If you are one of those parents who somehow finds the time to craft your kid’s lunch into cutesy animals and characters from their favorite movies (as in here), good for you. And good luck with your therapy.
I’m a working dad who can’t dedicate quite that much energy to my 9-year-old’s lunch box. Most days I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make me a bad dad. I still want him to eat healthy and to be excited for lunchtime. I just can’t obsess about it.
And for the record, at the end of a crazy day (or worse, the start of the next one), being a food editor and cookbook author doesn’t buy me any extra time or inspiration for packing a lunch.
But having spent a few years in the lunch box trenches, I’ve learned some tricks for packing meals he and I can both love. At least most of the time.
- I trust – or at least sometimes indulge – his occasional crazy request. To a limit. As in his idea for a peanut butter and pretzel sandwich. Made with whole-wheat bread, natural peanut butter and multi-grain pretzels, it turned out to be a winner. He didn’t care that I used healthy ingredients because it was his idea.
- I also experiment with some of my own crazy ideas. As in leftover spaghetti carbonara (consider it an Italian version of cold Asian peanut noodles); sandwiches made on whole-grain graham crackers instead of bread; hunks of his favorite cheeses and meats for nibbling; and a mango chutney and cream cheese sandwich (all big hits). No one wants to eat the same thing every day; mixing it up keeps things interesting.
- My son has a bento box-style lunch box (rectangular boxes with compartments for various items). This forces me to be creative and come up with multiple items. It also makes it easier to feel good about slipping in treats. If you fill one compartment with a cookie, you know to focus the rest on healthier choices.
- I involve my son in the grocery shopping, giving him a say (and thereby involvement and ownership) in his lunches. I veto most unhealthy choices, and explain why. This isn’t always fun or easy, but what about raising kids is?
- When he says he doesn’t like something I put in his lunch box, I trust him and thank him for trying it. Save the green bean battles for dinner.
- I refuse to be sucked into “But Hulga Mae gets to bring cotton candy and Big Macs for lunch every day!” fights. I try not to demonize the other kids (or their gross lunches) with a simple, “Every family makes different choices.” It may not lessen your kid’s desire for his classmate’s lunch, but it’s the truth and (when it inevitably gets repeated at school) is unlikely to earn you the scorn of teachers and other parents.