Ducks 'n a Row: School Lunch - Making Lunches Little Kids Will Love

15 February 2016

School Lunch - Making Lunches Little Kids Will Love

We just love watching our children eat well, am I right? Little ones hungrily gobbling down healthy bites from each essential food group - yes! That makes us so happy.
kids lunches, lunch ideas, parenting

And no one knows your children better than you do. True enough?  I am a mom and I am also a preschool teacher. As a mom, I've loved every lunch I've put together for my kids. As a teacher, I get to see what happens with the lunch you lovingly prepared and sent to school.

Yes, 12 great lunches with lots of variety come in the door of my classroom every week, only to have major parts rejected for that sugary snack that was supposed to be dessert.  Believe me, teachers attempt to steer their little students, encouraging them to eat all of their lunch. That advice is not always heeded but we do try. 

It is my practice to have the child return the uneaten portion to their lunchbag to take it home again. (Opened yogurt containers cannot go back in for obvious reasons!) But I want you, mom and dad, to see food that has been rejected. It could be a one-time thing but often I see the same student skipping the same food item time and time again. Parents don't want the food to be wasted and they do want their child to eat a good lunch every time!

So, here are some suggestions from me to you on how we can work together to make your child's eating experience at school a great big healthy success- most of the time!

The best lunches have variety! Not every child will eat a sandwich. In fact, in my preschool class I would say that perhaps 3 lunches include a sandwich and the rest do not. That was a surprise to me when I started teaching. I was a "sandwich girl" when I was growing up so I never imagined how many children won't eat a sandwich. 

Protein makes the day go better. Some of my little kiddos fade fast on a school day. More times than not I can track that back to their snacks and lunch: lots of carbs, veggies and fruit but almost no protein. Cheese and meat will perk them up and keep them going all day long. Most schools have to be nut free due to allergies. If that is not the case at your school, you can add nuts and peanut butter to the protein possibilities.

food, lunch, kids, school, school lunch idea, preschool, kindergarten

Lunch ideas from my classroom:
  • Applesauce
  • Bagel - sliced with butter or cream cheese 
  • Banana bread sandwich with cream cheese 
  • Breakfast sandwich from McD's - one of my little kiddos brought one for her early snack!
  • Cheese with crackers
  • Cheese sticks
  • Cheese slices
  • Cookies
  • Crackers 
  • Cucumber -slices
  • Eggs - hard boiled
  • Fruit -pre-sliced
  • Granola Bars
  • Hummus and crackers
  • Lunch Meat - cut in pieces
  • Mac n Cheese - preheated and in a thermos container
  • Muffins 
  • Olives
  • Pepperoni - slices
  • Pickles
  • Pita bread triangles with dip
  • Popcorn -popped at home or prepackaged
  • Pudding
  • Rice Cakes
  • Salad with dressing
  • Sandwiches
  • Soft Pretzels
  • Snackables -pizza is a favorite but it can be messy to assemble
  • Submarine sandwich - small 
  • Soup preheated and in a thermos container
  • Trail Mix - nut free
  • Veggies cut in slices with dip
  • Wraps- cut small for little hands
  • Yogurt
Nut free? Try these! If your child's school is a nut-free zone and he/she is a peanut butter lover, try similar products that are not nut based such as WOW Butter. Either that or save the PB+J for an after-school snack when your child gets home. 
kids lunches for school

Skip the fiber for school. You know your child's constitution but do remember that school presents challenges. The activity level in school may be different from home. The availability of the facilities is not the same, either. 

Our school bathrooms are a long walk down the hall which is not the best for preschoolers but we make it work. I might add that we cannot let these little children go by themselves. If a child has a special need at a time other than our scheduled trip down the hall, one of the adults must leave the classroom to accompany. Bathroom emergencies do not work well in my school and it would be embarrassing if the child doesn't make it in time. 

All this to say, if you know that a food (i.e. grapes come to mind but there are others) affects your child in "that way," please do not send that food to school. 

*I had a darling little girl last year who could not eat grapes without repercussions. One day we went through two changes of clothes and, on the third, I finally had to call home. The little darling wasn't sick. She LOVES grapes and ate so many at lunch that it ran through her. She was so embarrassed. We kept it as private as possible. We concluded that it must have been the grapes. So mom and I decided that grapes would no longer come to school. Never had a problem again. 

Ask them what they like. Give your kids a voice in what they take to school for lunch. Remember, too, that what they love to eat at home could generate ridicule at school. What do I mean? 

