Whether you’re feeding a toddler, a school-age kid who isn’t going back to in-person instruction yet, or yourself as you work from home, lunchtime can be sticky. Literally, perhaps, in the case of the kids. Even for adults, getting a regular midday meal during a disrupted routine can be harder than it seems. A small amount of structure and intention, however, can help you defeat the hunger grumps before they derail your day.
Imagine this scenario: you are juggling a work-from-home job and the education and care of two kids who are home. You aren’t in a position to object to or slip away from a meeting that doesn’t respect your child’s routine lunch hour. If your child has to wait, they may feel like they have no control over meeting their basic needs. This in turn might lead to a wide variety of meltdowns, all of which are going to disrupt your meeting. If you’re hungry, your ability to handle the stress will be lower. Everyone loses.
Now let’s imagine that you’ve worked together with your family to set up a plan. This plan empowers your children to get a nutritious lunch on their own while making it easier for you to grab food quickly. They get a chance to practice good self-care, building confidence along the way. You can grab something speedily before your meeting, knowing it will nourish your body.
Tip 1: Prep a lot of vegetables.
Most fruits and veggies earn 2-3 Guiding Stars for a good reason: they’re packed with nutrition! The difficulty is only in making sure they’re ready to go before hunger strikes so neither you nor your kids end up crying and/or bingeing on less nutritious snacks while carrots get chopped. When you come from the grocery store, plan 15-30 minutes for washing and chopping snack veggies. Store them in an airtight container and let the family know they can always grab a handful of fresh veggies if they get hungry.
Freezer tip: If your kids can safely get into your freezer, add a section or bin for frozen snack veggies. Especially during warmer weather, many kids love crunching down on sweeter vegetables like frozen peas and corn.
Tip 2: Plan portions.
Vegetables are an important option to have ready for snacking, but we also need whole grains, lean protein, and heart-healthy fat to support satiety. Kids need guidance in how to balance their plate nutritionally. Preparing portions of foods from a variety of MyPlate food groups can create structure, but still allow some freedom in choosing a nutritious meal or snack that can fuel their day.
Pre-slicing cheese, putting crackers out into small baggies, or filling little cups of nuts can be helpful as a tool for encouraging kids to eat a variety of foods. Explain that for a balanced meal we should aim to include at least 3 different food groups and for a snack the goal is 2. Be sure to include a protein and/or fat source. You can find great options here.
Tip 3: Plan for convenience.
The internet paints many lovely pictures of homes full of nothing but snacks made entirely from whole, nutritious ingredients. The reality is that few of us have that kind of time, especially now as we wear the hats of teacher, worker, caregiver, and more. Don’t stress. There are many nutritious options in the form of convenient, pre-packaged foods. Look for 1, 2, or 3 Guiding Stars in the store to find options with good, better, and best nutrition.
Tip 4: Plan for balance.
Nutrition is about our overall diet, not just one choice in one moment. This is great, because it means there’s space for less nutrient dense food in our days. Consider using the USDA Dietary Guidelines to help plan out what a nutritious food looks like over the day. Charts can help older kids track and think about how many servings of fruit or vegetables or less nutritious snack bars they’ve had. Some kids might enjoy drawing an outline of themselves and coloring it in to show what they’ve eaten, visualizing the idea that what you eat powers your body. Either way, your kids have some clear guidelines to help them take responsibility for feeding themselves well.
Tip 5: Plan for treats.
When you’re meal planning and grocery shopping, keep in mind that more indulgent foods can fit in a balanced diet, but for good health we should aim to select more star earning foods. Explain to your kids that treats are something that tastes good, but we don’t eat often. Help your kids identify the treats they love and share your favorites too. Then, normalize occasionally enjoying these treats without guilt or judgment among more nutritious meals and snacks.