My kids want their lunches to be boring.
Familiarity=speed. They have twenty minutes for lunch. Variety is not appreciated by the food-suspicious--it takes time to look it all over and choose what to eat and that is time that they aren't eating. The thought of the same lunch everyday is a nightmare for me, but not for them. It took me a long time to accept this and I kept trying to pack "interesting" lunches which they would bring home entirely uneaten.
But even with the same foods packed every day*, there were days when they still weren't eating lunch. Maybe this wouldn't be a big deal for some kids, but both my kids are thin and their moods plummet precipitously along with their blood sugar (which I totally relate to: Brian refers to it as the emergence of the Kate-monster when I need to be fed as in "Someone throw the Kate-monster some food!") Some kids can not eat and still have a decent day. Mine can't. (And the pediatrician will scold me about the boy's weight because yes, there have been times when the lines on his height and weight charts were going in dramatically different directions. And he wasn't getting shorter...)
So I've come up with a sort of system that seems to be working and who knows, some facet of it just might work for you, too.
- I pack 5 things in their lunch box (at least 2 of which are fruits or vegetables) and they they have to eat 3 of them. The choice factor was really important, even though I've noticed that they usually eat the same 3 items.
- It has to be quick to eat and pack in the calories.
- The understanding is that they have to eat the 2 remaining items as soon as they are home from school. That way there is no "forgetting" to have a snack (since the boy's disinterest in food continues at home), or the girl snacking on less healthy stuff. You only get popcorn if the lunch box is empty.
- When the boy was younger and we first started this we had to institute a reward system to get his attention: if he ate three of the five things in his lunchbox then he got a sticker on a chart. If he got five stickers in a week then he got some predetermined reward: a small lego kit ($5 or so) or something like that. If he didn't get all 5 then no reward (I didn't let him roll over stickers from one week to the next--I wanted him to eat his lunch *every* *single* *day*.) Of course I had to do this with the girl too, who is picky, and thin, but not skinny. I phased out the weekly rewards after the first year. Now, we have an understanding about dessert: finish 3 out of 5 things and you get a treat in your lunch the following day. Eat all 5 items at school and you get 2 treats (this has happened maybe 2 times for the boy and 10 for the girl). This seems to work even though the boy often doesn't eat the treat.
- When we started the 3 out of 5 items deal, I also put note in their lunch boxes reminding them of our "deal" and sometimes mentioning the reward. I had to do this for almost a year when we first started. Now I hardly ever do.
- cheese stick (B)
- yogurt tube (G)
- fruit leathers (a small container packed with Trader Joe's Ends and Pieces; stock up when you see them because they aren't always available) (B and G)
- raisins (B)
- baby carrots (G)
- apple sauce (B and G though not the same brand)
- small chunks of watermelon (G)
- an apple (have you seen this trick for cutting up and apple and keeping it from browning? I think this woman is brilliant! My kids want their apples sliced but of course they reject them when they have oxidized so this is a perfect solution. And it looks kind of cool.) (B and G)
- a mini peanut-butter and honey sandwich (G)
- a granola bar (B)
- a container of homemade granola (G)
- a small container of roasted and salted pecans, pistachios or sunflower seeds (G)
- cheese and crackers (B)
- high protein banana chocolate chip muffin (recipe here) (B and G)
- a thermos of whole milk (B and G)
*We don't eat school hot lunch. This isn't snobbery on my part (though the menu looks depressingly like the hot lunches we got back when I was in elementary school just with whole wheat buns substituted for the white ones). I'd be happy to pay once a week even if the food is crap if they'd actually eat it. But I'm not paying $2.50 for a meal where my kid only eats one food listed for the day. Not a good use of $ and they need to eat in order to not be completely crabby by the end of the school day.