You plan, prepare and pack their school lunch. It’s a labor of love meant to fuel kids’ best learning and development. Except, they don’t eat it — and you’re feeling fed up.
When lunchboxes boomerang home, day after day, seemingly untouched, what can parents do? How can we avoid the infuriating routine of packing quality food that inevitably ends up in the trash?
If you’re tired of bickering over the untouched lunch, here’s my 3-step plan for improving the odds it’ll get eaten.
Step 1: NEVER ask your child “WHY” they didn’t eat their lunch.
There are only two answers to that question.
“I didn’t like it.” or “I didn’t have time.”
Both are probably accurate and you will not elicit change coming at it from this angle.
Step 2: Ask for kids input instead of invoking defensiveness.
DO NOT SAY:
“What did you have to eat today?”
“Did you even open the bag of carrots?”
“Why didn’t you finish your sandwich?”
“You said you wanted a turkey and cheese roll up? You didn’t even touch this!”
“I see you ate the pretzels/goldfish/chips, but nothing else.”
Instead, engage your child in collaborative problem solving by intentionally asking for their input.
“How can we change your lunch to make it something you like better?”
“What green food(s) would work in your lunchbox?”
“Let’s make a list of crunchy veggies you’re open to trying at lunch.”
“It seems like protein foods are coming home untouched. What different proteins can we try in your lunch next week?”
“Tell me some foods you’d like to have in your lunchbox this week.”
Step 3: Send your kid packing!
Set aside 10 minutes to pack your OWN lunch alongside your child packing theirs. You’ll be modeling healthy habits for your child and improving your nutrition as well!
Enthusiasm for consumption correlates with ownership of creating the meal. Get your child involved in packing their lunch daily. If it’s too time consuming for them to pack the whole thing, ask them to pack one item from the category of things they’ve been most reluctant to eat.
Keep the conversation going as you adjust lunches week to week. Change what you put in their lunch based on the feedback they give you in Step 3. When certain foods still come home entirely untouched ask a question like: “I’m noticing cucumbers coming back home in your lunch. What other green vegetable would work better for you?”
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Frustrated over your kids’ refusal to eat vegetables? You’re not alone. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine out of ten kids in the U.S. do not eat enough vegetables. But what’s a parent to do when every single effort to prepare and present colorful plant-based produce falls flat? If you’re parenting preschool or elementary-aged kids who leave veggies not only uneaten, but entirely untouched, it’s time to improve your game by inviting curiosity to the table.
Here’s my 90-second tip on how to start talking to your kids about veggies in a way that genuinely gets them engaged.
Try sparking intrigue with questions about how and where vegetables grow. Ask, “Where do brussels sprouts live when they’re growing up?” How do they start out, and stand tall for so long?” “How and where do carrots grow? Can they feel the warm sunshine buried down in the dirt like that?” Imagine green beans holding on for dear life on a windy day, or colorful bell peppers getting washed by midnight rain.
Let your imagination be your guide and keep exploring origin of vegetable stories with your kids, even if they aren’t yet eating that particular food. Getting curious about vegetables is the first step toward ingesting them. Lead a playful and creative conversation at your family table tonight and let me know how it goes!
For more tips and inspiration on raising healthy eaters find me on Instagram @tabletalkcoach
With Halloween fast approaching we are entering the season of sugar. Trick-or-treating kicks off a 2-month stretch when sugar intake spikes, yet Halloween night isn’t the only quandary.
Consider the onslaught of “Fun Size” confections that turn up in office candy bowls for weeks on end. That sticky residue of All Hallows Eve bleeds into our mundane moments at work, yielding heightened intake of ancillary sweets for days and weeks to come. And just when the last lonely Tootsie Roll lures a taker, it’s time for the phenomenal feasts of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa.
No matter the celebration, sweets loom large in our society. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe food is meant to be enjoyed, including sweets and treats as special occasion eating. Yet many people overindulge in sugar this time of year and regret it later. If you aspire to keep your candy intake in check this season, try my trick for managing treats.
Step 1: Play the 2-minute candy showdown game.
Here’s how it works: Get a partner to list specific types of candy two at a time, in face-off fashion. For example, “Peanut M&M’s or Milky Way?”
Your job is simply to choose which of the two candies you like best. Don’t overthink it, just imagine the two choices in front of you and pick the one you enjoy most. Once you choose a winner, your partner pits that candy against another option. Let’s say you chose Peanut M&M’s in the first example, your partner would then say, “Peanut M&M’s or Snickers?”
Continue comparing candy options head to head until you reach your pinnacle choice. You are getting close to your ultimate favorite when you have to pause and really think about it. Watch me guide a friend through this quick exercise here:
Don’t forget to cover different genres – chocolate based sweets, dark chocolate delicacies, gooey, gummy, sour, sticky and hard candies included (i.e. Dum Dums, Bottle Caps, Nerds, Skittles…you get the idea).
Once you have identified your crowning candy, take a moment to write down your top 3 contenders ( #1, 2 and 3 choices). For me, it’s: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Hershey’s milk chocolate and Butterfinger (even though I hate how they stick in my teeth). Your three favorites are what I call your “top tier.” Don’t skip writing down your top tier. Make a note in your phone or jot these 3 candy names on a piece of paper. Now you’re ready to implement my Trick about Treats Rule!
