My kids feel like they’re not normal because of what they have in their lunchbox.
My son / daughter has stopped eating their lunchbox because they don’t feel normal.
My kids are asking me for just a sandwich and some fruit in their lunchbox because they want to feel normal.
Sadly, we have heard these sorts of comments hundreds and hundreds of times.
Why Kids Feel They Aren’t Normal
The common thread in all these comments, is these kids who feel not normal, all have lunchboxes which contain real food. Fruits and vegetables, and main lunches which are usually different to the traditional lunchbox sandwich. Just when did these foods become not normal?
This week we visited our 66th school on our Australian Tour to Transform Children’s Health. From what teachers tell us, and from what we see first hand, it’s not uncommon for children to have at least 2 processed packaged foods in their lunchbox per day.
We have also learnt first hand on our Australian Tour that kids love to fit in. So for some kids who don’t have processed packet foods, they feel like they don’t fit in – they don’t feel normal. For other kids who don’t have processed packaged food, they get ridiculed and so don’t feel normal. Fruits and vegetables, and non-sandwich lunches are not really normal because so few children are having them. We have personally experienced this first hand when our daughter stopped eating her lunchbox because she was getting teased about not having packet foods in her lunchbox. This is why I developed The Mad Food Science Program, and why I am so passionate about empowering kids to make better food choices for themselves.
What is clear, is processed packaged food is now the norm in school lunchboxes. More kids have processed packaged food, than real food of fruits and vegetables.
The Answer Lies In Our Kids
By empowering kids to understand their body, how food makes them feel, and teach them to make better food choices, they become more confident in eating what’s right for their body, regardless of what their friends are eating.
Empowering kids really works. Many parents tell us how their children’s behaviour towards food changes when they have attended one of our workshops. It changes the way their children view what’s in their lunchbox. Here’s an example of what I mean.
We need to be able to get our kids to feel confident in themselves. To separate the food they eat from fitting in. What makes them a friend and fitting in, isn’t their food. Of course, it’s not simple getting our kids to this point. I totally get how hard it is being a parent taking a stand for your children’s health in today’s crazy world but I also get feel the pain kids are feeling about not feeling normal. To help make it a little easier for you and your kids, I have written these 3 steps to help your kids feel more normal about their real lunchbox food.
3 Steps To Help Kids Feel Normal
1. Have An Honest Conversation
Have an honest conversation with your child(ren). Talk to them about why you feel the food in their lunchbox is so important to growing body. Say you want to understand how the food in their lunchbox is making them feel. It’s important they feel like they are able to really share and that you’re listening. Let them tell you why they feel it’s not normal. Below I’ve listed some of the conversations I have with kids in The Mad Food Science Program:
- Talk about how real food is grown in the earth and has natural intelligence. That our bodies know how to use these foods, and it helps their bodies grow, develop and to learn. But processed foods are made in a chemistry a lab and factory, and include ingredients our bodies don’t know how to use. Many of these processed foods include ingredients which don’t really help with their development, concentration and even sometimes their mood.
- Ask them why they go to school – they will usually say to learn or to get educated, some say to play with their friends.
- Now ask them, if they go to school to learn and to play with their friends, what sort of foods do they think is best to eat. Ones which help with their learning and their mood, or those which don’t help with their learning and mood? Most kids will get they are better off eating the foods that help them.
- Ask them why do their friends like to hang out with them. Ask what they have in common, what they play, whether they are in the same class etc. Try to get them to understand their friends because of who they are and how they play, not because of what’s in their lunchbox. The aim is to get your child to try and separate their lunchbox food from what makes them a friend.
At this stage, you are the best person to know how to progress. You could choose to go onto steps 2 and 3 below or stay firm in your choices in packing only real food. If you choose the latter, in a previous article, I wrote some scripts to help your children handle themselves at school – Help Your Kids Beat The Lunchbox Bullies.
2. Make A Deal
By this stage, you will have already explained to them that there are ingredients in processed packaged food that really don’t help their body or their learning. Share with them another reason why you don’t like processed packaged food is because of the rubbish it creates for the environment. How this rubbish ends up in landfill or in our waterways and lives for hundreds of years. You could even visit Ocean Crusaders to explain this some more or read this article Why Go Plastic Free For July.
