nutritionally poor his lunch had become. Once we fell down this rabbit hole though, it was difficult to climb back out. My preschooler's lunch preferences are particularly limited, so coming up with new ideas is challenging.
Lunch is not the only meal where we struggle to fit in the fruits and vegetables though. I recently found that at most dinners I was bribing my children to eat their vegetables with promises of an after-dinner sweet treat. It seemed that I was being counter-productive in my attempts to give them healthy foods and started a new problem where dessert became an expectation rather than an exception.
My first solution has been to change the way I talk about fruits and vegetables. Our nursery/preschool teachers have already started a good habit of calling these foods "growing foods," so my children understand that these foods will help them grow big and strong. So, I have taken this idea and started telling them about how each fruit or vegetable benefits their body. In focusing on the utility of each food, we are appreciating it for its own merits rather than seeing it as a means to an end, or rather as a means to an ice cream cone.
While trying to convince my 2-year-old to eat her carrots at dinner, I discussed that they help you see better and excitedly suggested she might be able to see in the dark, trying to make carrots sound magic. As she tossed the carrots off her plate, she countered, "well don't turn off the lights then." Touche. So my technique doesn't always work, but I am still trying.
In terms of improving our school lunches, I am trying to limit the processed carbohydrate options little by little. I am always looking for new ideas though and ways to inspire my children to eat healthier and minimize the lunch foods that return uneaten or wasted. I have had enough carrots thrown at me already!