Are you bracing yourself for the back to school lunch-packing rush? If so, you’re not alone. Trying to incorporate nutrition awareness and “green”-consciousness into the lunch routine can make that simple lunchbox feel like a chore. Chances are, your child is already fascinated by her lunchbox. As you prepare for the upcoming school year, don’t hesitate to take advantage of her enthusiasm and slide in some lessons about nutrition and the environment.
Here’s a way to bring your kids into the action and help simplify things. As a bonus, this magnet activity can also help young readers explore “environmental print” —a common part of every early reader’s curriculum!
What You Need:
- Metal-backed white board, or a rectangular space on your fridge
- Pack of flat, glue-on magnets (available at craft stores)
- 3x5” index cards, cut most of them in half to make 3x2-1/2” cards
- Food labels from your common lunch foods (cut them out or your can draw her own)
- Dry-erase marker (if you’re using your fridge, check first to see that the marker can be erased!)
What You Do:
- Explain to your child that every good lunch should contain four main elements: protein (such as meat, cheese, beans, rice, and peanut butter, etc), carbohydrates (kids will recognize bread, crackers, rice, among other things), a fruit and/or veggie, and something healthy to drink. In addition, many schools also ask for a snack, and again you can talk about healthy options with her.
- Once you’ve laid out this basic information, you both can create your magnet board. Start by marking out a chart, like this:
- Then invite your child to help you make cards for each type of food. For items like bread and crackers, invite your child to help you cut out pictures and labels and paste them down on your cards. For items that don’t come with illustrated packages, such as some veggies or fruits, encourage your child to draw a picture and then write the word for each food beneath. If categories seem challenging, you can also try color-coding your cards.
- Finally, if you plan to pack sandwiches or certain rice dishes, with a combination of ingredients, try using a full-size, 3x5” card, which can straddle two categories on your chart.
- On the back of each card, glue a magnet. Store the cards in an envelope or basket near your magnet board area.
- The night before a school day, invite your child to plan her lunch with you. Pull out labeled pictures of the foods that you’re comfortable providing for the next day, and let your child select and categorize each one. Do it regularly, and you can expect some impressive new knowledge and pride as your child learns how to identify, pack - and hopefully eat- a healthy, balanced school lunch!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school history and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.