I recently published a guest article on Psychology of Eating Expert Karen Schachter’s Newsletter, and thought I’d share it with moms at “the lounge” – enjoy!

school lunchThe Business of School Lunches

Back-to-school, and back to the school cafeteria adds yet another item to a Mom’s “to do list.” Whether you buy or bring, you’re undoubtedly thinking about providing a nutritious, high-energy lunch for your child. Add to the equation refrigeration issues (or lack thereof!), school allergy guidelines, and picky eaters, and you’re bound to find yourself in a frustrating situation. Plus, many kids eat lunch early, so providing a good energy boost is important to help them get through the day.

Here are some links and tips to add method to the meal! As a Featured Discussion Leader for DC Moms Like Me, I recently blogged about “creative camp lunches.”

Some of the survival tactics apply to school lunches as well, and I’ve added some additional tips here:

· Plan ahead – Definitely make lunches the night before – the morning routine is already rushed. Plus, you get the added benefit of refrigerating overnight in the lunch sack to hopefully keep it cool during the morning. I like to include the plastic spoon and napkin so they aren’t running around the lunchroom for supplies.

· Teamwork wins – Include the kids in the process to get some help AND to get buy-in so they’re more likely to eat it!

· Get creative – I’ve cut sandwiches into shapes (with cookie cutters), embarrassed as I am to admit it! You can also send veggies to dip in yogurt or other fun interactive lunch items to keep little hands busy during the lunch hour.

· Avoid high-sugar ingredients – Kids need a lot of energy to get through the school day – try to provide high fuel without high sugar so they don’t crash during math class.

· Make it Simple – The lunch period is short, and by the time the kids make it to their seats, it seems like they’re cleaning up before they dig the fork in for the first bite. Don’t send anything too complicated or difficult to open. As a Lunch Aide, I saw many frustrated kids struggling to open things, spilling liquids, etc.

In terms of what to include in school lunches, I also find this challenging. I look for balance – a main dish, a fruit, some healthy chips, and yes, a dessert. Anything in moderation is ok. Try to include some protein for energy if possible in the main dish:

– Tuna or egg salad
– Mini bagels with butter or cream cheese
– Soup or Ramen noodles (can be kept hot in a small thermos)
– Hard boiled eggs
– Yogurt

To streamline the process, consider a questionnaire the kids can fill out. Early on, a Dad guest authored an adorable piece here on my blog, about the “School Lunch Conundrum.” I love to see business skills come home to increase productivity, and loved this example where a dad brought his corporate tax experience into the kitchen! This father gave his kids a grid to fill out each week, and said it helped with advance grocery shopping and eliminated the headache in lunch prep.

If your child is buying lunch, I recommend printing the school lunch menu, and having your child highlight the days he or she wants to buy so you can plan in advance as well.

Good luck, and happy lunch-ing!