Start turning lunch-box duty over to your children

Christy Newman lines up lunch boxes while making breakfast.

Ten-year-old Madison and 6-year-old Matthew know the drill: choose a fruit, a vegetable, a grain and a protein. There's typically a homemade treat to put in as well.

Marshall, who turns 5 this month, will also help fill his lunch box when he starts kindergarten this fall.

"They make good choices because they've been taught to make good choices," Newman said. "I don't pack chips or any of that in their lunch, and they don't ask for it. It's not even an option. It's not something they need for lunch."

The Bexley mother said her children have always had a say in what goes into their lunch boxes. Her daughter was in the first grade when she began to help pack her lunch. Little by little, Madison took over the task herself.

Laura Robertson-Boyd is an executive chef with Local Matters, a Columbus-based local-food advocacy organization. She said children can begin packing their lunches with a grown-up's help as soon as they start elementary school.

Robertson-Boyd, herself a mother of two boys who help pack their lunches (they're 8 and 10), is teaching a class called "Pack a Better School Lunch" at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens on Aug. 28.

She said parents may be reluctant to hand over lunch-packing duty because it takes longer and involves allowing children to pick what they eat.

It does take more time at first, she said, but the results are worth it.

Robertson-Boyd suggests picking a time that works best for your family, like the night before or in the morning. Give children a variety of healthy foods to choose from.

"Empower them to make better food choices and learn how to take care of themselves," she said. "Make them responsible. If they make their own choices, they're more likely to eat it and it's less likely to go in the trash."

With adult guidance and age-appropriate tools, children can begin helping in the kitchen at very young ages, Robertson-Boyd said. A young child can learn how to chop food with a plastic knife, lettuce knife or even a butter knife. Fourth- and fifth-graders may be able to handle a sharp knife with a parent's supervision.

Newman said she and her daughter, who soon will be in the fifth grade, discuss what foods give her energy throughout the day.

"It's important to talk to them about how their body feels when they eat certain foods," Newman said. "She knows that if she has too much sugar, she doesn't feel good."

Filling a lunch box

Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches in fun shapes.
Make spider cookies with pretzel legs.
Fill bento-box compartments or mini-muffin cups with tiny bits of food.
Mix frozen fruit into plain yogurt.
Create your own trail mix. Let children pick out dried fruits, nuts, crackers and cereal, then mix it together.

For more ideas, visit choosemyplate.gov, or enroll in the Aug. 28 class "Pack a Better School Lunch" at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The cost for one child (age 5 or older) and one adult is $20 for FPC members or $25 for non-members. Call 614-645-5923 or visit fpconservatory.org to register.