· By Julia Boase
Navigating Changing Lunch Box Needs: Adapting to Growing Kids
Life is an ever-evolving journey, and as parents, we find ourselves adapting to the changing needs and preferences of our children. Reflecting on my own experiences, I've come to realise that the way I pack my kids' lunch boxes (and feed them in general) has transformed over time to accommodate their shifting stages of development.
When my children were little, dinner was served around 5-5:30 pm. Now, with the complexities of work, after-school activities, and a growing family, we've shifted to a 7 pm dinner time. In the early days, I would prepare dinner while my kids took their midday nap. Presently, I dedicate the last hour of my workday to cooking, allowing me to manage the whirlwind of after-school activities we now embrace. Eating out was a rarity when my children were younger, and if we did venture out, it was a swift and efficient affair to avoid potential tantrums. These days, we savour the joy of trying new eateries and favourites during weekends, with a more relaxed approach.
As my children have matured, my approach to lunch boxes has evolved as well.
I've always leaned towards packing "nude" (litter-free) food items in their lunches. This habit was fostered partly by my love for baking – many of their snacks were homemade and pulled from the freezer. Crafting lunches that were "pretty healthy" became my goal, aligned with the dietary guidelines of their kindergartens and schools.
However, children grow and develop their own opinions and preferences about their lunches. As they age, their inclination towards packaged foods becomes pronounced. Despite their environmental consciousness, the allure of fitting in and enjoying the trendy packaged foods their peers have is undeniable. This becomes even more evident during the teenage years. High school dynamics often dictate that eating from the canteen is the norm, and lunch must be portable and quickly consumed.
Facing these challenges, how can we strike a balance between our children's evolving preferences and nutritional needs while giving them some autonomy?
1. **Flexibility with Packaged Foods:** While I still prioritise "nude" foods, I've incorporated packaged items into the lunch boxes – think Sunrice bites, Grainwaves, Popcorn, nut bars, or Yopros for the older ones. This balanced approach respects their desires while maintaining nutritional value.
2. **Moderate Treats:** Addressing the requests for popular “treats” (Oreos, Nutella snack packs, chips, and chocolate are the ones I’m asked for at the moment) calls for a measured response. Rather than forbidding such items, I've included small amounts in their lunches. This fosters a healthy attitude toward “treats” (we talk about everyday and not every day foods in my house) and prevents overindulgence. I also love that our five compartment lunch box has a tiny compartment that is perfect for accomodating a little treat like some mini oreos, wafer biscuits or tv sticks (you would have seen me including these if you follow my stories on instagram).
3. **Canteen Fridays:** To lighten the load, we designate Fridays for canteen lunches. This break from packing is especially welcome in our household with multiple children and the kids get to join in with something that their peers are also participating in.
4. **Regular Chip Night:** The ongoing request for chips led us to establish a Friday night chip tradition, aligned with screen time. By normalising chips as a regular treat (and role modelling how they can fit into a healthy balanced diet), their allure diminished, making them a less coveted item. (you can read more about how I started this here).
The key takeaway is that children's food needs shift with time, often influenced by factors beyond nutrition – independence, peer influence, and exploration. While it's tempting to enforce strict dietary choices, empowering children with some autonomy, balanced with healthy role modelling, paves the way for a positive relationship with food as they mature.
In essence, embracing change is crucial, as we acknowledge the evolving needs of our children and the importance of fostering a well-rounded and adaptive approach to their nutrition.