My kindergartener had a fabulous first week of school but lunch is still an uphill battle for us. He is best described as a picky eater but it’s deeper than that. He’s also finicky – very particular about how food is prepared and presented. For example, he’ll pick cooked carrots out of a bowl of stir fry but happily eat sliced raw carrots. Consequently, I took a new approach to packing lunch and it started with investment in a Yumbox. They are heavy duty, leak proof boxes that include perfectly divided trays to help you get proportions right. They also come in fun colors and my little one was excited to have it. We shopped for it together and he selected the color and tray design. My goal, was to make his lunchbox so appetizing and fun that he wouldn’t be able to resist eating it’s contents. I didn’t exactly meet my goal within the first four days of school but I wasn’t a complete failure either. Here’s how it went down and what I learned along the way…
I prepared my first bento-style lunch on the first day of school. This is new territory for me too. The box contained turkey, cheese and tomato pinwheels, apple slices, pretzels, rainbow goldfish and a few gummi bears as a sweet treat. He ate the apples, pretzels, gummies and a few goldfish. He didn’t touch his entree. I’d been hopeful he’d eat it but I wasn’t surprised. We talked about it and although I’d just watched him inhale a six inch turkey sub with tomato on it at subway the day before, he told me that he didn’t like tomatoes. Okay. Got it. We agreed to try the pinwheels again with no tomatoes.
Tip: Slip a sheet of wax paper over the food tray to prevent food with sticky substances from sticking to the top of the box.
The second lunch included, turkey and cheese pinwheels, apple slices, pretzels, rainbow goldfish and a few gummi bears. He ate most of the apple slices, some of the pretzels, and some of the goldfish. He ate less on day two and again, didn’t eat the pinwheels. Only one of the five pieces I sent was missing. He said that he tried it but didn’t have time to finish. ‘E’ for effort? We discussed the situation and he asked for a subway-style turkey sandwich instead of pinwheels. Okay, cool. We stopped by the supermarket after school and scouted more options. I went home with a game plan and hope that I’d nail it on day three.
Tip: Tell your kid to listen for the click. Demonstrate opening and closing the box to familiarize them with the how the latch sounds when the the box is securely closed.
The third lunch included a turkey, cheese and cucumber subway-style sandwich, marinated cucumbers, a medley of strawberries and blueberries, rainbow goldfish and gummi bears. When I opened the lunchbox after school, I was pleasantly surprised. He had eaten more of this lunch than any other. The only food remaining was the cucumbers and 2/3 of the sandwich. During our lunch briefing he explained that he liked his sandwich but didn’t have enough time to finish it so he happily sat at the table and finished about another third of it. I was pleased. Although he loves tossed salad with cucumbers and Italian dressing, he did not like the marinated cucumbers alone. He said he’d prefer if I didn’t send that again. Okay, got it. The real win though, was the blueberries. That was his first time trying them and he ate them all! This was huge because this child rarely tries new food, let alone actually expanding his palette. I praised his effort and told him how proud of him I was. He requested that I go back to the pinwheels – without tomatoes – so I moved into day four with complete confidence that we were conquering lunch.
Tip: Empty and soak the yumbox in hot soapy water when oil based substances come in contact with its surface. I caught hell trying to rid the box of Italian dressing.
The fourth and final lunch of the week (it was a short first week back) included turkey and cheese pinwheels, carrot sticks, a fruit roll up, medley of strawberries and blueberries, pretzels and red grapes. When I asked about lunch he was slow to share but again, he lamented not having enough time. I opened the box. There, still in the box, were all of the pinwheels, half of the berry medley and one or two pretzels. He’d eaten the carrot sticks, pretzels, fruit roll up and half of the fresh fruit. Ugh! I felt like we were at a stalemate; Not better or worse, just the same. Apparently, on day four the strawberries were softer than they were on day three so, he didn’t like them on day four. He said, and I quote, “mom, get me harder strawberries so they don’t get softer on the second day”. Okay, got it.
We’ve discussed more food options for next week and I’ve taken ALL of his feedback under advisement. This lunch situation stresses me out a bit because I want my kid to eat balanced, healthy meals but my options are limited. He has a nut free campus and there’s a pretty exhaustive ‘no-list’ as well. I’m also concerned about him being hungry at school but he says he’s not. What I send is important but having enough time to eat it is just as important and I’m not sure that his lunch is sufficiently timed. I learned that lunch for his grade level runs during their second recess of the day so basically, five year olds have to choose between eating and playing. He’ll ALWAYS take a few bites to curb hunger and then spend the bulk of his time playing. He also told me that I’m altogether sending too much food. They have a morning snack and then lunch in the afternoon. I’ll adjust the portions for next week but once he starts staying late for sports, I’ll load him up again.
Through it all, one thing remained constant – he loves his lunchbox. Because of that, he’s interested in the process. He asks me to show him the box each morning after it’s filled. He likes how the food is presented and gives his approval. He’s also open to discussing lunch time, food and new combinations with me. We are working through lunchtime woes together. Did I conquer lunch for this school year and beyond? Nope. But I’ve got open dialogue with my picky little boy about his particular palette so we will win – eventually.