a peek inside the fishbowl

27 Aug, 2010

It’s a lunch revolution!

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Yaktivism

Not long ago I found myself in a place that gave me a bird’s eye view of a large group of elementary-age kids and their respective lunches. One child ate nothing but a cup of pre-packaged electric blue Jell-O. I’m not sure what else was in that kid’s lunch bag, but that is all that was eaten.

I understand that some parents don’t have time to make lunch in the mornings. To them I respectfully suggest doing some pre-prep the night before, getting up earlier, and enlisting your kids to help make lunch if they’re old enough. There must be more to lunch than Jell-O.

If your kid isn’t eating his or her lunch, pack less food, not more. Pack food they like. Do not pack dessert. They will eat if they are hungry. (It’s TRUE!)

Steer clear of food products that are brightly coloured. Food dye is crap. Read this piece about food colouring. Consider that what you’re serving your kids could be affecting their health, growth, and also their behaviour and manifest itself as tantrums etc.

Don’t cave to grocery store begging. Parents: you CAN say no.

Lunch crapSome parents like to put dessert-type items in their kid’s lunches. I know this is true because the grocery stores have pulled out the huge displays of lunch-sized versions of candy and chocolate bars, just in time for school to start. I think there’s a deeper psychological reason behind why parents put candy in their kid’s lunches. Don’t beat me up for this, but I think we do it because we want our kids to love us.  We want them to look into their lunch bags and think WOW – my mom LOVES ME. She packed me a [insert whatever treat you want here] …  I LOVE MY MOM SO MUCH.

We do it because we feel bad (read: guilty) that we’re not baking cookies and cupcakes so we shove some candy in there and hope for the best.

Don’t do it. You don’t need to do it. Many of our kids (mine included) are probably getting enough sweets outside of lunch hour. Don’t give in to the idea that there needs to be a sweet finish to every meal. Toss in a piece of fresh fruit instead. It takes just as little time to throw an orange into the lunch bag as it does a candy bar.

We want our kids to eat what we packed them. Right? So the best thing to do is go with simple foods you know your kids will like.

Need ideas? Some of my favourite things to pack include:

  • Grapes and/or orange slices. They always get eaten.
  • Homemade hummus with pita and veggies
  • Cucumber sushi made with leftover rice
  • Celery with cream cheese
  • For a sweet treat: grab and apple, slice it up, and sprinkle it with a bit of sugar and cinnamon.
  • “Build your own sandwich”: good bread, slices of cheese and cold meat all packaged in small containers. Can be eaten together in sandwich format or separately… doesn’t matter, it all ends up in the same place! (Hopefully that’s the stomach.)
  • Frozen bagels (they defrost by lunchtime) and cream cheese and/or jam

This ALMOST makes me excited about making lunches again! Heh.

This post is part of Scattered Mom’s lunch revolution. Couldn’t come at a better time if you ask me. :)

10 Responses to "It’s a lunch revolution!"

1 | karengreeners

August 27th, 2010 at 9:22 am


Awesome advice.

My kids aren’t even old enough to eat lunch at school, but hopefully I have them on the right track. They think my homemade (unsweetened) applesauce is a dessert ;)

2 | Scatteredmom

August 27th, 2010 at 10:13 am


I love your ideas! Good point on the food coloring. Jake can’t have anything heavily dyed red (popsicles, candy, cream soda, etc.) It makes him really, really sick.

I found out from allowing him to have cream soda and cheezies when he was 5. Oh LORD.

When they are young, I firmly believe that keeping it simple is the way to go. Kids don’t need super fancy lunches either, just food that they like, is easy to eat, and is familiar. Your ideas are just that-simple, easy, and yummy!

One thing parents should remember; kids always eat the treats first. So that mini chocolate bar will be consumed at 10 am for recess, probably. It will be what tides them over to lunch. Then they might want to consider if they’re okay with that. Me? Not so much.

3 | Carla

August 27th, 2010 at 10:13 am


When I think of school lunches I think of a friend of mine who talks about having raised her kids with ‘bening neglect’ (I love that!). Helping them be responsible and watching over them. The kids from young were responsible for packing their lunches, she always took a peek of course, but the guidelines were one fruit, one vegetable minimum. I can’t remember what else. But, it’s something I intend to put into practice when my 4 yr old in the near future, our guidelines I think will be : one fruit, one veg, and one protein minimum. One homemade sweet maximum on occassion. Anything else, go for eat/it.

4 | LO

August 27th, 2010 at 5:06 pm


i agree with most of what you say and as we all know, making lunches gets old fast:) my daughter isn’t a traditional sandwich eater so i do have to plan but really, it’s not that difficult. The key is to pack a health lunch that they will still eat! Finding the balance between what’s healthy and realistic that they will eat and not waste isn’t difficult but takes some planning. There is also the conflict between what are some great and healthy lunch ideas and the plethora of allergies out there ( I do not begrudge ‘allergy kids’ at all-it’s the least we can do to keep them safe) but it does add a challenge. At one point i had to remove most gluten from a grade 3’s lunch bag. Well, there were some great alternatives including nuts and some other gluten free product that included nut traces so i had to be extra viligant. There was a lot of stuff that was good to pack but i knew she wouldn’t eat. I tried the ‘rice’ bread and unless toasted it was pretty disgusting.
But I do not agree with the point that we give them snacks or brightly coloured snacks so that they will love us:) Not in my case anyways. My kids love me ‘more’:)when i make muffins in the morning of smoothies! I do put treats in the lunch but i try to balance things out too!!! Thanks Andrea-this is a great post!

