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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.

            1. Mine would ask for Lunchables and then I would find the horrid remains in his backpack- mostly uneaten. Luckily with a significant Japanese population (first generation) in the school system, he actually asked for bento box style lunches- essentially a creative and more healthy "lunchable". I found some plastic ware that has several compartments at the local 98 cent store (that way if he lost it no biggie) and he was more than happy to have a cool version of a lunchable. Presentation is the key. Japanese stores have the cutest cutters for veggies that also work for cheese and bread etc.

              1. here's an article about what alice waters packed her kid: http://www.gotriad.com/article/articl...

                I would have a talk with him about why you eat the way you eat and arm him with a few responses when his friends make comments. Maybe you can talk to the teacher if she's sympathetic about talking to the kids about food and about good manners while she is at it. Anyway, I suppose the idea is to make the food look and sound like what other kids bring so maybe you stir jam into yogurt insted of apple butter and maybe you buy yellow cheddar so it looks like american cheese and stuff a little ham in there so your son can say 'ham and cheese' when his friends ask 'what's that?' I don't know, I suppose you could roast a piece of beef or a turkey breast for sandwiches for the week. I don't think they'd 'ewww' if he said 'turkey sandwich'.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lunch

                  On the topic of turkey breast, Boars Head has some low sodium stuff that's not bad. No nitrates, etc. I get the catering style.

                2. Would it be too much trouble to give him a thermos? I hated sandwiches as a child (still do...), and so my mom would send me with a thermos full of all sorts of goodies. Sometimes it would be leftovers from dinner, sometimes hot food from the deli at Gelson's, tons of possibilities.

                  Don't know if it's too difficult for him to "make his own." Sometimes this contributes not only to self-efficacy, but actually liking what one makes. Ideas for this would be the component to tuna salad done separately.

                  Also, "fruit dippers" and yogurt or cottage cheese.

                  Why not make your own fun treats like shaped crackers, buy him a fun box that he can decorate and be proud of (and that will compete with the animal cracker boxes on a string), and then send the cookies in that box?

                  One other thing that seems to help other kids get over their paranoias, phobias, and immediate dislikes is fun names. Send your son to school with sticks (whole wheat pretzel sticks), sludge/mud (hummus), submarines (veggie sticks), and part of the ocean (ranch dip).

                  1. Hmmm...very tough indeed. I was the dean of a summer camp where our food was all Japanese. I have heard it all, "gross, nasty, disgusting", blah, blah, blah.

                    I had a very hard time with this. Especially with our youngest campers. I consulted with the nurse who had decades of summer camp experience. She said to stick with the menu - at some point their tummy tells them they gotta eat. And they did. I understand your situation is different.

                    Also, growing up with a Japanese mother, I sometimes came to school with rice balls and other Japanese food. Some girl with an attitude named Ellen asked me what I was eating. I explained that they were rice balls. She said that it was gross. I told her if she didn`t like it that she didn`t have to look at it.

                    Stick to your guns. Your 4yo is lucky to have a mother who is committed to his health. Remind him of the health benefits of his food. He will thank you in the end! I love my mom for packing those rice balls.

                    1. I had a post here and it got deleted, but I thought it was a good idea, so I will try again! I make stromboli for myself a lot and fill it with things like salami, parmesan, and roasted red peppers. I think you could do this with whatever fillings your child would like, and market it as a "pizza roll." Because, what could be cooler than a pizza roll! ;-)

                      1. I wouldn't necessarily suspect peer pressure. Maybe he is just too geeked up with all the activity at school to eat. Then when he gets home he says things that he heard at school, like yucky just because he hears other kids say it, not because he believes that to be true. My 3 year old never eats at school, no matter what we put in there. Once he gets home and relaxes, he eats, sometimes. One never knows. It appears to me that lunch in preschool is more about socialization and learning the routine than about eating.

                        1. ooooo, I can so relate. My son [7 3/4] just started public school [we were homeschooling before]. This is a boy who's favorite thing is escargot in a nice garlic sauce. For the first week of school, he wanted rillettes so the weekend before school started, thats what he and I made. Off he goes to school, totally excited by his rillettes and his first new lunchbox.

                          Hah! Some wicked little girl started giving him flack about his lunch choice. We persisted in packing his favorite foods but so did she --no matter what he brought some componant was deemed ick and she got the other kids ragging on him as well. So almost everyday the lunches went uneatten which in his case was a REALLY bad thing because he is not good at listening or behaving when hungry.

                          He and I had a lot of talks about sticking up for ourselves and not letting other people influence what we like. I also suggested to him that there were probably other kids with favorite things that there mamas make at home that they are too scared to bring to school and that he was setting an example in lunch liberation....[we are in a very multicultural area]. We came up with a little speech for him to make when she started in on him--a bit of empowering--and finally, at his request, I was to talk to the teacher but the principal found me first.

