If you’ve ever had your child return home from school with only half their lunch eaten, the feelings of frustration can be experienced twofold – first, via your child by virtue of the fact that they didn’t eat, and second, by your own wasted time and efforts spent making it. BRIKA enlisted the help of the Lunch Lady, a.k.a. Ruthie Burd, to tackle some of the most frequently posed questions facing many parents today. With her advice, we hope that the lunch-packing process in your household is a collaborative, innovate and ultimately positive one.
Ruthie Burd is the president and face behind the Lunch Lady, a service that provides packed lunches to schools across Canada. Founded in 1993, Ruthie started the Lunch Lady from the need to create a business that worked around her autistic son’s therapy sessions. Now, hundreds of schools are served by the community-based kitchens across Canada that work to promote a healthier attitude to food and encourage parents to take back control of their cupboards.
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How do you get kids to be less picky with their food?
Firstly, parents need to change the way they think. They’re anxious that if their children don’t like what was packed for their lunch, they won’t eat it and will be hungry—this translates into feelings of inadequacy about their role as a parent. This worry about our children going hungry is a very North American phenomenon as the conversation about food scarcity is unlikely to be happening in our world. As a society, we eat too much, so it’s no surprise that we’re concerned over not having enough to eat. I think the key is to ignore the fact that there may or may not be a picky eater in your house. They may be hungry when they get home, but that’s your opportunity to give them something that’s good for them.
When it comes to packing lunches, often it comes down to the way the food is presented. The key is to make it into bite-sized pieces. Kids usually only have about 20 minutes to sit down and eat before they go outside. It’s a rush-through affair, most of which is spent talking to each other. Similar to adults at a cocktail party, it would be difficult to carry on a conversation with a full-sized sandwich to eat at the same time. When you’re making a sandwich, make sure it’s cut into pieces—a tortilla can be rolled up and cut into pinwheels, for example. Putting food into small containers is also good because it makes it easy for them to socialize. If kids can talk and eat at the same time, they’ll have better nutritional uptake.
How can you get your kids involved in the lunch packing process?
If your children are going to be involved with what you put in their lunch, you have to understand that it takes a little bit of time, and then make setting the time aside into a habit. Schedule a time that works for everyone, and accept that it may not happen all the time. The key is to turn it into a routine that is sustainable for you and your family. It’s not sustainable to make a big fancy production out of it. Ask your kids what they think you should put in their lunch. Give them a choice—that’s what they want—then, there’s a better chance that they will eat it.
How can you make meal prep more effective when you have a week’s worth of lunches to pack?
Schedule a time to go to the grocery store with your kids and map out all the elements that will go into their lunch. There should be a grain, a protein, veggies, fruit and maybe a treat. You need to give your kids a sense of what a balanced lunch looks like—it’s all about attitude.
How do you get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables in their lunch?
On Sundays, prep a big batch of fruit or veggies—show them how to peel and chop carrots, for example—and place them into small containers for the week. It’s important to ask for their opinion and engage them in the process. It will then become an expectation that every day you should have a fruit and vegetable in your lunch. As always, it’s important to make your fruits and vegetables bite-sized. A whole apple, for example, ties up your mouth and takes effort. If it’s pre-sliced and dipped in lemon juice (since kids don’t like browned food), they will eat them. Anything that facilitates the eating process—especially with healthy foods—is best.