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Rethinking the Middle School Lunchbox

lunchbox

New School Year, New Menu

School starts soon and for me, it is time to start prepping for packing lunches. I have been making my son’s school lunches since the beginning of his educational career. He is now going into the 8th grade, so I wonder how many meals I have packed? My goal was to model appropriate nutrition and provide a meal that would sustain his needs as a growing boy. Sleep and food are major requirements for my son. If he is hungry or tired, watch out! A meltdown will be on the horizon.

Food as Medicine

This year has been a tremendous year for making over our diet. Our 17-month-old was diagnosed with some health issues that encouraged us to investigate and find a nutritional cause. It was easy to change the baby’s diet, it was even easy to change my husband’s diet — changing my teenager’s diet was a different story. I always felt I fed him “healthy” options. You know … whole grain bread, low nitrate ham, and organic cheddar bunnies. Those healthy options are still full of things we have proven sensitive to. As our eating habits have changed, we have learned that many things we have struggled with, such as skin issues, sleep, digestion, and even behavior have been linked to what we’ve consumed.

Middle-Schoolers, Not Monsters!

The world of middle school is a different realm. Middle school is a time of independence. Academics are not the main focus. Personal relationships, finding a BFF, having crushes, and bonding over bringing Starbucks to school are the focus. It is amazing to me how much influence kids have over one another in the lunchroom. The 20 mins or so they sit over their lunch-time meal is really their only true social window. So, as you can see making over a teenager’s lunchbox could present a challenge.

Surprise, It’s Good For You!

Creativity in the kitchen will help implement the changes so that he can improve his habits. I have perfected several recipes that are appealing to a teen, scratch the itch of a typical craving, and are kid and friend approved. I have also found alternative products (at Publix!) that meet our dietary requirements. For our family, finding something that resembles “normal” has been a big key. My son can still open his lunchbox and have a meal that resembles his friends’ and is full of nutrient-dense food. Becoming creative in salad prep is another way to ensure vegetables are consumed. There are a lot of good salad dressings on the market that are made without preservatives and hydrogenated oils. Kids love veggies and ranch, and that is an easy snack to add to the lunchbox!

My middle schooler’s lunchbox is a meal that is centered around a salad. Having a salad as a “main course” means that the biggest container is full of fresh veggies. We are carnivores, so I pack a side that contains about a 4-ounce portion of meat. I often prepare something like pastured chicken salad or chicken nuggets that I make at home in large batches to cover several days. Add in unsweetened coconut milk yogurt with a few berries and hemp hearts to include a treat. Occasionally, I will make a batch of grain & refined sugar free cookies or muffins and include that with his meal. 

middle school lunchbox

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

The last make-over item I feel I have to touch on is water consumption. Kids are often reaching for sugary juices, sodas, milk, and drinking Starbucks as I mentioned above. I want my son to realize how important it is to drink water. I have known him to go an entire Florida, 95-degree day, with a gym class workout and still not drink a single drop of water. My son gets a 25-ounce water bottle that I fill each morning and encourage him to drink throughout the day. We refill it before we go out for his evening commitments. As adults, we know how important water consumption is, and encouraging our children to follow suit can help prevent fatigue, improve brain function and concentration, support healthy kidney and elimination function, etc.

As parents, we want the best for our children, and the older they get the less control we have over their individual choices. Providing a foundation that models our values and goals for them will make an impact that lasts a lifetime. It may seem strange that one of my parenting techniques is to provide my son with a healthy nutritional foundation each time he opens his lunchbox. Over time, he may even begin to feel the benefit and understand why his mom was so weird 🙂

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