It’s back to school! Really? Yes. The answer is definitely yes. The only question is, where is school being held, and for how long? Things are everything but normal… and I know that I have been avoiding doing any planning as a result. But I just realized that October is here! My kid has been in school for over 3 weeks!!! Wait, what?!!!
Well, obviously this isn’t a complete surprise to me, but it hasn’t been a blissful couple of weeks either. We have been doing everything on the fly, mornings have been crazy, and lunches have been a collection of whatever happens to be leftover in the fridge… So, this weekend I have to dig deep and get myself organized. More than just good lunches, I want to make sure my days are well spent and my home finds a calm rhythm.
I am wondering what other parents are doing, perhaps the unknown of COVID is hindering my planning progress… creating imaginary barriers that feel as though planning is fruitless. But I just gave my head a shake and realize that not preparing isn’t going to work!
So, I have decided to pretend that no matter what happens this year, the kid will be leaving the house. Even if he doesn’t! This way all of our morning, lunch and snack prep routines established now will be maintained…and because they won’t change, we can have some level of expectation when it comes to our daily routines!
I have to admit, whether it is at school or at home, the routine of snacks and lunches will continue to be an ongoing effort that can get tiresome. It is great to keep things as easy as possible and lighthearted- for everyone’s sake. When my son was little, we would sit together and make a list of lunches for the week ahead. He learned about meal planning, reading nutritional labels, healthy choices, etc. We built a “playlist” of healthy lunches, which made shopping easier and prep-work a snap (And as Jaret got older, how much he was able to help increased).
While last year he was probably quite capable of making his own lunches, I continued making them out of habit. This year, with so much going on, I actually need him to start making his own lunches. I have decided that packing snacks and a lunch will be his new responsibility… and one that I am happy to hand over!
So, enough avoidance… here is my plan this year. I am keeping it really simple! With only two things to focus on I hope to keep my sanity this year.
Morning routines will remain the same no matter what, and regardless of where school is held or when. That means: Up, showered and dressed; breakfast and dishes; make lunches; review the day together; and pack backpacks accordingly. The whole family will follow this routine, regardless of whether school is in or out. Why? Because it sets us on the right track for the day. Everyone is up and at it, preparing for the day together. We are a team and we have certain expectations and routines together! So, whatever your family routines are, set them in stone and create a harmonious rhythm with it!
Build independence and fun around healthy eating
One of the most important things we can teach our kids is how to create healthy habits for themselves. It can be an anchor in chaotic times. And with food alone, there are so many things to learn, from maintaining a balanced diet, to reading nutritional information on packaged foods, to meal planning, to daily preparation. It can seem overwhelming to kids and it helps to have a staged approach when teaching them. I started this process with my son when he was 4 years old. You can jump in at any age with your kids… and remember the goal is to teach life habits! We want our kids to be strong, confident and capable so that we don’t create an expectation that “someone else” will always take care of things for them. I have broken things down into three stages: Planning, Shopping and Preparation. There are also three age groups, so regardless of the age of your child there is something for them to learn and something for them to help with. With consistency and a focus on building independence you will be thrilled with how quickly they will be able to run the show!
3-5 Years Old
At this age they are like learning sponges, and always open to new ideas. Discuss foods that they like and why. Get excited about healthy foods and discuss: smell, touch, taste and texture.
Enjoy learning the names of everything and how to choose ripe fruits and vegetables. Let them find new and exciting things to try in the fresh food department… even if you might not like it. Build their spirit of independence and curiosity, and help them practice decision making.
They can help wash fruits and vegetables with you, help put things in containers, and help unpack/wash at the end of the day. Obviously, all of the helping at this point is still work for parents, but helping is learning. And the goal is that they will do it on their soon, so be patient!
6-9 Years Old
Sit with them and help create a list of favorites for each of your major “food groups”, or must haves in a healthy lunch. They can learn to mix and match proteins, fruits, vegetables and carbs and start building an interesting variety of meals.
Time to learn about nutritional labels and how to read them to make healthy choices. Challenge them to find “better” options based on nutritional content. Explore different snack ideas and challenge them to find new ideas or new brands when shopping.
This one is a good one… After school, or sometime before bed, they can wash out their own lunch container! At the same time, have them prep a few things for the next day such as cutting and packing vegetables, or setting and to make the morning easier.
10-14 Years Old
They are now old enough to make a lunch plan and set up a shopping list for themselves. Especially in the first year it is important to give them a structure so that the established boundaries are reinforced. I also give a little wriggle room for trying new things and enjoying treats in moderation.
This is awesome… go grocery shopping together. You can focus on your list for the week, and your child can be responsible for their own list. This simplifies what I have to think about, and gives a great independent experience for kids to manage their way in a grocery store, with you there as a backup “shadow”.
Time to make their own lunches! Yippee!!!! Setup the routine and expectation, with enough time built into their morning schedule that they are not rushed. Rules are simple: must have a protein, a fruit a vegetable, a carb and a snack (or whatever you choose to give them as guidelines). It is soooo amazing to have that extra bit of breathing room in the morning! All the effort so far has been totally worth it!
As a mom, I am always in the background helping with the rhythm and routine of my child’s days and weeks. But more and more, each day this all becomes second nature to him. It is a little bittersweet feeling, watching him grow up and not needing my help as much. But that is the healthy goal of all parents. And the bonus for me is that as of Monday, I won’t be making any more lunches. Wish me luck!