You can use lunch to raise kids who:

  1. Eat a wide variety of healthy foods
  2. Know how to put junk into their diets in the right proportion
  3. Don’t soothe their souls with sweets and treats

Unfortunately, school lunches often reinforce the wrong habits.

For instance, sending the same lunch every day teaches kids to expect monotony, not variety. You can teach variety without adding new foods to your children’s diets. Keep reading.

It’s time to switch tactics to the Habits Approach.

This is the third and final post in the series. I laid out the general idea in my first post:

The recipe for success: Combine equal parts CONVERSATION and STRUCTURE. Mix and Serve!

Research shows that parents need to strike the right balance between compassion/warmth and structure. In the next two posts I’m going to give you

  • 4 rules that set the Structure that leads to good eating habits
  • 4 rules that set the Conversation that shares control and produces the right amount of compassion/warmth

In my last post I talked about the CONVERSATION you need to have with your kids. Here we’re going to talk STRUCTURE: the rules/guidelines that determine what you pack.

The Four Packing Rules that Make Lunch Work

1. Practice the Rotation Rule: Pack a different lunch everyday.

Serving the same food day-after-day makes lunch easy, but it teaches children to expect monotony, not variety. And while it’s tempting to think, it’s only lunch, lunch habits play out at other meals and snacks.

The Rotation Rule lays the foundation for new food acceptance.

Put as much variety into the lunch box as your children can tolerate. For some children different means a sandwich one day and a cup of soup and salad the next. For other kids, different means a turkey sandwich one day and a tuna sandwich the next. And for other kids different means the same sandwich cut into different shapes.

Although a 5-day rotation is ideal, you only need 2 different lunches to implement a minimal version of the Rotation Rule!

  • Day 1: Turkey Sandwich
  • Day 2: Tuna Sandwich
  • Day 3: Turkey Sandwich

2. Don’t pack unfamiliar foods.

School lunch is not the time to experiment with new foods, even if you’re children are adventurous eaters. Unless that is, you’ve let your kids taste test the new food and given it their stamp of approval.

3. Make fruits and vegetables a daily practice. But, honor the Happy Bite.

The more you expose your kids to fruits and vegetables, the more familiar these foods will be and the more willingly your kids will eat them. (It’s circular logic, but it’s true.) But…

Honor the Happy Bite! What’s that? The two or three bites your kids will willingly eat.

You’ll get better buy-in for fruits and vegetables (and your kids won’t “seek and destroy”) if the “challenge” seems “doable.” Don’t send 1/2 cup of broccoli if your children will eat 3 bites. Send 3 bites.

4. Limit the number of different items you pack to 3 or 4.

Packing too many choices backfires. It’s the reason children can’t finish their lunches. Or the reason they eat the chips but not the sandwich. Too many choices also scare away kids with small appetites. These kids eat more when they’re given less. Think of this as the more is less principle.

Too many choices also encourages picky eaters to be picky. How? By encouraging kids to Seek and Destroy!

Limiting the number of different items you pack probably means you’ll have to skip the chips—or chip substitutes such as Goldfish Crackers, pretzels or veggie chips—on a daily basis. And that’s a good thing because eating salty-crunchy-snacks on a daily basis teaches kids a daily chip-eating habit.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~