                          The school was shocked and dismayed and everyone in his class got a lesson on taste and different things that people all over the world eat. At lunch that day, he made his speech ["my lunch my lunch my lunch---every day all you want to talk about is my lunch. don't you have anything else to talk about?"] and between the school and the mocking her back, lunch is getting eatten again.

                          The meals you listed sound great. I think you need to give your son more time and stick to your guns. Peer pressure starts early and its never too early to learn how to deal with it. Remind your son that a particular lunch is his favorite, be supportive about how great it is that he knows what he likes and just keep plugging away. Heck, lots of schools start environmental consciousness at an early age---maybe you can point out how good it is that he is reusing containers instead of making more trash.

                          And if he doesn't eat at school 1x a week, he can eat in the car on the way home. It won't kill him.

                          Good luck!

                          1. I agree w/the others. Stick w/it and it will pay off. Also, get him involved in the shopping, prep and selection. My 8 year old, who also doesn't eat sandwiches helpped pack guavas, applesauce, fennel, carrots, tofu w/peanut sauce, a fruit leather, and pretzels for her lunch/snack today. It's alot of work but so worth it. I need to remind her not to say bad things to the kids who bring processed foods to school.

                            1. My 3 1/2 y.o. has been in school for 2 years, and I've had to pack lunch almost every day during that time. It is hard to come up with foods that are nutritious, appealing, varied, and that won't come back to you at the end of the day because they looked different than the other kids'!

                              Keep stock of his favorites and send in the ones that he seems to love and will eat under any circumstances. Take stock of the things he tells you other kids are eating, and make a healthier version (lunchables are easy to make - just cube up some cheese, cold cuts, throw in some crackers or pita triangles, and voila; instead of high sugar fruit yogurts, buy a big tub of plain and flavor it with a spoon of juice sweetened jam).

                              I almost never give mine what I perceive to be true junk food (potato chips, cookies), but will send fruit, dried fruit, pretzels, and lo sodium crackers, which he likes. You can also bake tea breads and send them in instead of twinkies, donuts, etc.

                              Mine is receptive to leftovers from the night before (even things that can't be heated might warm up enough but not spoil by lunchtime - think chili, chicken or turkey stew, non dairy alternatives). He also loves couscous above all other grains, so I make cold salads with it, beans or chopped veggies, dried fruit, and a vinagrette. And meatballs are a big hit - if not in sauce, they are a great finger food. I always sneak pureed veggies into mine.

                              One note about your peanut statement. Mine is nut allergic so I am hyper sensitive to these issues. If your school prohibits you from sending peanuts because another kid in the class is allergic, there is a very good chance he is also allergic to other nuts, like almonds. I can't tell you not to send almonds in with yours, but please discourage him from sharing his food, and the nut allergic kid's parents should instruct their kid not to share food with others. Otherwise, everyone has a false sense of security in a potentially dangerous situation.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Sasha

                                Funny you mention about about the peanut vs other nut allergies. I was surprised to learn he could bring other nut butters too but the school insisted it was OK. Is it wrong to assume that the parents of the nut allergy student, who is 2 grades ahead of my son, said it was OK? FWIW, they don't share a classroom or lunch area but do share the playground at different times)

                                1. re: foodiex2

                                  I believe the statistic is that 40%-60% of kids allergic to peanuts are also allergic to other tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, etc). Schools, however, to simplify things, will refer to the whole thing as "peanut" and call it a day. It's entirely possible that the older child in your school is not allergic to other nuts, but also possible that the school is taking a shortcut. Your comment that the school actively told you other nut butters were ok makes me think (hope!) that it actually would not be harmful to the older child.

                                  But again, my wish is not to impose on parents whose children are fortunate not to suffer these allergies, but just to increase awareness. It is mainly the responsibility of nut allergic kid's parents (such as myself) to train their kids not to share w/others until they can recite it in their sleep. Obviously, this is hard when they are young, and that is why it is so helpful for other parents to be aware of the prevalence and danger of allergies, and to explain that to their kids.

                              2. Hit your local library and ask about the Yoko books. One of them involves Yoko taking her beautiful bento to school and being teased by classmates.

                                My 5 year-old is an old pro at this by now. When she started preschool, she did not like sandwiches. She got all sorts of other nutritious goodies. The teaching staff consistently commented on how well she ate. However, her classmates did give her some grief. One particularly under-exposed child thought that any unfamiliar food was a raisin. Why she thought a rice ball was a rasin is beyond me.

                                Talk with your son about how much he enjoys different flavors and trying different foods. Mention how proud you are of him and how healthy the foods are. Then tell him how sad it is that many other kids his age don't get to enjoy those foods.

                                Good luck!

