Inspired by a question from my great Kiwi friend, Kiri.

Straight up, get on Instagram and follow #packedlunch...or... don’t, because these people have way too much time on their hands and really who wants to look at #winningatlife posts?

Instead, let’s play a game….Have You Ever….

- Spent some time lovingly making your child’s packed lunch and placed it into your new Bento Tupperware only to have it returned to you at the end of the day in mush-form?
- Resorted to just putting in stuff you know they’ll eat, but is possibly not the healthiest, to avoid the above?
- Threatened: “If you don’t eat your packed lunch, I’ll make you have school dinners!”
- Demanded: “You have to eat the healthy stuff first…”
- Got to the end of the week and cut the mouldy bit off the cheese & shoved it into two slices of questionable bread.

Okay, now think back to when you were a kid and had packed lunches at school…or imagine it (come on, work with me here). Any of these ringing true?

- OMG how embarrassing…what’s this weird stuff? WHY can’t I just have a normal lunch (metaphor for parent). I’ll just squish it into the corner and hope nobody notices.
- I have to get to the football goal. I have to get to the football goal. I have to get to the *throws hands up in the air to signal finished eating…races to football goal*.
- Oooh crisps….I love crisps. Crisps taste gooood. I eat crisps.
- Ehh. They’ll never pay for school dinners. They’re way too tight for that.
- Must eat the healthy stuff first...Must eat the…OOOoooooh WAGON WHEEL.
- Mum/Dad/Carer gave me mouldy cheese in green bread. They don’t love me. It’s Friday…I’m DONE…I’m at the back of the football goal line. Bursts into tears and has meltdown at home time.

Full disclosure, all of the top ones have applied to me annnnd all of the bottom ones too. I actually was a school refuser for a while back in the day BECAUSE of school dinners. True story.

Now don’t think for a second that I am nailing packed lunches. I’m not. However, I have a greater strike rate these days. Want to know the secret? Here it is….

TEAM UP.

I know, sounds weird…make friends with the opposition. But, you know what? That crazy saying, “If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em” applies here.

I recommend making some agreements with the kid, explain your healthy lunch comes from wanting to keep them alive (and not look like a failing parent). Get them to explain their perspective also. For example, when I was a kid, egg was a no-go “ooooh eggggeeeeyyy”. Tomatoes, similarly, were also a cause for social suicide.

I recommend sorting acceptable & non-acceptable food items into the food groups. This might help your kid get an idea about how to make up a balanced meal also. No promises mind! I have not included a fats section here because foods are not just one thing or another and fat will often be covered in their food choices in other groups…for example cheese, milk, yoghurt, bananas, trail mix…(although, most schools won’t allow nuts). If you choose to add the odd Wagon Wheel in, then you go right ahead. You’re the parent and YOU do YOUR family. The way I see it, if you were trusted to have a child, you can be trusted to make up their packed lunch.

Table with "will eats" and "wont eats", split into carbohydrates, proteins, dairy and fruit&veg

So, here is a little lesser-known fact for you: that thick, grainy, brown fibrous bread that is so wonderful for you and your gut, may not be the best choice for your kid. The problem with bulkier breads is that they fill up the child real quick and there’s no space left for the other stuff they need. So, going with white bread or half 'n' half is not you compromising on their health…it’s actually a better choice. Particularly at lunchtime when the kid will absolutely need some quick energy.

Now, once you have your list you can go shopping for the week! If you want to take things further, take the kid shopping too…you never know, they may see other stuff that is acceptable. Do not fall into the fatal trap of thinking that this week’s list is going to work next week though…it won’t. You will need to review the list because what was a favourite last week can very quickly become “I hate that,” the following week. You will learn as you go too. Food may still be returned to you and you’ll discover that the green Tupperware pot has got “yucky bits” on it; therefore, deeming all contents inedible. What can I say? It’s a journey.

I will add here, some children do have severe challenges with food. Children who have Autistic Spectrum Disorder, for example, can have an alternative way with how they experience the world, which can affect preferences that can range from the colours, textures or smells of foods, as well as the lighting and/or noise in the canteen. If you are concerned that your child’s food issues are extreme, I strongly suggest talking to your school about it. They should be on your team too!

Final word, WATER. Hydration is a really difficult one because you have zero control over it at school, but it is SO important. That afternoon dip? (The reason why Art is always at the end of the day?) That’s because children are dehydrated and therefore unable to function properly. And if you don’t believe me, here’s a link to a study that proves it. Same goes for you too, adults!

So, there we have it. Good luck team!

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