As soon as August rolls around, we instantly start planning for back to school. While this month is filled with exciting beginnings (new school, new supplies, new teachers), one thing always remains the same… what do I pack in my kid's lunch box?! We asked Instagram blogger Hannah From California to share some tips on how to create easy and healthy lunch box meals. Keep reading for a fun Q&A that includes tips on how to deal with picky eaters, school lunch prep, and how to pack a lunch as a busy parent.
BH: What inspired you to start your Instagram account?
H: My reasons for starting my Instagram account were totally selfish! As a new stay at home mom I was craving that connection, adult conversation, and sense of community from other parents who were all in the same boat as me. Sharing about the meals and snacks I made for my son happened organically, and I quickly realized the challenge of coming up with fresh and nutritious meal ideas day after day. After receiving positive feedback from my food related posts and requests for more simple, healthy meal ideas, I just ran with it! I figured that since I was making all the food anyway, it was easy enough to snap a few photos in hopes that it would give other families some ideas!
Cheese, turkey, pitas, apples, snap peas, bell pepper, cucumber
BH: What are your top 3 tips for parents of picky eaters?
H: First and foremost, I've been there, and you've got this! I do have some tips and tricks that have worked for my son, but before I go into that, I wanted to share about Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility Theory. This will hopefully change the way you view meal times (for your own sanity)! The Division of Responsibility is the idea that we (the parents) and our children each have jobs when it comes to mealtime. It is our job as parents to provide a variety of healthy food options and multiple opportunities to sit down and eat. Then, it is our children's job to choose how much and what to eat from what we provide. If you can accept this theory when it comes to feeding your child, like truly BELIEVE it, you will save yourself hours in the kitchen as a short order cook, and overall, you'll be less stressed when you hit those picky eating phases!
Tips & Tricks for feeding picky eaters:
- Involve your kids in the meal making!
There are a number of benefits, both life skills and academic skills, from cooking with your kids, but one of my favorite parts about involving my son in the kitchen is that I know it will greatly increase the chance that he'll eat the meal he helped prepare!
- Eat the same food! My son, husband and I eat the same food. Eating with your child, and also eating the same thing, not only makes it easier on you (only preparing one meal), but it allows for modeling during mealtime (look at mama trying and enjoying these different foods and flavors)!
- Include a dip! When I include a familiar dip with my son's meal, I can almost guarantee that he'll at least try a new food! Hummus is his favorite!
Finally, whatever you do, do not stop serving the food your child is being "picky" about because exposure is key! Sure, take a day or 2 or a week off, serve it up differently (raw, baked, steamed, with a dip, cut in circles or sticks), but keep including that food with meals because you just never know when they'll be in the mood!
Pita and kale almond hummus, edamame, seaweed, cherries and bunny grahams
BH: What advice do you have for packing healthy school lunches that are easy to do for busy parents?
H: I am a huge advocate of packing lunch boxes the night BEFORE school. Not only does it make mornings (while you're trying to do all the things) much smoother, it allows you take the time to prep and actually think about what you want to pack vs. reaching for all the packaged food while feeling rushed to get out the door and to school on time! Here are a few things I have learned about packing lunches thus far!
- A lunch box with different sized compartments is key! This helps encourage you to include a variety of healthy options, and the great thing about these boxes is that each section in the box closes completely, so there are no foods mixing together (ex. juice from your strawberries leaking into your sandwich and making it soggy).
- Note the amount of time your child has to eat at school/camp/daycare and pack accordingly! They only have a certain amount of time to eat at school, which is typically a lot less than we allow for them to spend eating at home. So, If you want your child to eat some of each food included, consider cutting your portions down (for example, pack a ½ a sandwich vs. a full one so that your child has time to each the sandwich and also has time to eat the strawberries and snap peas you included as well).
- Include foods that you know your kids enjoy and will likely eat! Packed lunches are not the time for you to throw in all the foods your kid is refusing at home; rather, you want them to have a yummy lunch that will fuel their body while they are away from you!
Salami sandwich on seed bread, watermelon stars, bell pepper, pea chips, multi-vitamin gummies
BH: How do you make healthy eating fun for kids when there's so much packaged and processed foods marketed towards kids?
H: For me, I think it is all about our family's attitude toward food, and also what is available in our home. We believe that real, healthy, fresh food is fun! We go to our local farmer's market to see, touch, and taste-test seasonal fruits and veggies. We talk about what foods we're in the mood for, and how might prep it or cook it up! While packaged and processed food is not the norm for us, it's also not viewed or talked about negatively. I have always just made a point to explain to my son which foods do what for our body, and how real, healthy food tastes delicious and can help our body grow strong.
BH: At Because Health we recommend limiting plastic around food and water and buying organic when possible. How do you limit exposure to plastics, toxics chemicals and food additives in your kitchen and food?
H: It's so important to pay attention to what we're putting in (and on) our bodies, and the more I read and learn about this topic, the more I aim to limit the exposure to plastics, toxic chemicals, and food additives. A few simple changes that I have made over the years have been to store my food in glass or stainless-steel containers, use reusable bags, use non-toxic cleaners, and buy organic when possible (especially if as you guys say the produce is leafy, berries, or something you eat with the skin on)!