My friend Hanan and I have had many discussions about encouraging healthy eating in kids. Last week she sent me an email that touched a major nerve in me. Here’s part of what she said:
I really want to improve what goes into [her son’s] lunch box. He always looks at what’s in Imogen’s [my daughter’s] lunch box and says ‘she’s the only one with a healthy lunch’. Would you please share what you give Imi for lunch over a couple of weeks period?
My ambition is for our kids to set the standard for other kids to demand better food for lunch and not the opposite as been happening here: ‘all other kids have bars [i.e. snack bars of some sort – many of them absolute junk]!’. Maybe you could post this on your blog or in the newsletters. I’m thinking it can also be given as a handout to parents wanting to improve their kid’s diet at school.
Hear, hear! So here goes – a rundown of the contents of Imogen’s lunch box over the course of last week:
Monday: salad with tahini, wholegrain mustard and balsamic vinegar dressing (yes, my kids have exotic tastes) and a thermos of leftover bean and vegetable soup.
Tuesday: salad sandwich on Bill’s Organic Rye Bread, spread with tahini on one slice and avocado on the other.
Wednesday: leftover pumpkin and chick pea curry in a thermos, and a container of raw vegie sticks + a ‘lettuce surprise’ – a dried fig wrapped up in a lettuce leaf.
Thursday: green smoothie made from raw spinach, a banana, an orange and some frozen berries; with a container of raw vegie sticks.
Friday: salad with dressing made from fresh and sundried tomatoes, tahini, lemon juice and parsley, whizzed in my Thermomix until smooth and creamy; with leftover polenta-crusted pot pie that I’d cooked for dinner the previous night – dang, now I’ll have to post the recipe for that one!
Now, these foods may not be to your kids’ tastes. Mine have grown up on vegies, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds and other whole, natural foods, so they enjoy these foods and really don’t like the taste of salty, overly sweet processed foods. It may take a while to transition your kids to healthy eating in general, and healthy school lunches in particular.
How can you make that transition smoother? Talk to your kids about food! In my household, we talk about food a lot: what’s healthy and what’s not, and how we tell the difference (basically, can you look at the food and identify what it came from, or are its origins lost in the impenetrable mists of industrial food processing?) ; what other people believe about food and why they think that way (advertising, tradition and cultural beliefs); how people’ tastes are shaped by the food they eat in early life; the link between what we eat and how we feel day to day, and also what state of health we’ll be in as we get older; and so on. We also discuss food and beverage advertising, pointing out to our kids how advertisers use music, colour, attractive actors and carefully-worded slogans to implant particular ideas about the product into people’s unconscious minds, including creating the conviction that their product will meet some deep-seated need that we weren’t even aware we had until we watched the ad.
I aim to prepare healthy food in ways that taste delicious too, of course – few people will willingly eat food that tastes awful to them just because they know it’s ‘good for them’! And my kids are part of that process of experimentation, often suggesting combinations of foods that sound pretty terrible, but sometimes end up tasting rather good!
On a lighter note, my school lunch discovery of the year is the MunchPod – a groovy lunch container made by Smash, that keeps food warm for hours. It has a wide mouth, perfect for filling with chunky soup, and no glass to get smashed in kids’ backpacks. All you have to do is fill it with boiling water and let it sit for 5 minutes while you warm up the soup or other hot food (I use my Thermomix to reheat soup, curry etc – no burnt pans and no need to stand there stirring it), then tip out the water, pour in the hot meal, and voila. It’s still piping hot by lunch-time. I bought 2 MunchPods – 1 hot pink, 1 blue; guess whose is whose – in Coles at the beginning of winter, and the kids have been loving their hot meals on cold days. I’ll keep using them in the summer to send green smoothies along to school.
My biggest frustration is my kids’ school’s nut-free policy, which prevents me from sending dried fruit and nut balls as snacks, and nut-based salad dressings and dips. Unfortunately we have anaphylactic children in each classroom, so to protect them we have to keep the nuts out of the lunchbox. Interestingly though, the latest research suggests that preventing children from having any contact with peanuts when they’re young, actually increases the risk of them developing nut allergy and anaphylaxis.
Now for your thoughts. Please post about your experiences with school lunches – triumphs. flops and frustrations. Let’s further Hanan’s vision of kids who demand healthy food for lunch!