A Fit Balanced Approach to School Lunches {and staying sane}

I’m not getting any “Mother of The Year” awards under the category of healthy lunches here, folks. In fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that my kids are finally old enough that I made “Pack Your Lunch” into one of their chore magnets because they’re quite capable of doing most of it themselves. This article is more about how I maintain a fit and balanced approach to school lunches, providing healthy choices for them without weeping in a corner when they bring things home uneaten.

To keep myself sane and my kids healthy, there are a few unwritten rules that I live by… except now I’m writing them down. My motherly hope is that I’m raising kids with a varied palette AND a deep respect for those buying and preparing their food. I want them to know where their food comes from, and I want them to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for what they put in their mouths.

#1 – First and Foremost… Keep It Simple

Not so simple that we just buy the school’s hot lunch each day {mine get it on Fridays} nor so complicated that I spend more time researching their food and rounding up ingredients than I do actually feeding them. Some moms delight in cooking gourmet muffins and sumptuous soups for their littles… but. I. Can’t. Even. It’s not in my wheelhouse to do stuff like that. I’ll make homemade jam, and assemble bento boxes, but I’m so grateful for baby carrots, fruit leather, applesauce squeezers, canned olives, pre-made guacamole, and those apple cutters that slice the whole thing in one push!

#2 – Make Them Own It

If I want my kids to develop the skill of making their own lunches {so that if I die tomorrow… okay that’s extreme… so that when they’re ready to move out they don’t live on Top Ramen} then we have to start with basic foods and prep abilities that make them more confident. A six-year-old is capable of assembling a sandwich and choosing fruit and other items from a cupboard that’s at their level. They can also clean up after themselves: wipe counters, put dishes in the sink or dishwasher, put their trash in the wastebasket. Kids want to be self-sufficient! They also want to be lazy! But I am not the maid!

#3 – Don’t Make Every Lunch About Cancer

We do our best to avoid most pre-packaged highly-processed foods, and we stay away from corn syrup, food dyes and partially hydrogenated crap. I make sure there is protein in every meal, and 2-3 fruits and veggies. We buy organic when it’s available, and I milk a goat for cryin’ out loud! And that has to be enough for us.

We can know too much and get obsessive and overwhelmed. We can get to the point where we are afraid to even go shopping or visit a friends house for fear of being offered GMOs and Cancer… or we can live! I don’t want my children to be worrying about cancer and diabetes right now; that’s my responsibility. But even as close as my ear is to the train-tracks of the wellness world, it’s all so overwhelming. I have to give myself grace. You have to give yourself grace. Because we could eat all the healthy things and do all the workouts and still get hit by a car tomorrow. Food and fitness can help improve the quality of our life, but those things can’t save us. And I don’t want to spend my life worrying and obsessing… so when they took the artificial food coloring and high fructose corn syrup out of otter pops, we got a box! And we ate them this past summer! My favorite is purple. Don’t judge.

#4 – Use A Little Creativity

Emphasis on the “little” amount because I’m really not the type to make birds out of celery or an octopus out of a hot dog. No one wants to eat the same thing day in and day out {scratch that: I’d happily live on french bread, cheese, kalamata olives, orange juice, and cereal. Every day. Heaven.} but I don’t believe I need to turn lunches into works of art to get my kids to eat. However, a little creativity goes a long way. Right now my munchkins are digging Nutella banana sandwiches made with Dave’s Killer Bread which is a company local to us = score!

Please, no lectures on the evils of Nutella. I’m aware that some people think it’s a terrible product. But it’s a healthier compromise in my family that works for us. See #3 and know that I’m a real mom who picks her battles. My son is picky about bananas, so if I can get him to eat them in a Nutella sandwich… so be it.

#5 – Offer Choices

I already mentioned the cupboard/cabinet at their level where they can choose from various baskets of things: fruit leather, squeeze pouches, nuts, bars, and I also keep a fruit bowl on the table. I’m teaching them how to recognize carbohydrates vs. proteins and processed sugar vs. real sugar. They’re learning that I’ll check to be sure they have a protein source and a fruit and a veggie. They like most of the choices I offer, but I often insist on a new thing they might not like once a week. Yesterday it was carrots dipped in peanut butter. The girl liked it; the boy did NOT like it. Good to know.

#6 – Compartmentalize 

Did you see that gorgeous picture of the bento box I packed the other day. Notice the carrots? The girl ate all of hers; the boy avoided them because they touched the peanut butter. He likes apples and peanut butter, not carrots and peanut butter. Here some bento box lunches that work well with my children:

  • Crackers and cheese slices, baby corn and grapes
  • Whole grain organic crackers, grapes, apples, and carrots for dipping in peanut butter. (pictured above)
  • Black olives, carrots, chips, and guacamole.


#7 – Last but NOT least . . . Set Boundaries That Teach Respect

Call me old fashioned, but I now love the mantra I was raised on: “Eat it or go without.” And I am doing the same with my children, at least at dinnertime when I make one meal for everyone. I’m not a gourmet chef at a restaurant, and I don’t take special orders at dinner. If my kids don’t like it, they aren’t allowed to moan and complain and disrespect me; I’d be horrified if my son went to someone else’s house and did that, and I’m the one who gave him birth and changed his fanny for 3 years, so he’d best treat me even better than he’d treat his friend’s mothers. I don’t make my kids clean their plates {that promotes obesity} but I provide appropriate portions for their age, and I insist they eat most of it.

Lines I’ve used on my children to get them to eat without further disrespectful behavior:

  • “Well, I guess if you can’t eat, you must be sick, and if you’re sick, you’d better go to bed right now. Good night! See you in the morning!” … and if they do head off to bed, I know they really aren’t feeling well, and we shift gears.
  • “Oh, you’re full? Well, that’s a bummer! I guess that means you’re too full for anything else as well?” … it seems my children only get ‘full’ when there is dessert available which they’re anxious to skip ahead and eat instead of their dinner.
  • “You’re not hungry? Okay, you may leave the table. I guess you’ll just eat a really big breakfast in the morning!” … sometimes they really aren’t hungry. One week, they’re going through a growth spurt and eating everything in site, and the next they’ve slowed down again. This line has saved many arguments.
  • “I guess that since you didn’t finish your lunch/dinner, you can just have it for dinner/breakfast which is fine! Less work for me! Thanks!” …no one likes to eat soggy lunch for dinner, and my son especially hates dinner for breakfast! He only took me up on that offer twice!


To sum it all up: Every family is different with different children with different dislikes and allergies and sensitivities. We all do what works best for our families. Our children might think we’re trying to murder them when we introduce a new healthy food, but like I told my daughter yesterday when she frowned at a pickle: “You need to at least taste it, because one day you might crave one, and you need to know how it tastes!” She wasn’t convinced. Oh well. I tried.

And that’s what matters most of all: We try. We do our best by our kids because we love them. We love them enough to keep trying to feed them peas and spinach.

What do you think? How do you stay sane when making food every. single. day?

Put it in pretty boxes and my kids are more likely to eat it or at least lick it.
Put it in pretty boxes and my kids are more likely to eat it or at least lick it.

4 thoughts on “A Fit Balanced Approach to School Lunches {and staying sane}

  1. Theresa says:

    Great article. I wished we had Bento boxes available when my children were in grade school. Love all the rebuttals to not eating, been there a few times myself. You are doing great with your kiddos! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Healthy Gifts Based on The 6 Aspects of Wellness

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