Four sure-fire ways to get your kids to eat their lunch in 2019

As kids head back to school after the winter break, parents are back to the misery of packing daily lunches. But what's the secret to packing a healthy lunch that your kids will eat?

Andrew Fleet of Growing Chefs! Ontario shares his tips and tricks for getting kids to eat their healthy lunch

It can be a bit of a struggle to keep kids healthy at school — but there are ways to make it easier. (Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley)

As kids head back to school after the winter break, parents are back to the misery of packing daily lunches. But what's the secret to packing a healthy lunch that your kids will eat? 

CBC London spoke with Andrew Fleet, dad of two and founder and executive director of Growing Chefs! Ontario, a charity that works with kids to get them excited about health and healthy eating. 

The start of the winter term is also a time when parents are trying to stick to their own New Year's resolutions, and many include healthy eating goals. It's possible to get the kids involved in healthy eating habits, too. 

Here are four ways to take the edge off making healthy lunches that your kids will actually eat. 

Get the kids involved

Fleet says he knows kids as young as five or six who help make their lunch. By getting kids involved as soon as they show an interest, or as soon as they lose their disinterest, the better the chance that they'll eat what's been packed. 

If you don't think your kid can handle helping with lunch prep, they can certainly help in the grocery aisle, Fleet says. 

"If they can't be a help in the kitchen, you can really get them involved when you're doing the shopping," he says. "You can talk about the food that you're buying and talk about what you're going to make for lunch." 

If you're trying to eat healthier, start when you're shopping, don't buy junk, and carry that over to the lunches that you're packing. 

Avoid lunch box surprises

A nice note or toy in the lunch box is fine, but school lunches aren't a time to be introducing a new food, Fleet says. 

"If it's a new food, you don't want to be introducing it in their lunch for the first time," he says. "If they're opening their lunch and it's a surprise, that's not going to go well. You want to put things in there that you eat together."

If you're planning to pack wraps or sandwiches in the school lunch, eat them on the weekend and talk about the fact that something similar will be in their lunchbox, Fleet says. 

"My biggest cheat is, we try to use leftovers as much as possible. We make a little bit of extra for dinner, and they've eaten it before, with you, at the dinner table, and they're comfortable with it. Plus, you're saving yourself the prep time." 

Fleet and his wife try to aim for three days of left-over lunches, which often works out to one or two days a week. Either way, talk to your kids about whether they enjoyed the leftovers — sometimes something delicious at dinner isn't as appetizing after a few hours in a container. 

Let the kids be the boss of their lunch

They might not be the actual boss, but if they think they are, they're more likely to accept what's being offered, Fleet says. 

Fleet's family has five or six go-to lunch favourites that whoever is packing can fall back on, he says. 

"We're always thinking about, how can we get them to make their own decisions, so no decision is going to be a bad one? We call it being the boss of their own plate, or the boss of their own lunch," Fleet says. 
A Japanese bento box and Indian tiffin offer a multinational version of the traditional brown bag lunch. (The Associated Press)

That means letting kids choose one of a few options — do they want an apple, banana, or orange as a snack, for example? That can apply to snacks and the main lunch meal, Fleet says. The family also offers a range of healthy foods for dinner, and lets the kids choose what they want to eat. 

Offering mostly healthy options that might be part of your new healthy diet cuts down on your prep time and supports your lifestyle. 

Relax a bit 

Having a child who won't try new things can be frustrating, Fleet admits. 

"But as frustrating as it is, kids can survive on the same things day in and day out, and sometimes that's okay," he says. 

"Until you can make headway at home, you're going to struggle at school. In the meantime, give them a couple of options, and let them choose."

Try emphasizing that it's okay not to like everything they eat and that some things won't become favourites. 

"The huge thing is building a relationship with food. My kids have gotten used to it being okay that sometimes, things don't work. Still eat the food, and if you don't like it, it's not an earth-shaking ordeal." 

If you're on a new health kick and the kids just aren't buying it, give them a break, Fleet says. 

"It doesn't have to 100 per cent for them. It's like with anything, don't go too big, too quick, or it won't be sustainable. Your kids are no different," Fleet says. "If you're making those steps to eat healthier, it's okay if your kids are a couple of steps behind you."