A few months ago, my daughter's teacher shared a story with me. As the teacher was describing how she was running late because she had to make her and her kids lunches that morning, my daughter said something along the lines of , "You should make your lunch at night after dinner. That's what we do. And your kids should make their own lunch because it's their personal responsibility."
Yup. My daughter who is in first grade, said personal responsibility to her teacher.
I was proud of her for many reasons, but mostly astonished that she was actually "listening" to me all those times.
I have often been asked about how to get the kids to eat a salad or how do you get your kids to make their own lunches? Or how long did it take to transition their eating habits?
As I sat with those questions, I realized that I never measured the time frame, but I can think of specific steps I took to make it happen. Selfishly, I was motivated out of a pure desire to not have to be in the kitchen any more than necessary so I could sit my bum on the couch and read. I didn't want to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone slept or played. It wasn't fair. Not to mention that as they get older and do more activities that require being out of the house, I didn't want to be stuck doing more for them. Also, I knew that as they aged, if they didn't develop this habit of thinking and preparing food now that it would be a BIG problem later....primarily for me.
For good or bad, basically my motivation was my laziness for now and the future....oh, and their health.
So yes, I did say that it is their personal responsibility to care for themselves and that includes making lunch.
So how did I do it? I used these 3 simple principles.
We all know kids do better with choice because it makes them feel in control. That is no secret. It helps people learn in rehabilitation too....I will be blogging about that later. So, I gave them choices of vegetables, fruits and proteins and some specific gluten free crackers and bars too. These choices were always available by my design of course, but their choice to choose which to put it their lunch.
Make your lunch look like a rainbow. The lunch above is an example but we have transitioned a bit because I want more "color" in their lunch. Yet, it was simple, a rainbow of fruit, vegetable and protein. That's it. These things are available in the refrigerator. It's basically what I do to plan every meal already, so it's a great habit.
In this particular case, it was a reusable lunch box and a BPA free water bottle like these:
Having these principles in place removes the battle. I do less work. They take ownership of their food both at home and at school. And yes, they are learning personal responsibility.
The biggest issue we have run into is "fitting in" at school. I have to acknowledge this because it is a real issue and changes depending on the personality and age of the child. How do I deal?
I sometimes offer better versions of chips to include so it looks like what a friend might have or a "treat" of our special chocolate. Yet, the real deal here is that it's occasional and really, the reality needs to be some acceptance that we do it differently and that it is OK because we love feeling good and feeding our brains to learn. I focus on the fact that they will always "FIT-IN" with our family....ALWAYS. If their friends make fun of them for eating gluten-free then maybe they aren't true friends. That's a tough lesson in first grade for a young girl, but isn't it the truth???
What is interesting, is that as I have given them control over their lunch, over time, eating differently has become more normal to them AND their friends. If it is something different that they have chosen to take to lunch, they feel stronger to defend their own choice versus mom's choice.
For example, my son took Tuna/Sardine salad to lunch one day. His choice of protein. I mentioned that kids might make a big deal about the smell, but he said, "That's ok. I love it." So when he returned home the next day, I asked if anyone said anything. He said yes, of course. I asked him what he said in response.
"This is the lunch of champions!"
End of discussion. He loved his lunch because he CHOSE it, not because I MADE it for him.
It truly is their personal responsibility to learn how to care for themselves and that includes making food choices. It is my personal responsibility as a mother to help them learn how to do that even if I make a healthy choice easy by only offering whole foods. It is also my personal responsibility to care for myself which includes sitting on the couch and relaxing after cleaning up dinner and supervising them making their own lunches.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove the need as a parent to do all things for your children.
Replace with personal responsibility to give children control and choice where necessary and find more time to take care of yourself. Provide choice, guidelines and tools.
Restore a stress free lunch time.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Soar On.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.