                                1. Do you have any good cookie cutters? Use them to cut the bread for sandwiches into cool shapes and he'll be the envy of the class.

                                  My kids enjoy quesadillas - usually refried beans and cheese, cooked at home so the cheese melts to hold it all together, then eaten cold at lunch. If you have little containers for salsa or sour cream, that would be a big hit. Again, cute shapes are possible!

                                  You could ask your preschool if you could bring in a snack for everyone periodically - our daycare has a rotating schedule, and I take advantage to expose the kids to hummus & carrots (all kids like dips) and other interesting things.

                                  Stick with it - it will get better.

                                  1. I'm going to revive this thread in the hopes that someone has some new ideas for healthy toddler lunches to send to school. I'm limited to just vegetarian or dairy due to school rules (the place is kosher). I currently send lots of hummus wraps with sprouts, yogurt, fruit, homemade smoothies and bagels. I'm dying to know what lunches Alice Waters sent with her kid, but the link to the article posted above is now dead. If anyone has ideas for novel proteins to send to school (kid-friendly tofu recipes?) or some slightly innovative non-meat sandwiches, I'd be very much obliged. He also loves rice, so if someone has like a rice salad idea for kids, that'd be great too. Thanks!

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: durhamois

                                      Durhamois - Beth El or Lerner? :-)

                                      Edamame is considered a big treat in my daughter's lunch bag and I'll be sending black beans and rice this year. Plain hard boiled eggs work for us, as do deviled eggs. A single scrambled egg with sauteed mushrooms on the side - never, ever mixed in! - is good if she can get a turn at the microwave.

                                      Vegetables get weird. She's a kid, after all. For a week or two, carrots are the best thing that ever happened and must appear every day. Then, without warning, I get, "Ewww. I hate carrots! Why did you give me those?" Same things with bell peppers, et al. I never know what's on the "approved" list until I get the uneaten food back. Ah, well. Somehow they never starve, despite all the yelling.

                                      1. re: rockycat

                                        Just started at Lerner! We were at the Kehillah last year.

                                        1. re: durhamois

                                          I'd love to hear how it goes for you. If it weren't for commute distance, we'd have started there last year.

                                        1. Oh I need help too, kosher and nut free and a three year old to boot. My thoughts are hummus sandwiches with shredded carrots, hard boiled eggs and greek yogurt with honey and sunflower seeds (I think they're ok, I'll check first of course). I'd love suggestions!!

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: KeriT

                                            Assuming your 3 yo is only a little picky(and that I haven't broken/forgotten any of the rules)...these are the faves in our house:

                                            homemade mac 'n cheese
                                            chicken noodle soup
                                            vegetarian chili (a bit out there for some but my 2 yo eats veggie chili with his mac 'n cheese...his 3 & 1/2yo sister won't touch chili or anything tomato go figure.)
                                            good ol' franks (kosher) and beans (the tomato sauce variety w/o pork)
                                            pasta(or lentil if he/she will eat them) salad in a vinaigrette w veggies

                                            HTH :)

                                            1. re: maplesugar

                                              Thanks. She's not very picky but she's never eaten without an adult around her so I have no idea how she'll be in a lunch table environment. The school isn't terribly kosher, i can do meat just then there can't be any dairy in her lunch; I'm just not a remotely kosher person so I get overwhelmed. I like the chili idea though, I was also thinking spinach pasta and spinach risotto- maybe the green will look cool to her.

                                          2. Israeli (Shepherd's or various other names) salad with tortilla chips or rice crackers. Mix tahini with lemon juice, add diced tomatoes. Add quartered, then slice Armenian/English cucumber, chopped carrots, diced red bell pepper, and chopped parsley.

                                            Quinoa salad: quinoa, black beans, bell pepper, zucchini and/or broccoli florets.

                                            Maybe tell him that if he wants to eat junk he has to pay for it himself but if he wants to spend his money on other cool things (experiences) he'll make his lunches from what you provide. Get him involved in preparing his own lunches?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: lgss

                                              Soynut butter and/or sunflower seed butter are great substitutes for PB, and pass the peanut allergy test....

                                              And my kiddo loves pickled anything so we often pack a cream cheese and vinegared cucumber sandwich, sprinkled with ground flax seeds to boost nutrition.

                                            2. Any chance you can take your child to a pick your own farm or a vegetarian CSA volunteer day or help grow some food to create some ownership?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: lgss

                                                Excellent suggestion lgss. :)

                                                I find even having the kids help pick out things at the farmer's market or grocery store increases the odds that they'll eat something. I've started growing strawberries and cherry tomatoes in containers on the deck (to keep the local rabbit population from eating them) and the kids LOVE picking them.(nothing like fresh picked) Next year once the kids are all a bit older I'm planning to take them to u-picks.