5 | karen

August 27th, 2010 at 9:53 pm


My daughter thinks homemade peasoup is the best school lunch ever.

6 | Erica at Kitchissippikids

August 28th, 2010 at 9:06 am


Some additional tips:

Part of the issue with school lunches is environment. Have you ever been in a grade 1 classroom where the kids are having lunch? Yikes! It is not always an environment that is conducive to relaxed and healthy eating (or eating at all, for that matter). At my children’s school they have 20 minutes for lunch and there is a teacher/moniter who floats between 2 or 3 classrooms. This is a relatively standard routine in Ottawa schools.

The children are supposed to be (and I stress “supposed to be”) eating at their desks. It is often a loud and very busy atmosphere with a lot going on. Children are in and out of their seats and there is a lot of noise (talking, singing, whatever) – all typical of 6 year olds.

In grade 2 my eldest son would often eat little or nothing and leave school at the end of the day very hungry. “I don’t have time to eat”, he would continually say. It was a common complaint particularly among the boys. Now, he’s a fast eater so time wasn’t actually the issue, but given the opportunity to talk to friends or eat he chose the friends everytime.

Encourage your school to use older students as lunch monitors so there is someone older in the room at all times to help calm the atmosphere. It can make a big difference and is a practice at some Ottawa schools.

Talk to your children about the importance of eating at lunchtime – it’s the only chance they may get and they need that energy and the nutrition for learning in the afternoon.

It’s true that kids will eat if they’re hungry but the catch is that they have to know they are hungry and many are not yet good at recognizing the signs, particularly when they’ve just been given a great opportunity to talk to their pals. Stress the need to eat some lunch even if they don’t feel hungry at that moment.

Thermoses (what’s the generic name?) – they are not all created equal! Many do not live up to their claims of how long they will keep food hot so test them. That way you’ll know what the food you send to school actually tastes like after 4 hours of sitting in a thermos.
Always let boiling water sit in the thermos for 10-15 minutes before you fill it with food (or see manufacturers instructions in that regard). The only one that I have found to work (and I’ve purchased and discarded a number of others) is the stainless steel one at MEC that goes for about $30.

Liquids will always retain heat longer than solids. If you are sending something with a sauce, consider adding a little extra sauce just to retain heat. Also test particular foods. Some taste great when you pack them but 4 hours later are much less appetizing = (

If your child isn’t eating a balanced lunch, try to balance their diet over the day as a whole.

7 | Javamom

August 28th, 2010 at 9:38 am


It’s unfortunate really that trail mixes or nuts are not allowed on school properties. Those would be such great, high energy snacks to have for dessert or at recess.

My 5yo is in Kindergarten which finishes at 11:30 and since we usually walk home the 5 blocks, he tends to get a little bit hungry. Lunch to him is so far away (5 blocks with a 5yo takes about 15 minutes, which is a long time for Benjamin!).

He used to ask for a ‘special surprise snack’, which in his terms meant a little chocolate or a candy, but I brought apple slices, or grapes, or a baggie of trail mix. Occasionally, and he never knows just when, I may put in a tiny chocolate, or mix in a few smarties with the trail mix, but this is not the norm. As you say, my kids too get enough sweet stuff throughout the week that all these extras aren’t necessary. Besides, if you supply them with treats on a regular basis then they become an entitlement rather than a treat.

8 | Betsy Mae

August 29th, 2010 at 9:24 am


I think something else that should be mentioned is that kids usually don’t get alot of time to eat. They are also rushing so that they can get outside to play with their friends.

I involve my kids when I am making their lunches/snacks. I ask them what they want/feel like eating which I find helps too.

I make alot of homeade soup and I freeze individual lunch portions from each batch. My daughter can select which type of soup she wants to take in her thermos and it’s so easy to pack in the morning.

A treat for my kids is to bring cereal to school. We put milk in their thermos (wide mouth kind) and the cereal in a reseable container so they can pour it into the milk at lunch. It’s a big deal to have cereal!

9 | coffee with julie

August 30th, 2010 at 11:09 am


My DD has a big appetite. But for lunch at school, she only eats half a sandwich. She says she simply doesn’t have enough time for anything else. She does get two breaks during the day and for those, she can get her veggies and fruit.

On the subject of sweets: I almost always give her a store-bought cookie for one of her snacks. And not because I want her to love me or feel bad about not baking them at home, but because I really see nothing wrong with an oatmeal raison cookie once a day. Sure, there is a ton of junk out there, but basic cookies are a childhood right! :)

10 | Betsy Mae

August 30th, 2010 at 9:45 pm


I came back to read the comments because often I find they are useful to me!!!

I’d like to add that my kids enjoy it when I pack air popped popcorn in their lunch/snacks. It’s better than chips or prepackaged popcorn and since kids can’t have nuts I find that it’s a filling snack that adds extra fibre.

The other thing I want to add is that kids don’t have to have ‘typical’ lunch foods like sandwiches or soups, if you have a child who likes pasta salad or couscous then that is a great thing to pack.

Variety and children’s input is key.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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