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(Headshot photo: Veronica Gonzalez-Smith is pictured on far right with her sister and mother, who are also her co-authors of the cookbook Muy Bueno.)

My kids have never been crazy about eating lunch in the school cafeteria and after looking at the cafeteria menu I wasn’t either. So a couple of years ago my hubby and I started packing the kid’s lunches. However, the lunch boxes came back home with half-eaten lunches and sometimes sandwiches went untouched. So hubby and I decided it was time to have a long chat with our kids about the importance of eating all their lunch, you know that conversation, you may have had it too. Now I know why the kids would arrive famished when they got home from school, they weren’t eating all of their lunch.

After writing down a list of acceptable lunch items, we had the kids add to the list and what we found out was truly surprising. Our kids do love healthy foods but we were packing it all wrong or serving them the wrong combinations. They love turkey, bread, tomatoes, and lettuce but not necessarily as a sandwich. Go figure. We were packing it for us and not for them. We made some minor changes in packaging, portion sizes, food combinations, and we used bite-sized foods instead of adult sizes. For example, instead of adding tomato to their sandwiches we pack cherry tomatoes instead. Once we started considering these elements, ideas for school lunches became endless. We still pack the occasional sandwich but not as often.

Here are the foods our kids love: fruit (yay), nuts (super yay), and meats in bite-sized portions, pretzels, crackers, cookies, bread, and some vegetables. After looking at their list of food choices, we shopped around for foods we could all feel good about. The kids had fun giving us their input.

Having total buy-in from the kids really helped. As a teacher I have learned to get children involved and make it fun. They also get the sense that we respect their ideas, likes, and dislikes and are willing to meet them half way, which in our opinion is a great way to illustrate tolerance, respect, and problem-solving. We had a problem, the kids were not eating their lunch and we had a huge need to solve this problem. Can you tell I’ve taught Science? Problem-solving is a great life skill and this was a big teachable moment for all of us.

Our kids are 9 and 13, male and female, elementary and middle-school-aged, and their ideas of what a tasty lunch should look like are somewhat different. We enjoyed learning more about what they love to eat and they really like that we took the time to value their choices. Mind you, some of their choices were completely unacceptable, like candy with lunch, but heard nonetheless. Packing these lunches has made us think outside the box, the conventional box, and our kids had some great ideas. Being still long enough to listen to their soft but insightful voices has helped.

We love Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! movement. Having two young kids of her own, she understands the importance of teaching children how to eat healthy and creating good eating habits that will last a lifetime. In looking at her site I discovered another great website called Choose My Plate. It’s a site filled with important facts about healthy eating and eating alternatives, recipes from the White House, interactive games, and more. We enjoyed looking at this website as a family. I highly encourage you to do the same with your children.

We have two food goals this year: To try foods we haven’t tried before and to make seasonal fruit part of our dessert menu. My son loves mangos and he delighted in informing me that it’s his all-time favorite fruit. I love mangos, too, so every chance I get I chop some up and add it to his lunch.

As we browsed around the site we found a White House recipes section. We agreed that each kid could pick one recipe per week to taste it and if time allows we would try more.

So back to school lunches. Yes, we continue to evolve as a family and finding lunch ideas that work for everyone and make everyone happy, kids and parents alike. Now when we shop for school lunches we also look for foods that come in bulk like pretzels, crackers, string cheese, and larger quantities of fruit because we know we will be repacking it into smaller containers, which saves us money. We also plan on packing leftovers, especially items like our celery salad or black bean salad, and simple fruit kabobs.

Kids are extremely creative when it comes to creating colorful skewers of fruit. Just set some fruit in front of them and watch what happens.

This post is part of the MomsRising "Making the School Day Healthier" Blog Carnival headlined by Top Chef Lorena Garcia."


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