· By Julia Boase

Treats in the Lunch Box? My Perspective as a Paediatric Dietitian and Mum of Four


As a paediatric dietitian, Mum of four, and owner of Nudie Rudie Lunch Box, it probably won't surprise you to learn that I try to do a good job of making a heathy lunch box for my kids. They're not perfect though, as often there's a disconnect between what I'd like to pack and what I actually have the energy to pack at the end of the day. Then of course there's what my kids are happy to eat.....

My kids are probably just like yours in that I suffer from pester power  A LOT. The item that is currently requested ad nauseam is potato crisps.

So how do I manage this? With around 30% of a child's daily nutrition coming from their lunch box, I know it's important that the lunch box delivers some decent nutrition. Most schools these days also have some kind of healthy food policy which I try to adhere to (although note I firmly believe these should always be just guidelines and never enforced - more on that another day). That said I also know that a sure fire way to get a child OBSESSED about a food, is to place it on a pedestal and tell them they can't eat it.

Have you ever lusted after a new car, handbag or dress? When you finally got it, it made you feel 100%, it was so special, so luxurious, you loved it! But after a while that feeling wore off - the new car just became an ordinary car and that special feeling was gone. We call this experience "habituation" and the same is true of food. When we tell ourselves (or our kids) that we can't have a certain food, it actually leads to us placing an even greater value on that food, and our desire to eat it increases. It becomes the forbidden fruit and when we finally get it, we often binge on it because we don't know when we are going to get access to it again.  

A better approach is to allow yourself unconditional permission to eat a food. When you do this you'll find that food such as potato crisps actually aren't that fantastic - you'll eat them until your satisfied (not sick) and you won't find yourself craving them at every turn. 

With children the best way to achieve "habituation' is to work out a regular schedule (there's no right or wrong here, just what works for you as a family) - where your kids have regular exposure and access to foods that you might consider "treats" 

(I prefer the term sometimes foods). I like the 80/20 rule - where 80% of the time you're offering foods from the core food groups and 20% of the time you're offering "treat foods" (think chocolate, ice cream lollies, dessert etc etc).

Back to the potato chips - When the pestering about having chips didn't stop I knew it was time to give them more access to them, so I introduced Friday afternoon as "chip night". This means that when they get home from school they know they get potato chips for their after school snack. So far this is working for me. I even noticed that when I first started doing this, all the chips were gone at the end of the afternoon - now that the chips aren't so special anymore, there are usually some left over.

Right now this approach is working for me, but I’m constantly re-evaluating how I feed my kids. My eyes are firmly set on my long term goal of having kids that have a great relationship with food. Kids that can eat when hungry and stop when full. Kids that can enjoy a varied and interesting diet and kids that don't feel guilty or bad when they've eaten a "treat" food, but know how to enjoy these foods in moderation. If at some point my current approach doesn't work I'm not against throwing in a "chip day" for school.


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