Why I Give My Kids a Voice in Their Lunch

I was never a PB&J kind of kid. When I was growing up, my mom never packed the same lunches for me that the other kids got. I was okay with that; I never liked bologna and cheese and it's not like she was sending me to school with a sprouted lentil loaf, if you know what I mean.

My favorite lunch as a kid that I can remember was cheese tortellini with a homemade vinaigrette. My mom usually packed an apple with it and some kind of snack, like pretzel rods. I *loved* this lunch. My friends thought it was interesting and cool, without being weird. And that's the thing... lunch is social. It's a delicate balance for a kid to find something that he or she enjoys eating and at the same time, feels confident about. Let's not pretend that kids aren't conscious of this dynamic; it's one of the big reasons behind lunch trades and wasted food. My daughter loves to eat certain foods at home but refuses to have them in her lunch. It's disappointing, but I can't fault her for this, because I remember the feeling. 

This is a big part of the reason why I'm happy to give my kids the opportunity to plan their own lunches. Allowing them to choose the foods they want to eat for lunch (within set parameters, of course) helps them not only to find their food voice, but also to discover new taste preferences. Seeing new options in a visually simple way enables kids to think about foods that aren't otherwise top of mind. My daughter is on a huge goat cheese kick now for this very reason. While they're thinking about what to pack, undoubtedly they are considering the social impact. Will it be too smelly? Too weird? Is it something I'll want to eat in front of my friends? If you think about your own brown bag lunch experiences as an adult, the same issues may come into play, but your dining companions (at work or otherwise) can likely hold their tongues if they don't like what you've brought. Ever been on an airplane next to someone who opens something that you find horrific? Ever decide not to bring something on an airplane because of the reactions of others? Then you'll know what I'm talking about. 

Some families I know operate on the "parents choose the what, kids choose the how much" philosophy. I completely get that. That's how we operate for dinner. But navigating the social dynamic of school can be challenging, even for the most confident kids. For that reason (and so many more), I'm happy to empower my kids to be part of the lunch planning process. They're excited to choose their lunches with LaLa Lunchbox on my phone (the app is free for the back to school season, btw) but it began as a paper-based project that my gal and I did together. There's no right answer of course. As with all parenting-related things, you have to find what feels right and even within the same family, some kids are more sensitive to these social issues than others. What works in your house? 

No matter how you and your family choose to pack lunches, we wish you the best of luck with the back-to-school season! 

Back to School and a Lunch Confession

I sent the kiddos off to school yesterday morning. How is it that the summer flies by more quickly every year? There were first day jitters but the day went very smoothly for the most part. But.. here's a lunch confession for you: 

My daughter called me in the middle of the day (this has never happened before - and I didn't recognize the phone number and almost didn't answer) because she didn't like the sandwich that I packed for her and requested a hot lunch. Ugh. She had planned her first day of school lunch over a week ago and requested a cream cheese and jam sandwich, apple slices, celery and seaweed. Apparently I used the wrong jam and it messed up everything. 

My littlest can't eat berries so I've completely gotten rid of berry jam in our house to avoid any issues. I now only buy the Santa Cruz mango fruit spread or the apricot fruit spread. I like them because the first ingredient listed is fruit (mango and apricot, respectively). Recently though, some ginger spread caught my eye at the grocery store and after reading the ingredients (ginger and sugar), I bought it. Here's the truth though – I couldn't remember which of my kids liked it and so I figured they all did. Not so. It's not a huge deal; My daughter didn't like her sandwich and she was enormously hungry at the end of the day. I had to throw out the uneaten sandwich, which is a shame, but worse things have happened. Note to self: no ginger jam for the oldest. 

Cherry yogurt, frozen peas, grapes, dried mango, Somersault Snacks Pacific Sea Salt cookies

Cherry yogurt, frozen peas, grapes, dried mango, Somersault Snacks Pacific Sea Salt cookies

In other news, my son devoured every last crumb of his lunch yesterday. He's crazy about frozen peas so I add them to his lunchbox right before he leaves for school so that they stay as cold as possible. Anyway, today is a new day with a new lunch for both kiddos. 

Happy back-to-schooling to all of you! 



Last Day of Summer

white nectarine, red pear, egg and Applegate organic turkey bacon

white nectarine, red pear, egg and Applegate organic turkey bacon

My kiddos start school tomorrow, so today, I'm basking in the relaxation of a non-school day morning and at the same time, dreading the whole 'getting back into a routine' thing. I guess we all have back-to-school jitters. When you have kids in different schools with different start and end times and a third who doesn't go to school but takes a midday 2 hour nap, figuring out a new schedule with all of the moving parts is dizzying. I still don't know how it's all going to work. The kids have put in their breakfast and lunch requests for the first two days of school so that's not part of the problem. I guess it'll be one day at a time and eventually (aka, in April or May) I'll figure out a routine. 

In the meantime, we had a Sunday breakfast on this sunny Wednesday morning and leisurely read some of our favorite books (many of them school-related) at the table. 

Top 5 Reasons to Involve Kids in Lunch Planning

As many parents of school aged kids know all too well, packing lunch can be an absolute nightmare. Many of us kick off September with Pinterest-worthy lunchboxes but let’s face it: come November (or even earlier), there’s a collective parental groan about lunch and we cobble together whatever we can muster. Of course we want our children’s lunches to be varied and healthful so that they have enough energy to make it through the day. But unless those lunches are also tasty, they will come back wasted and uneaten at the end of the day. (Seriously, how disgusting is that sandwich after it’s been sitting out at room temperature for 8+ hours?!) And don’t forget the groceries required in order to pack that lunch. It’s pretty tough to get all of those ducks in a row on a typical weekday morning, and that’s how lunch quickly takes on cringe-causing chore status. I'm a firm believer in getting the kiddos involved from the get go for smoother family sailing and here's why: 

1. It takes the stress off of you. Woo hoo! No more arguments in the morning because you ran out of your son's favorite turkey and have exactly 8 minutes to figure out lunch before you all have to leave the house.

