In addition to being a personal trainer, Pilates instructor, healthy eating coach, and mom to two boys, I’m also a part-time substitute teacher.
So I’m out in the schools, and I see the packed lunches the students are eating during the school days, and it makes me sad. Actually, it makes me a little mad too. I think we can do better.
This is a hard one to talk about, because it’s is a very touchy subject. I think we’re all doing our best, and I’m not here to cast judgement on other parents.
I also think we need to talk and think more about what our kids are eating and ways we can improve their diets.
The foods we eat directly impact our health, and this goes for kids as well as adults.
I’m not saying every lunch I see out there is horrible. Some lunchboxes are filled with fresh, whole foods. But many are filled with extremely unhealthy, processed junk foods, and not ANY real food.
I see lunch boxes filled with:
- gummy candies
- sugary snack cakes
- sugary granola bars
- rice crispy treats
- fruit roll-ups
- white bread processed cheese slice sandwiches
Often the only “healthy” thing will be a yogurt drink (more sugar), or a piece of fruit (better sugar, but still more sugar).
When you break it down, I’m seeing lunches composed of different forms of sugar.
Kids’ Nutritional Needs
Just like adults, kids and teens need:
- healthy proteins
- whole grains
- healthy fats
- and, yes, vegetables
The recommended servings of vegetables for kids are:
- Children 4-8 years old: 1 1/2 cups of vegetables a day
- Children 9-13 years old: 2 cups for girls, 2 1/2 cups for boys
Many kids are not getting the nourishment their growing bodies and minds need, and this affects their behaviour in the classroom.
We wonder why the students have trouble paying attention, sitting quietly, and retaining information. I literally see kids falling off their seats after lunch.
(I do also believe there is not nearly enough physical activity in the day for our students. This is another problem. Combine the lack of movement with sugar-laden lunches, and you’ve got a bad scenario all-around).
Call me a crazy hippie lady, but I also believe in teaching our kids environmental consciousness.
Convenience lunch foods mainly come in single-use plastic packaging, most of which goes straight into the garbage, producing more waste.
We have been trying to make the switch away from wasteful plastic in the home. It’s not easy! One thing we’ve been doing is using reusable items in the kids’ lunch boxes, such as cloth snack bags, beeswax food wrap, and reusable containers.
Why Does it Matter?
They’re not my kids. Why do I care?
I care because, as a teacher, I think we’d see better classroom behaviour if the kids ate healthy foods. I think we’d see fewer tantrums and breakdowns. I think it’s helpful to our healthcare system if we’re all healthier more often.
What we eat often correlates with our moods. Healthy food makes us feel better and get sick less often.
I do not for one second believe that parents are intentionally feeding their children junk or that parents don’t care about their children’s well-being.
What’s Really Going On
It’s easy to get taken in by packaging that tells you a food is healthy when it is is not. The least healthy foods are often targeted towards kids.
Marketing strategies trick parents with products that read “natural,” “real fruit,” and/or “contains veggies.” A closer reading of these labels often tells a very different story.
TIP: Aim for 5% or less of sugars, fats, and sodium. The fewer the ingredients, the better!
2) Fear of conflict.
Kids can be picky, especially when presented with new foods, and we don’t want to fight with our kids.
I’ve heard this so often: my kids won’t eat that. I’ve even said it. I have a hard time getting my kids to eat soup. But I’m going to keep trying, because I do not want to raise a person that won’t eat soup.
Here’s the thing, though. Your kids will generally eat what you offer them.
Not offering new foods will reinforce the idea that it’s OK not to try new things.
Picky kids can grow into picky adults!
Continually offering new and different foods will help kids not only develop their taste buds, but it’ll also teach them new flavour and texture appreciation. It might even teach them that in life, you don’t always get exactly what you want, and that’s ok.
Kids’ taste buds are growing. What they may not like today, they may like next month. Keep offering!
3) You Don’t Want Your Kids to Feel Left out
“But so-and-so has Oreos and fruit roll-ups every day in their lunch!”
You don’t want your child to get made fun of. I get it. Here’s where education about healthy foods comes in. Once kids learn WHY it’s important not to eat junk all day long, they may not want to.
Also, if we base our decisions in life on what everyone else is doing, change can never come about.
4) You’re Too Busy
Everyone is busy in some way.
And we seem to live in a world where everyone tries to out-busy everyone else. We put our kids in activities. We take them to those activities. We work. We try to make time for fun. We’re tired.
So yes, it’s much easier to throw in a bunch of pre-packaged foods than to make a lunch. I’m not up at the crack of dawn packing a lunch.
I’m taking 10- 15 minutes the night before to put it together, so it’s done in the morning and ready to go.
TIP: If time allows, I’ll cut-up veggies and fruits and other things after I make supper, while my cutting board and kitchen things are already out and in use.
TIP: It’s also helpful to have a meal-prep day, when you make muffins, granola bars, or chop up veggies for the week. It is do-able to make a few things, especially if you prep some things (like chopped veggies) ahead of time.
How Can We Make Kids’ Lunches Healthier?
In my next post, I’ll offer up some more practical tips and lunch ideas to help you re-organize their lunch boxes with some healthier choices.
There’s no rule that says healthy food can’t be tasty, and no rule that says kids only like junk food. Let’s change the narrative and create a next generation of mindful eaters!