School Lunch Savvy: My Family’s Cafeteria Compromise

Cafeteria-Compromise

For the most part, our kids are pretty easy to feed. They usually eat the things that we put in front of them and if there’s something new on their plate the rule is they have to at least try it, but they don’t have to eat it if they don’t like.

They are not forced to finish their plate as long as they promise that they are no longer hungry and will not come running back to ask for a snack in a few minutes.

But lunch is a different story. They’re very fickle; they like something one day and go off it the next. So when they introduced this great “Hot Lunch” program to our school, I was really happy. The company only uses organic ingredients which is right up my alley and I thought our lunch problem would finally be solved

Unfortunately, paying $4.25 per meal each day adds up pretty quickly. So we struck a deal with our two daughters: They could choose a hot lunch every Monday and Friday. This would make all of us happy. I would get a little break from preparing their school lunch in the morning and they would get a little nice choice of their own two days a week. Again, I thought everything was solved.

But after a a few weeks, I noticed they were always choosing the least healthy item on the menu. Namely, a cheese pizza, cheese sandwich or PB&J sandwich. Of course that sounds delicious to a child, but what about a “Chicken Pot Pie” with chicken and vegetables or a “Chicken Burrito” with chicken, beans and rice? I had to reneogtiate.

A new deal was put in place: They could only choose one “unhealthy” lunch a month. The rest of their choices had to be something that we all agreed on. It  worked quite well and they learned to like new things that I might not even have cooked at home.

The new deal seemed to be working, until after the holidays, when disaster struck. My six-year old told me that she preferred my lunch to the school lunch. I got nervous. Why? Because her taste buds were changing and she was always the one who tried everything. I remember going through the same thing with our 8-year-old a few years ago and now she is the most picky of the three sisters. I was afraid my youngest was heading down the same path.

School lunches seemed like a great way develop her taste buds more – and although of course it was wonderful to hear that she preferred my lunches – my first reaction was “oh no, what am I going to make her?”

Luckily she started coming up with ideas on her own! I was so relieved that she was not becoming close-minded to new foods. Since then,  I started giving them leftovers in their lunchboxes. It’s a great way to save money with foods that don’t have to be eaten hot. Don’t forget, many studies have shown that healthy food gives children more energy to concentrate in class and isn’t necessarily more expensive.

Making sure the kids eat healthy at school is really important. Children left to themselves buy all sorts of junk: Burgers, hot dogs, corn dogs! And what’s worse is some schools ONLY offer this sort of food. As a working mom I know it is really difficult to control the food intake of your child when they are not eating in front of you, but it is important to give them a good basis from home so they learn how to make good choices.

How do you make sure your kids are eating healthy school lunches? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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