According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34 percent of children aged two to 19 consume fast food items on any given day. For a nation that continues to struggle with an obesity epidemic, this news paints a particularly troubling picture of today’s youth. One of the best ways to encourage lifelong healthy habits is to start early and at home. When you make meals for your family, you’ll be able to choose the highest quality ingredients and lay the foundation for better choices from the start. But what about when your teen goes to school and has access to unhealthy yet appealing options?
Although the average lunch offered by schools throughout the nation has become a lot healthier in recent years, the quality of meals you’ll find in the lunch line probably pale in comparison to what you can make at home. Still, that doesn’t mean your teen will always want to eat it. How do you pack a nutritious lunch that she’ll actually want to eat? These tips will help you think outside of the (lunch) box.
Upgrade her lunch bag
The brown paper bag lunch may be a classic, but it certainly doesn’t whet anyone’s appetite. On the other hand, forcing your teen to bring her lunch to school in a bag that dates back to grade school might embarrass her in front of her classmates. It might seem inconsequential to you, but don’t forget that teenage insecurities are incredibly powerful. Consider shopping for new lunch totes at the start of a new school year. This can allow your teen or tween to take an active role in expressing her style and choose a lunch bag that she’ll be proud to bring into the lunch room.
Think beyond PB and J
You might not be able to control everything your teen does, but you can ensure that healthy eating isn’t boring. Healthier lunches have been found to improve academic performance, but your teen probably cares more about the taste than how her meal will help her grades. That said, teens today have much more sophisticated palates. A hummus wrap, burrito bowl, or salad with avocado and chicken may be a lot more exciting to unwrap than ham and cheese on white bread. Plus, these meals will be packed with the nutrients your teen needs to get through the day. Don’t forget that you can make your kids’ lunches part of your weekly meal prep to save time in the morning.
Try the bento box approach
We all eat with our eyes first, so it’s no wonder that a bland-looking sandwich in a plastic bag doesn’t get us excited about unpacking our lunch. You might want to take some inspiration from Japanese culture here. The idea of the bento box is to provide a balanced and attractive meal. In fact, some experts say that the visual concept of the TV dinner was derived from bento boxes; however, bento typically contains much more nutritional components. You don’t have to spend hours making a rice ball resembling Hello Kitty, but you may want to pick up some bento containers that feature separate small compartments for each part of the meal, and focus on making those additions look delicious. Brightly colored peppers, apple slices, grapes, crackers, yogurt, berries, and even traditional sandwiches cut in cute shapes will appear more appetizing, especially when arranged in a beautiful way. As a bonus, you’ll get to cut down on plastic and paper packaging, as the boxes are reusable and don’t require individual wrapping.
Involve her in the process
One of the most effective ways to get your teen or tween excited about what you’ve packed her for lunch is to make sure she’s involved in the process. That doesn’t mean you can’t surprise her; it simply means that she should take a more active role in deciding what she would like most to eat. Teenagers can be fickle, which means that luncheon meat she used to love may have fallen out of favor. If you go on shopping trips to the grocery store or farmer’s market together, you’ll gain valuable insight into the kinds of healthy foods she likes and can get her excited about what she’ll find during the lunch period. You may even be able to introduce her to healthy foods she’s never even tried before, which can foster a love of nutritious eating for a long time to come.
It’s not always easy to please a teenager, especially when it comes to food. But rather than accept the fact that half of her lunch will be thrown away or traded with another student, you can take steps to make sure she actually likes — and eats — what you make for her each day.