Employee & Community Health

Packing lunches together powers parent-kid conversations

9/12/2019 by Michaeleen Burroughs, RDN, LD

ECH_packinglunch_widget

Every weeknight in homes across the country, families face the dreaded chore of packing lunches. But as Mary Poppins says, "In every task that must be done, there's an element of fun". In this case, it's not only fun, but also a time for parents and kids to talk as they gather food groups and ingredients to build healthy lunches. 

The conversations can be about anything, but this is prime time to talk with your kids about making healthy food choices, while packing lunches they'll enjoy. (You can pack yours for work, too!)

To get started on your family lunch-packing project:

  • Make sure you've got good lunch-carrying supplies on hand: a good-quality lunch box, water bottle, thermal beverage container, some cool packs, and reusable containers. Keep a variety of sizes of zipper food storage bags — both sandwich and snack size — to pack kid-sized portions from family-sized containers such as pretzels, dry cereal, dried fruits or nuts. 
  • Make a plan for lunches based on what you've got on hand, what leftovers could be re-imagined into sandwiches, salads or something hot for a chilly day, and what you need from the store. 
  • Have kids come shopping with you to pick out food they like — and maybe try new ones. Are they studying a particular country or doing a unit on health? These can help you work in new options such as a food from that country or from something they're learning. But there's no shortage of familiar ones to choose from: ready-to-pack cut fruits and veggies, dried fruits and unsalted nuts, pre-portioned cheese and single-serve yogurts, hummus and cracker cups, and tuna and chicken pouches. 
  • Clear a work place on the kitchen counter or table and gather your ingredients. 

As you assemble the lunches, try these talk topics:

  • Why are these good choices. Food is fuel, it powers their bodies — both brains AND muscles — throughout the day and helps their school and sports performance. 
  • Food likes and dislikes, and why. Is it taste, texture, color or just too "yucky". Why do they like what they like? 
  • How to build a healthy lunch. One typically contains three to five of the food groups — fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy. A granola bar and grapes might be a good start for a packed lunch — grain and fruit — but what needs to be added to make the lunch more complete? 
  • What do other kids bring in their lunches. Is there something they'd like to try? 

But don't forget the fun: 

  • Once sandwiches are made, let your child use cookie cutters to create fun, bite-size portions. 
  • Use a crinkle cutter to cut fruits and veggies with zigzag edges. 
  • As a random surprise, tuck a cheerful note, fun sticker, comic strip or fortune cookie into their lunch box. 

Michaeleen Burroughs, MS, RDN, LD, has worked in Employee and Community Health (ECH) in Family Medicine for 20 years. She currently helps patients at Mayo Family Clinics Northwest, Southeast and Kasson, and Baldwin Family Medicine and Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). Her areas of interest are diabetes and child and adult weight management.