In Houston, public schools go back to class a week from Monday, on August 24. Be prepared now by having a plan to encourage your little ones to eat the lunch you pack for them, but don’t rely on what your neighbor down the street told you to do. These suggestions below are backed by scientific studies, but try several of them to see what will work with your own child.
Get them involved
A study from researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada, showed that 83 to 93 percent of the children helped with meal preparation at home at least once a month. According to the researchers, children who assisted their parents the most in the kitchen were more likely to choose and to prefer healthier foods when on their own, such as in the school lunch line. If you want your child to eat those apple slices you put into his or her lunchbox, get your little one to help with grocery shopping, cooking or other aspects of meal preparation.
Add a smile
Researchers with the Cinncinnati Children’s Hospital discovered that giving children smiles can encourage them to make healthier food choices. The smiles given to the children were not on the faces of the cafeteria workers. Instead, the smiles took the form of green-colored emoticons positioned next to healthier choices in the lunch line. When paired with a smiley face, plain skim milk and vegetables were picked more often compared to when those items did not have emoticons next to them? Bring this idea into your home by dressing up your child’s lunches. Put smile stickers on the outside of sandwich bags filled with cut fruits or vegetables. Another way you can encourage your kids to eat more healthfully is to let them draw happy faces on the resealable plastic containers you use to pack parts of their lunches in.
Put a prize inside
The same researchers who discovered that kids choose plain skim milk more often when there is a smile emoticon next to it found that prizes work. Children who chose a fruit, vegetable, skim milk and a healthy entrée earned a small prize. Selections of the healthier foods increased the number of students who chose plain fat free milk. Cereal boxes often have prizes inside; why not incorporate it into your children’s lunch boxes? Hide a prize inside a bag of carrots, or reward your child for eating everything in the lunch box with a sheet of stickers, a special pencil or another small gift.
Make it delicious
In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers discovered that children will eat more fruits and vegetables when it looks like they are eating in a fancy café or when the food has been prepared by a professional chef. While you don’t have to be able to cook like a chef or make the school cafeteria look like a restaurant, you can make tasty vegetables and fruits for your child to take for lunch. Experiment during dinner. See what types of vegetables and fruits your child likes. Perhaps your child only likes carrots if they’re steamed and drizzled with honey, or maybe your little one only wants to eat apple slices with peanut butter. Make some concessions to allow your child to have the most flavorful fruits and vegetables possible, and you will be less likely to see leftovers in the lunch box after school.
Do you have a special way to get your child to eat the lunches you pack? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.
Yen Li Chu, Anna Farmer, Christina Fung, Stefan Kuhle, Kate E Storey and Paul J Veugelers (2013). Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children. Public Health Nutrition, 16, pp 108-112. doi:10.1017/S1368980012001218.
Robert Siegel, Michelle Hudgens, Amy Anneken, Kenya Simmons, Jessica Shelly, Uma Kotagal. Heart Institute, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH; James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH; Cincinnati Public Schools, Cincinnati, OH.
Juliana F. W. Cohen, ScM, ScD1; Scott A. Richardson, MBA2; Sarah A. Cluggish, MBA2; Ellen Parker, MBA, MSW2; Paul J. Catalano, ScD3,4; Eric B. Rimm, ScD5,6 (2015). Effects of choice architecture and chef-enhanced meals on the selection and consumption of healthier school foods: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Pediatrics, 2015;169(5):431-437. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.3805