2. It saves you time. Scratch the meal planning chore off of your list!

3. It saves you money. Remember how awful it felt to throw out a perfectly good sandwich that was uneaten? When your child chooses, she is less likely to waste food like that.

4. It’s an inspiring way for them to try new foods. Picky eaters beware! When kids are at the wheel, even the pickiest among them is more likely to try something new. Radishes anyone?

5. It helps their organizational skills. Planning ahead is an incredibly useful skill! Get them started early.

Sounds great, right? So pass the meal planning baton to your kids. 

I’ve built a career on the intersection of lunch for kids and technology (and more recently, breakfast for kids and technology). So “what’s for lunch” is a question that’s near and dear to me. Everything I have read and researched has shown that when children are involved in meal planning, they are more enthusiastic about what they eat, more inclined to try a variety of foods and more likely to make healthy choices. (Informative articles here and here). All those benefits just by giving kids a voice in their food choices? Yes!

So hey, parents: take a load off! You can choose to use an app like LaLa Lunchbox or LaLa Breakfast to make it fun and simple for you and your kids or you can go about it another way. Either way, the benefits are clear. Empower your kids to be part of the food planning process! And best of luck with back to school!

p.s. -- While we’re on the topic, there’s no shortage of advice available about what to pack for lunch and much of the advice is focused on healthy and quick items (which is awesome because really, do you want to be spending hours preparing for and packing lunches?). Here’s a quick list of some of our favorites:

homemade sunflower seed butter sandwich (fantastic for nut-free schools)
roasted black beans (easy and inexpensive and perfect for those anti-sandwich kids out there) and for a snack, homemade granola bars (nut free, and without processed sugar or unpronounceable ingredients).

 

* A version of this appeared on the Kidville blog

 

Homemade Sunbutter... Yes, please!

As I mentioned, I eat a lot of sunflower seeds and sun butter. I really love the organic unsweetened version of this brand of Sunbutter because there's just one ingredient: roasted sunflower seeds. I always have sun butter in my house because it's a fabulous nut alternative and when I'm hungry and need a quick snack, a spoon of it is just perfect. My kids love sun butter too, and it's a frequent lunch choice on a sandwich with fresh fruit slices or jam. I decided to try my hand at making my own sun butter.

It's harder than I thought it would be! I tried several times using raw sunflower seeds and adding oil instead of starting with roasted seeds and the result was pretty gummy and not at all smooth and creamy like I had hoped. Blah. Then I tried using maple syrup instead of honey but that didn't turn out well either. I finally got it right using roasted seeds and didn't need to add any extra oil. Victory! My successful recipe had just two ingredients: 1 cup of roasted, salted sunflower seeds and 1 tablespoon of honey. That's it! Next time I plan to eliminate the honey and use vanilla extract and cinnamon instead and see how that goes...  For any nut-allergic folks, be sure to read the label on roasted sunflower seeds to make sure they're not roasted with peanut oil.

1 cup of roasted sunflower seeds.   

1 cup of roasted sunflower seeds. 

 

First the seeds became dry and crumbly. It took patience and time to get to the next stage.  When you think it's time to give up, keep going! The oils take a while to be sufficiently released to produce the desired outcome. 

First the seeds became dry and crumbly. It took patience and time to get to the next stage.  When you think it's time to give up, keep going! The oils take a while to be sufficiently released to produce the desired outcome. 

Finally! After 7 minutes in the processor, the sunbutter began to resemble what I think of as sunbutter. Then I added 1 tablespoon of honey and pureed till smooth. 

Finally! After 7 minutes in the processor, the sunbutter began to resemble what I think of as sunbutter. Then I added 1 tablespoon of honey and pureed till smooth. 

Voila! Creamy and delicious. 

Voila! Creamy and delicious. 

Lunchtime! A great sandwich for a hot day. 

Lunchtime! A great sandwich for a hot day. 

Vacation and pre-camp breakfast

We are on vacation this week and the kiddos are going to camp at the Audubon Society. They'll spend their days on marsh hikes, exploring turtle shells and horseshoe crabs and talking about bats and other nocturnal creatures. 

It's a lot to take in! So this morning, the kids fueled up with whole wheat french toast, scrambled egg from the leftover french toast liquid, peaches and Applegate chicken apple breakfast sausage. 

Ready for the adventure ahead!

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100 Days of Push-Ups

100 days ago, I watched this video of a young girl who does push-ups for 100 days as a means to overcome bad feelings about her body (hat tip, Joanna Goddard) and was absolutely inspired. I watched it with my 8 year old daughter and 4 year old son. Several times. I showed it to my husband, my babysitter, my friends, my parents. I decided to give it a go myself. 

100 days is a long time, and yet for me with these push-ups, it flew by. Each day the alarm went off on my phone and somehow I found the time for push-ups. My kids cheered me on and always celebrated the final push up, dancing around and singing about having a strong mama. That alone is a powerful motivator. Admittedly, I have a shoulder problem so I did these push-ups on my knees but the work was challenging for me nonetheless. And 100 days later, I am absolutely proud to say that I'm stronger, I feel fantastic and though the work was grueling and tiresome at times, overall it was thoroughly enjoyable. 

100 days of push ups

I'm starting the next 100 days tomorrow! Will you join me? #giveit100

p.s. - how cute is that muscle-man Tattly?!