Is Your Child Actually Eating the Healthy Lunch You Packed?
Creativity is a great approach when it comes to making and packing school lunches. However, don't be fooled. Just because you pack organic tofurkey and lettuce in a multi grain pita pocket, carrots and hummus, an apple and two sugar-free, whole grain "cookies" does not automatically mean your child will consume those things.
A lot goes on in the cafeteria while parents are at home, work or otherwise occupied with the daily responsibilities of raising a family. Hubby and I were fortunate to have a window into the intricate cafeteria culture — a microcosm of the childhood societal experience. That window was cracked ever so slightly open by the fact that we have three boys, communication is valued in our household and we always prioritized engagement with our children.
Let me explain. Three boys translated into sibling interactions that included storytelling hinging on the art of one-upping. One anecdote leads to another, more exciting anecdote, and so on. The valued family communication results in many opportunities — family dinners, long car rides — during which stories about each other's experiences can be shared. Engagement builds the relationships that make communication more prevalent as well as provides us opportunities to observe in person the strange world of the elementary school cafeteria.
While our children ate what we packed when we stopped by their school to eat with them, by the time the youngest was in the third grade, we were well aware that that wasn't always the case. Here's what happens when you pack your children über-healthy lunches (well, at least, this is what happens when you pack your BOYS those healthy meals):
Children have a lower tolerance for healthy foods than adults. However, they do crave some good nutrition. When one child, such as one of my boys, has a lunch box filled with whole grains, fruits and veggies, he might trade an item with the kid who brought a manufactured cup cake, bag of chips and frozen PB&J stuffed sandwich. My son, in this example, might give away the apple for the bag of chips. I don't mind The Trade, as it balances out both students' meals and helps build negotiation skills.
On a day during which on of my precious children decided he could not stomach one more serving of homemade, whole grain bread or container of yogurt, he would propose a dare. For example, he might offer to eat all the green French fries off of his friends' cafeteria meal trays in exchange for the dessert of his choice. The entertainment value — will he gag or, better yet, puke? — always resulted in his friends accepting the challenge. What became of the healthy lunch he brought? He gave away what he could and trashed the rest. I am not a fan of The Dare, although it does make for some hilarious dinner conversation.
Lastly, some kids know that brown-nosing the cafeteria staff can result in freebies. My sons were particularly good at scoring leftover biscuits and other foodstuffs that were going to be tossed after the kids scurried back to class. They knew which day a particular food would be available as a freebie and they knew whom to ask. Not only does this approach build networking skills, it reduces the amount of cafeteria food waste — a win-win in the eyes of kids who are overburdened by their mom's attempts to provide healthy meals.
While my boys did their best to outsmart us when it came to eating healthy, our persistence paid off. They grew up to make healthier choices on their own, they still appreciate — and often request — our homemade food and they are open to trying new things. Although, their adventurous palates could be the result of knowing that whatever we serve, it could never be as bad as some of what they consumed during The Dares.