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Thursday, February 18, 2010

School Lunches

I was just reading my Tightwad Gazette II by Amy Dacyczyn for the tenth time this year. Every time I read it I am looking for something a little different. This time I am thinking about my child's lunches. First, I need them to be healthy. Second, I need them to be affordable. Third, I need her to want to eat them.

Sometimes kids can be rough on each other and when you send a kid with a lunch everyday, it's amazing what they say or think about it. Most of the time my little girl could care less and eats her lunch without complaints. Other times, she comes home and says her friends have individually wrapped chips and other snacks. I cringe as she tells me this. First of all, I believe individually wrapped foods to be complete and total junk. Second, I think they are huge money wasters. My first instinct is just to say we don't have the money, but I know this only makes her feel like we are struggling when that really isn't the case entirely. I just don't want to waste what little money we do have right now!

Amy's book has a great way of handling such a conversation about school lunches (pps 234-236).
1. Do the math. She says to sit your little ones down and show them what it costs to buy these items compared to buying a piece of fruit (she compares fruit and fruit snacks in this instance). She explains that buying individual juice boxes compared to regular juice is like throwing money into the trash since the juice costs so much less than the packaging.
2. Talk nutrition. Talk about the fact that the food they are eating is much more nutritious and healthy for them then the foods that have almost had all nutritional value extracted in the processing.
3. Environmental concern. Kids are understanding this even more now than they did when Amy wrote her book. Our entire country is talking about recycling and taking care of the environment. We need to throw less stuff away and be more thoughtful about what we buy.
4. Show them the money. Parents who are buying prepackaged foods are not necessarily richer than families who don't. They just have different ideas about what's important. Not that they are bad in any way!!! Just that they would prefer to buy something they can enjoy now instead of putting that money towards a house or something large they can enjoy later.
5. Get creative. If you want to make your child's lunch seem better, then get creative. Try making fun food items to stick in their lunches. Her idea was to send fruit juice jigglers, popcorn, trail mix, pies in tiny aluminum tins, etc. I am sure you can come up with a million different ideas for your kids lunch.
6. Let them work for it. I know this probably sounds so terrible to most parents, but I sure don't. Our kids need to learn what it takes to earn those packaged chips and Hostess cupcakes. Have them do a chore that will equal the amount of one of those food items and then have them purchase it at the store with their own money. I love this idea since my child often thinks that money just automatically comes with a debit card.

I have summarized a lot here and I haven't given you all the details listed in the book (pick one up at the library). It's not hard to make a school lunch and it sure is healthier and more affordable than sending them off to buy their lunch each day. Who knows what they are eating when they buy lunch, I can tell you it's probably not vegetables! Don't cave when your kids complain about what other kids are eating. Talk to them and explain the health ramifications and try getting creative so they don't feel deprived. Oh and a nice note to your child can also go a loooooong way!

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