Taking this to an extreme to make a point here: little Timmy brings pickled herring to school for lunch. He loves it at home. At school? The sight and scent drives kids away with sharp remarks like "Oooh. What's that smell? It stinks!" I know you won't be sending pickled herring but you get the point.  My classroom is full of gentle kids who are kind but even they can get a little bit outspoken if the item is strange enough.  If your child resists taking a favorite food in his/her lunch, listen! 

*Embarrassing Moments: when I was a little girl our school had a cafeteria. One day as I was carrying my food from the counter to the table but on the way I spilled my entire tray of spaghetti all over the floor. The whole lunchroom burst out in geers and applause. The nice lunch lady quieted them down and helped me get another lunch. But that was it. I NEVER bought lunch at school again. I wasn't going to have all those eyes on me waiting for the next debacle. I think I was in college before I tried it again. True story!

kids lunches, school lunch, food art

Make lunches fun! Little ones love pictures in their food. Not every meal has to be an art gallery but maybe once or twice a week? How about cutting the cheese into shapes? Or making a picture with the veggies? There are pins to some great resources at the end of this article that will give you some awesome creative ideas.

Microwavable? Think carefully. Your child's school may provide microwaves for the children to heat up food. A nice hot meal for lunch is every mother's dream but the circumstances around preparing it may not be. Ask the teacher for more information before you proceed. 

What you need to know about your child using microwaves at school, especially if your child is very young: 
  • Will he or she have help with the microwave?
  • If, after microwaving, the container will be too hot for handling, is there an adult designated to carry it for them?
  • How much time is there to heat it up? Certain items take a long time - 3 minutes or more is LONG at school - to cook. This ties up the microwave so that others cannot use it and takes away valuable eating time for your child. 
  • Is the container you are sending microwavable or will they need another container to heat it in? If so, send the right container with a spoon for ladeling it out or find something else to send for lunch. 
Having worked in a school that did provide microwaves, I vote for NOT sending microwavable food. Sorry. I don't want to be a killjoy but it was a real challenge for teachers and students to have enough time to conclude the process. Somebody will be the last to use it and will have to rush their lunch. Sometimes the teacher monitoring lunch has to eat her lunch with the children. She needs a chance to eat, too. These are just my observations and "food for thought!" When in doubt, ask.
Don't forget the plasticware. Please send a spoon for yogurt, applesauce or pudding. If you do send microwavable food or a salad, send a fork with it. Let your child know whether that spoon or fork can be thrown away or should be put back into the lunchbag to come home. Sometimes we can tell just by looking at it but there are those occasions where it finds its way to the trash before we can say "Stop, don't!" 

Send napkins. There may be napkins or paper towel available at school but no guarantees that they are right there when your child needs one. Please put a couple of napkins in their lunchbag.

Include a sweet note.  A number of my parents put a note inside their child's lunch wishing their little one a great day. I can attest, it puts a smile on their face every time. 
If your child cannot read, we gladly read it to them but do add a little visual. A heart. A sun. A smiley face. A flower. Add some drawing or sticker to depict the essence of what it says. 
Beverages. Send no-spill drinks that are easy to handle. Test them at home! Water bottles work great. Juice boxes, too, but with one caveat. Not all juice boxes/bags are equal. There are some that, when you put the straw in, the juice spurts out. There is one design that even adults have a real challenge with- the kind where the straw is inserted in a fold at the top. You try it. Three of us, all adults, worked on one just last week. All of us were stymied.  We finally got it to work and the child had his drink but not before we had a wet mess to clean up.

Snacks. Children in the younger grades usually have a snack during the day. In my case, ours have 2 snacks as many stay after school for special clubs. Again, consider sending a protein like a cheese stick for at least one of them. 

Send enough food. Know that one snack for each snack time may not be enough. To prevent him/her from wanting to dig into their lunch before it is lunchtime, over-send the snacks. Provide things that can easily be brought home and eaten later if not consumed at school. 

Resources: there are many great articles online written by parents providing excellent, creative ideas that will help you get healthy variety into your child's lunch. I pinned several of them and have listed them below so that you can pin them, too.

Here you go!

Got any school lunch secrets you can share with us? We'd love to hear your ideas. 

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About the Author: Sinea Pies is a former school administrator and guidance counselor who is currently loving it as a part-time preschool teacher, blogger and, best of all - grandma! 

Note: this author is an Amazon affiliate. Anything purchased from Amazon through Ducks 'n a Row will result in a small commission for me. In advance, "thank you!" ...Sinea

Photo credits:
Free Digital Photos by nemetus and tiverlylucky 
Flickr Creative Commons lunches: Melissa

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