Step 2: Commit to the Trick about Treats Rule:
DON’T buy your top tier and ONLY eat your top tier.
Part 1: Don’t buy your top tier.
Allow me to explain. Commit to not buying your top tier if/when you shop for candy. This means you won’t fall prey to hide-n-sneak eating. Hide-n-sneak eating is when you tell yourself you won’t EAT this favorite candy you are buying in bulk because you will HIDE it until Halloween and then hand it out to all those cute kids in costume who SO deserve to have the VERY BEST candy, right? Except, your subconscious remembers this scrumptious sweet is waiting beyond that dusty cupboard door and because you are a normal human being with a natural desire for sweets you suddenly start sneak eating Mr. Goodbars at 10pm. Then you have to deal with your kid’s chastisement after you erroneously thought the bathroom garbage can was the best place to dispose of that wrapper.
NOT buying your top tier means sparing yourself from consuming candy you really intended to offer to others. Buying candy in your bottom tier affords you the luxury of not caring about the cache. Of course, you can also choose to hand out non-candy items to trick-or-treaters. Great ideas in this vein include: Fake mustaches, glow bracelets and Wikki Stix.
Not buying your top tier candy ALSO includes bypassing bargain-priced Halloween leftovers you come across on clearance in late November. Purchasing your top tier candy 75% off is self-sabotage of the cheapest kind. Let me be clear: You are not bad for wanting the candy. You are not weak or lacking willpower when you stop to think about snagging that bag. You are savvy to consider the cost savings. That clearance sale, however, is tactical marketing intended to off-load shelves urgently. The spirit of this rule is to set an intention to not engage with candy in an impulsive or hasty setting.
Part 2:ONLY eat candy from your top tier.
For the next 2 months eat only your top 3 picks, electing to leave the rest behind. Sauntering past the brimming bowl of candy at work, the library, the therapy check-in desk, the hairdresser, or car service garage? Stop and take a peek. If none of the offerings are YOUR top tier, pass right on by. If you happen to spot one of your top tier choices, consider it your lucky day. Savor that nugget joyfully.
For me, this means I don’t waste (or waist!) eating candy I barely like just because it’s available. Yet when I do stumble upon a Peanut Butter Cup, I delight in the experience rather than just scarfing it down. One mindful moment of awareness-based exploration elevates my encounter with the PB cup to something I relish instead of something I hardly remember.
What happens if you come across an entire bowl of your top tier?
Is a 70% top tier bucket beckoning to you daily? Honestly, I find most people don’t want to be perceived as the office candy hoarder combing through a big bowl to pocket every top tier item they find. Sometimes, it works out on its own. If you’re struggling to avoid a plentiful top tier bowl simply ask a coworker to take it elsewhere. Or bag it up and bring it out yourself to a local site seeking candy donations. Here’s one example: https://soldiersangels.org/Donate-Halloween-Candy!.html
Don’t buy your top tier and only eat your top tier is a 2-month invitation to build awareness around candy consumption. It is intended to empower adults with an individually relevant plan for keeping their candy intake in check. These tips are not meant to be used as a gimmick or leveraging point with your kids. If you’re searching for suggestions tonavigate candy consumption in kids follow my posts on Instagram @tabletalkcoach.
In the meantime, craft your game plan by explicitly identifying which candy feels worth your while. It’ll free you up to walk away from the rest. I also encourage you to eschew negative self-talk when your best-laid plan fails. If you fall off the wagon, simply start anew. Revisit the written record of your top tier list and recommit to the plan without entertaining loathsome internal chatter. To the best of your ability, let go of shame – literally and symbolically, right along with that wrapper you are dropping in the trash.
For more tips on awareness-based family nutrition and raising healthy eaters, follow me on Instagram @tabletalkcoach or online at Familieseatingwell.com
Stephanie Meyers, MS, RDN is a nutritionist training parents to be their kids best eating coach.
Serve Veggies First. Consistently. Not simultaneous with carby-competitors.
Start each meal with a solo course of grilled, roasted, steamed or raw veggies served family-style on a platter. Everyone helps themselves (it’s okay to use your hands!) Try chowing down roasted broccoli, grilled asparagus or kale chips as an appetizer while the entree rests on the stove.
Stay the course – serving veggies first EVERY night this week. If you serve roasted cauliflower as a solo appetizer one night and revert to pre-meal crackers and cheese the next you are impeding your efforts at creating lasting change.
Aspiring to move the needle in terms of vegetable intake necessitates positing the produce wisely. Why? Because kids (and adults!) are more receptive to veggies if they are hungry. Veggie intake plummets if you’ve just filled up on crackers, chips or pretzels. Refrain from serving crinkly-package-type foods ahead of mealtime. This might seem like appetizer buzzkill but vegetables, when prepared properly, far outshine the carb competition. Veggies deserve their own time in the spotlight, so dress them up and get them center stage!
Up the appeal by letting kids flavor veggies with some finishing touches. Try sea salt, flavored olive oil, Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, depending on your family’s palate. Let the kids sprinkle this “glitter” on just before serving to pique interest.
Give a solo veggie platter the appetizer advantage this week and let me know what transpires!
Follow along weekly this summer for simple and effective behavior-based strategies to bolster healthy eating in your home.