I’m regularly contacted by anxious mums of kindy or prep kids who “won’t eat at school”. So I thought I would share some of my ideas for preparing your toddler to be ‘lunchbox ready’. The day they start school will come around before you know it, so here are some tips to ensure it will be smooth sailing.

You only have to look inside a kid’s lunchbox to understand that the industrialisation and commercialisation of our food chain has a stronghold on this next generation. Combined with the peer pressure to conform to the processed food norm, convincing your kids to eat ‘real’ food at school or kindy can be a challenge. All the same, I can’t help but feel it’s such a shame that whole food lunchboxes are considered ‘hippy’ or just plain ‘weird’ and that ‘pack-a-packet’ lunchboxes are normal.

One thing I’ve noticed from consulting with patients and conversing online is that many kids who are generally not too fussy, become fussy when it’s time for them to eat independently (surrounded by classroom distractions) from a lunchbox.  So I thought I’d share some tips for preparing your toddler to be lunchbox ready, which will make your life immeasurably easier come time that they start kindy or school.

Start now

If when you are out and you feed your toddlers packets of food, that’s what they are going to expect their lunchboxes to be full of when they start school. When my kids were little, I regularly gave them raw or cooked vegetables in a container when we were out for the day, so they were fine with eating that at school when the time came.

When you are out and about, start packing a small lunchbox of the sorts of things you want them to eat. Decide on what style of lunch containers suits best (lots of individual containers or a bento-style box) and if possible allow them to open and shut the containers themselves. Also start talking to them about the order they should eat foods. I taught my kids from an early age that the cut-up fruit and certain vegetables were best eaten early in the day (morning tea time). When they ignored me and then found that say a piece of cut-up fruit wasn’t so appealing when they went to eat it later in the day, I would again reinforce the need to eat it first-up. Even kids live and learn!

Get them used to eating cold leftovers

One of the ways I make my lunches easy to make and really nourishing is to work with leftovers or cook ahead in batches. Unless your child has access to facilities to heat food, they will need to get used to eating cold food. I do use a Thermos in winter to send some warm lunches, but mostly my kids eat everything cold. I don’t and never have microwaved my kids’ foods, so unless I had time when they were little to heat it on the stovetop or oven, they ate it cold and I now know, this has helped them to eat anything that I pack. I know many kids whose eating habits have deteriorated significantly since starting school, just because they aren’t used to raw or cold leftovers. A lot of parents are distressed by sending their kids with cold meat or leftovers, but trust me, this is way better than sending them with a ‘packet’. It also allows for so much variety, which is really important nutritionally and also to keep them interested in eating well at school.

No surprises and set boundaries

Food boundaries and guidelines are really important, even when it come to eating from a lunchbox. I’d always recommend that you don’t pack a ‘new’ food first up in a lunchbox. Trial it on a weekend instead.

I have set boundaries, even when they were little, that I expect them to eat what I pack. I don’t force them to eat something that’s gone soggy but what they don’t finish at lunch, they generally have after school. You need to get them used to eating what you’ve packed, so you won’t be doing them or yourself any favours if you jump to get them something else if they show displeasure as to what’s in their lunchbox. I’m not suggesting you force them to eat anything, rather talk to them about what’s in their lunch as you pack it and perhaps even offer a little choice eg. carrots or cucumber today? My kids always, even to this day, like to look at their lunch before they put it in their bag.

Offer a variety of foods

My kids get really bored if I feed them the same thing over and over again. Variety in their lunchbox not only keeps them interested, it also ensures they are deriving as many different nutrients, from as many different sources as possible. Feeding them the same things over and over really limits their potential to be truly nourished. Just remember – anything goes, don’t be constrained by fruit and a plain sandwich.

Get them involved

Kids are always more likely to eat what’s in their lunchbox if they’ve had some say or involvement in making it. Even if it’s as simple as directing little ones to pack the fruit from the chopping block into the lunchbox – it doesn’t need to be complicated.

I hope this post gives you a few ideas to implement before school comes around for your toddler.  It is always best to prevent rather than fix, so hopefully these tips will have you both ready to tackle this next phase of your child’s development.

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Well Nourished  

Founded by Georgia, a mum, cookbook author, naturopath with 19 years experience and the creator of The Well Nourished Lunch Box Challenge, Well Nourished delivers wholesome, easy-to-follow recipes targeted to busy families. Readers flock to Well Nourished for inspiring health advice and free, nourishing, family friendly recipes. // www.wellnourished.com.au