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School lunch help!

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My 4 yo has just started pre-school 3 days a week and one day a week the kids stay an xtra hour and all have lunch together. I am struggling with lunches these days because my son (who will eat any and everything) is now being exposed to kids who don't eat a wide variety foods and/or are quick to say "Eeeew, gross!!" to any foods they don't like or have never seen before. And it is amazing how much they haven’t seen (hummus, white yogurt (instead of blue or green), cheese in any form other than sliced american.

My son is now bringing home his lunches barely eaten saying that food he has always liked (and will still eat later on as a snack or lunch on non-school day) is yucky and he doesn't like it. Grrrr. Peer pressure start early!! The typical lunches the other kids bring are lunchables (!!!), full sugar/artificial flavored yogurts, cold cuts on white bread, packaged cookies and crackers, processed cheeses and the like. I realize one day a week eating these things would not be the end of the world and I am usually relaxed about what he eats when we are not home (forbidden fruit and all that) but I draw the line of buying all that crap.

His typical lunches are:

*Hummus and cheddar on whole wheat w/ sliced apples and oatmeal cookie
*Almond butter and jelly (100% fruit only) on oat bread w/ a choc. dipped banana
*assorted chopped veggies, tortilla chips and cheese cubes with ranch dip (homemade)
*cold veggie pizza
*cold pasta with sauce or mac and cheese, assorted berries
*total yogurt w/ pumpkin or apple butter, crackers and ants-on-a-log (celery stuffed with almond butter and topped w/ raisin,

So what can I do to “compete” with the crap the other kids are eating or what can I do to make my sons food so appetizing that the other kids want what he has?? There are 22 kids in the class so the school has a no hot food rule (even in a thermos) and nothing has to be assembled by an adult. Oh- peanut are a big no-no so no peanut butter ideas.

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  1. First of all, congratulations on rasing such a healthy kid! My daughter is only two but I hope she still eats well as she gets older. The peer pressure worries me too. I think if you keep explaining to your son how the foods the other kids bring aren't as good for their bodies as his foods are and it's important to give your body good food he'll at least have perspective on why you don't want to give him the other stuff. I agree that once a week won't kill him, and I'm not a fan of never allowing less than healthy items (I think we all remember the friend that was never allowed sugar and ate as much of it as possible whenever her parents weren't around).
    Here's what I've found fun when my daughter is bored of her usual foods, or just wants to be difficult.
    Get a bunch of different cookie cutters and make fun shapes out of the sandwiches. If your kid goes to school with an almond butter and jelly sandwich shaped like a pumpkin or fall leaf his food won't seem so bland when compared to the other kids. We're a big fan of dips at our house too. Maybe some kind of yogurt dip for apple slices or carrot sticks. Cream cheese dips with diced up pimentos and basil. Guacamole if he likes it.
    I hate to say it, but Martha Stewart Kids magazine has some cute ideas about fun food shapes too. And I don't know if you're familiar with Donna Hay, but she does a kids magazine every year and has great recipes for kids too. www.donnahay.com.au
    Also, maybe if he helps make his lunch for the day he'll be more willing to eat it. He can tell all the other kids that he's big enough to make his own lunch and doesn't need to eat food out of a plastic wrapper.
    Good luck and don't forget to have fun!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Morgan

      Thank you for raising this question- just last week our preschool teacher suggested a wednesday lunch bunch, and it never occured to me I'd have a problem- guess I'll start a little positive talk today about our eatting habits, and how proud we are of them, how we are strong from them, etc.. It is amazing the choices of the "lunchables"- disgusting. Thanks again.

    2. Mine just started part time daycare and I've just been sending them with turkey sandwiches or pb&j- whole wheat or sprout bread, fresh fruit/veggies, and some sort of healthy snack food such as mini pretzels, low sodium cheese crackers, cheerios, etc. I was going to suggest soup which is what I'm sending them with next but I see there's a rule against it. Sounds like you offer diverse choices so I think there's really nothing you can do other than keep offering what you've been offering, alternating of course. And eventually he'll eat b/c he's hungry and there isn't anything else to eat. Sounds harsh but that's my plan of attack. Although I haven't crossed that bridge yet. And by the way, that artificially colored super sugared yogurt is soooo gross. My husband came home w/ some a couple weeks ago after a friend's husband convinced him to buy some b/c that's what they give their kid. (Gogurt) I took one spoonful and tossed it. Ewww!

      1. i'm not sure what a "lunchable" is, but why not do a home made version of it. at least that way, his food will look similar to the other kids'.

        you could dye the hummus and healthy yogurt any color of the rainbow.

        i don't see any meat in the list of what he currently eats, is he a vegetarian? if not, you could get good quality deli meat and a lighter-looking but still healthy(ish) bread and make him "cold cut on white bread" sandwiches that are healthier than, but similar to, what the other kids have.

        peer pressure is a bitch. it's not too early to talk to him about it, using age-appropriate examples. i think it's natural for kids to go through phases of rebellion, changing tastes, and wanting to be cool (ie succumbing to peer pressure). you may have to accept it to some extent and relinquish a little control. raise him right, set a good example, and he will eventually come back to good, healthy eating.

        1. Wait til he gets to elementary school. Those lunches are awful and the adults who don't want to change them are incredible. Anyhow some ideas: I make a lunchable that has whole wheat crackers, olives, cheese and sliced turkey or turkey pepperoni. You can make quesadillas with refried beans, cheese and salsa; brown rices sushi made with veggies; cold whole wheat english muffin pizzas, chef's salad or ceasar salad; rice salad, and roll ups. I try to vary the fruits and veggies as much as possible and to that end have the disposable 1/2 cup containers where I can put in melon squares or chopped salads that they like. Trader Joes is a great place for healthier snacks that are just as cool as what processed food junkies buy: flax seed chips, sesame sticks, veggie sticks, fuit leathers, whole wheat pretzels etc. Also, Whole Foods has healthier versions of freezer items such as pizza puffs. Take heart, my kids balked at having different food when they first started and now (they are still in elementary) they complain if I don't make their lunch (today they had cold: whole wheat noodles with pesto, 1/2 an ear of corn, cantelope, three bean salad and a fruit leather). Good luck

          1. I agree with sandwiches cut with cookie cutters. Very cool to the under 9 population.

            I did day-camp for about 5 years for 6-7 year olds. Pretzels in rounds were popular and so were animal crackers (as the kids played when eating). Things that were tactile were good.

            I loved dried apple rings (Trader Joes does them without extra sweetner or sulfer). Frozen red grapes are like candy (but beware the potential choking hazard).

            Maybe he would like to help put his lunches together or can bring snacks? Once the other kids try some of it, the "Yuck" factor goes down. Maybe try talking to the teacher about this as she could do a lesson on healthy eating or you can help the teacher create an "international" themed day that incorporates some of the foods that the other kids might find weird.