Finding the teachable moments in kids’ lunches

Posted 8/20/20

Patricia Morris, a Flourtown nutritionist and registered dietician, says preparation is key to healthy lunches for kids. by April Lisante Every morning, I used to pack lunches for my kids to take to …

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Finding the teachable moments in kids’ lunches

Patricia Morris, a Flourtown nutritionist and registered dietician, says preparation is key to healthy lunches for kids.

by April Lisante

Every morning, I used to pack lunches for my kids to take to school.

In September, when the lunch boxes were still shiny and new, I was slicing fruits, packing squeezable yogurt and seaweed snacks. But by the time this past spring rolled around, and they were sent home for quarantine, their lunches were looking like we pulled into a turnpike rest stop and grabbed some chips and Lunchables and headed to school.

Thankfully, one of the most dramatic changes we’ve made during this time at home has been how we eat meals. We are cooking a lot more and eating a lot healthier, especially at daily lunches. Heated foods and things I couldn’t pack for them have been on the menu, as have healthier foods that are best served fresh, not in a Ziploc.

With school going virtual this fall, the at-home mealtimes are only going to continue, and many parents will be continuing to work from home to boot. So how do we use this unprecedented time to embrace some new lunch habits to keep kids interested in their meals and healthy at the same time?

The American Academy of Pediatrics touts the importance of infant and toddler nutrition to develop good lifelong eating habits. But what happens when we send our kids into school? We either pack lunches that may not be up to par, or we allow them to choose from a cafeteria line, and hope they make good choices – not just bags of Doritos.

According to, kids who learn to cook at home and to choose healthy foods to eat learn to celebrate their heritage, uses their senses and even develop an appreciation for the food they eat. The irony is that some of the foods that are deemed healthiest for kids, like beans, eggs, nuts, berries, milk and whole grains, are actually just as easy to prep and serve as bagged snacks, chips and junk food.

So let’s explore the silver lining here. This fall, we are all faced with an opportunity to turn lunch at home into teachable moments.

Part of the key to success lies in prep time. If you can think out the week and do some simple prepping, this whole thing may even end up being easier than packing the school lunches, according to Flourtown nutritionist and registered dietician Patricia Morris.

“Prep is the key,” Morris said. “If everything is ready to go, the kids will eat healthy.”

That means deciding what you’ll be having for dinner, then having Tupperware containers ready after dinner to put aside the next day’s healthy lunch.

“So you get four plates for dinner and four Tupperwares, and it’s dinner one night and lunch the next day in a smaller amount,” Morris said.

Or, pre-cut the makings of a kid’s favorite lunch, like quesadillas. Prep cut peppers in one baggie, shredded cheese in another, beans in yet another. Place them in the fridge in plain sight  - so they can find it while you are on a conference call - alongside tortillas “and kids can just put it together and heat it up in the microwave,” Morris added.

What if your kid is a fussy eater, and has historically never eaten anything at school except a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off?

Now is the perfect time to introduce a game called “Taste Test,” Morris said.

When you go to the store, grab four different kinds of apples and have them sample each on a plate, hiding the name of the apple on a piece of paper under the plate. When all the votes are in, that becomes the type of apple you buy at the store next time. The same applies to any food that can be taste tested at home.

“Take peanut butter along with almond butter, or cashew butter and have them taste them,” Morris said. “Any way you can make it into a game. Then they feel that they have a part in what food comes into the home.”

Once they’ve chosen foods they like, get them involved in cooking with the ingredients at home.

 “Any way you can get them involved in cooking because then, they will own the recipe,” she said.

If you have younger kids, now is also a great time to try the “crunching game,” as Morris calls it.

“When my kids were little, we had crunching contests,” she said. “They’d take bites of carrot and see who can crunch the loudest. They keep taking bites to try to be the loudest.”

Incidentally, I couldn’t help but note that game will also keep them quiet while you are in a Zoom meeting. Happy lunching!