5 Reasons to Pack Your Child's School Lunch

This was truly a proud mommy moment: one day I asked my kindergarten-aged son if he’d like to eat school lunch or the lunch I would pack for him. He asked, “Which is healthier, Momma?” and I replied, “The lunch that I would pack for you today is healthier.” And his priceless response? “Then I’ll have your healthier lunch.” 

Now that warms my heart! On days when my kids have asked for school lunch, it’s the norm rather than the exception that something that they want will be out by the time they make it to the front of the line.

  One day, they opted for chicken nuggets from school. It’s one of the only cafeteria lunches that they always want. At the end of the school day, when I asked how lunch was for them, I got looks of disapproval as they reported that fish sticks were served instead. Packing a healthy lunch definitely has its advantages.

There are several reasons to pack your child’s lunch. Here are 5 great ones, and you probably have many that aren’t on this list.

You Can Optimize on Healthy Food that Actually Gets Eaten

When you pack your child’s lunch or allow them to pack lunch for themselves (with your guidance), you are creating a wonderful opportunity for packing in wholesome and nutritious choices that you feel have the best chance of being eaten. The school lunch menu may be nutritious and well balanced but if you know your child is only going to eat the roll, your child doesn’t get the benefit of that well-balanced meal.

However, if your child chooses, packs, and eats whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, some grapes, and a mix of cucumbers and cherry tomatoes with a special treat on the side, then you’ve succeeded in providing a nutritious meal that will be eaten and enjoyed.

Sometimes, school lunches are actually more nutritious than what kids and parents pack for themselves.

Picture this: a school lunch of spaghetti and meat sauce with green beans, peaches, and milk versus a home-packed lunch of crackers, ham, cookies, and a bag of chips. However, as long as you are making sure to provide a variety of wholesome foods (whole grains, protein, vegetables, and fruit that you feel that your child will eat, this may be the healthier option. If you know that your child won’t eat the lunch provided by the school the health benefits of it are lost, so packing up your child’s healthy menu choices is definitely better in that case.

Also, when packing your child’s lunch, you and your child are able to accommodate any food allergy and avoid run-ins with offending foods.

You Can Educate Your Child on Healthy Food Choices

If your child is working with you to decide the menu, you have the opportunity to educate on healthy food choices. You can present options for your child to choose from, which hands over decision making power to the child. Most children would definitely dig that!

By giving my child choices I can hand over the decision making powers while still having a hand in the menu. For instance, I’ll ask if my daughter would like a baked egg with spinach on a whole wheat English muffin or peanut butter and honey on whole wheat bread or on a whole wheat wrap for lunch. And for vegetables, she can pick from raw carrots, sliced cucumber, or a bit of leftover pasta salad packed with chopped up red and green peppers. She is making the final decisions and I am guiding.

You Can Bond With Your Child

Working together preparing a lunch is bonding time with your child. That's a bonus! With busy work and school schedules, any amount of bonding time is a treasure. And if mornings are busy, make the lunch the night before or at least have the menu in place to execute more quickly in the morning.

You Can Control Food Quality and Quantity

When you pack your lunch you are controlling the food quality and the quantity. For instance, we make our pasta salad with whole grain pasta so if I provide that pasta as an option in a packed lunch, I know that my children are gaining the benefits of the fiber and whole grains from that pasta. And if I send fresh fruit rather than the canned fruit packed in syrup served with the school lunch, I know that my children are getting less added sugars and more nutrients from the whole fruit. Simple lunch swaps like this add up to make a different.

Also, when you and your child pack the lunch, you can control the quantity and only serve a portion that is realistic for your child to eat.

You Can Reduce Food Waste

That means you're helping to reduce money spent on tossed food. Knowing that the foods your child chooses are those that he or she is more likely to eat reduces the amount of food wasted. And since most of us pay for school lunch, if your child only eats half, you’ve got wasted money and a hungry child who may not be able to perform at his highest level. 

There are definitely times when school lunch is a great choice. For those days when you haven’t made it to the grocery store, or when your child sees the menu and knows he is excited about every part of that lunch, opt for school lunch. My kids love to bring home the monthly menu and circle about three or four days which they know they’ll eat most of the menu items well. And on those days, it’s nice to give them freedom to choose and the independence to handle getting their lunch for themselves.

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