At this point, ask them again if they really feel having a packet in their lunchbox is really that important for them. Hopefully they will say no after realising the impact it has on the environment. But if they still feel it’s important, make a deal with them.
Tell them you’re going to allow them to have just one packet a week, but because it’s your job to take care of their body, you’re going to allow packets which have ingredients which you’re happy with.
Go shopping with your child and help them understand what’s going into the foods, and together choose 2 different package options that you’re happy with. Once a week include one of these packets in the lunchbox, then rotate it to the other one next week. You could go one step further and let your child choose what day of the week they want to have it.
Call me radical but I sometimes buy Bega Cheese Sticks (not stringers) and the kids get super excited about having these in their lunchbox. I usually make my own coconut oil popped popcorn, but you can buy packets of popcorn which are really just corn, oil and salt. Steer clear of the flavoured ones because they contain additives.
If you need help learning how to read packet labels, read this article – 5 Simple Steps To Reading Packet Food Labels.
3. Book End Their Lunchbox
Take the pressure off the importance of their lunchbox. What I mean by this, is if you’re kids really want just a sandwich and a piece of fruit or not as many vegetables, don’t stress. Instead give them less in their lunchbox but boost up their breakfast and afternoon tea.
I call this bookending their lunchbox. For breakfast and afternoon tea, load them up with foods including protein and good fats. Send them on the way to school with a really full tummy, then fill them up when they come home from school. Eggs, avocado, spinach, smoothies packed with nuts, avocado and coconut, trail mix etc. Here’s some ideas for you to try as extras for breakfast and afternoon tea.
- Bacon, Spinach and egg cups
- Mini quiches
- Breakfast Dessert
- Awake and Moving Smoothie
- Bircher Crumble Parfait
- Home made baked beans
- Seed and trail mix
- Chocolate protein bombs
Making Real Food Normal Again
When I came up with the mission to Transform Children’s Health, I had a dream of making real food normal. After almost 2 years travelling Australia empowering kids to make better food choices, we have reached 66 schools so far and over 13,500 people have directly attended our workshop. But everytime I run a workshop and have an impact, or when I hear those words that kids don’t feel normal because they have real food lunchboxes, I become even more adamant to make this dream a reality for children and families all over Australia – in big numbers. I am delighted with what we’ve achieved but it’s not enough.
Our Australian Tour is coming to an end, but my work here is not done. We’re currently working on 3 massive projects which we believe will play a huge role in making real food normal again. We’ve been working on these projects behind the scenes and we’ve been keeping these under wraps because there is still some work to go. But in writing this article today, I want to share a little bit of what’s coming – to give you hope. To let you know, we’re in your court and we intend to make real food normal again so your jobs as parents become easier. Here’s one project we’re getting close to launching.
Whole School Real Food Lunchbox Study
Kids love to fit in. That’s why all this not feeling normal business is happening – because more kids have processed packaged food than normal food. We have seen first hand thousands of kids try a green smoothie, and nothing gets the over the line more than their friends drinking it with them. It made us think about how kids will try foods, even if they don’t think they will like it, when their friends try it. We’ve been testing this. We’ve been working with a school in NSW studying what happens when a whole class has real food of fruits, vegetables, smoothies and dips for recess and snacks instead of processed packaged food. The results have been incredible:
- improved concentration
- improved socialisation
- trying new foods even when their parents thought they wouldn’t
- eating more fruits and vegetables at home for dinner and the weekends, with no struggles
These results are so exciting, particularly the fact kids started to eat more fruits and vegetables at home. With the support of the whole school community, including the parents, in term 4 of this year, we will expanding the study across the whole school of 320 students and teachers. We will be looking at what happens to concentration, socialisation and behaviour towards fruits and vegetables at home, when all children eat fruits and vegetables, smoothies and dips for recess and snacks, instead of processed packaged food. For this school, we will be making real food normal for term 4 and we fully expect it will have a massive impact on the children, the school and their behaviour towards fruits and vegetables at home.
Pretty exciting eh? We will share more about this project soon, because we’re going to need your support to make the study a reality. In the meantime, watch this short video about the results from the whole class study we’ve conducted.