Lets face it, kids love treats, and parents love bribes. Sounds like a match made in heaven to me! But things get off course when the treat isn’t treaty enough, or the kid eats the treat and moves on before paying up on the deal. But it can’t all be alfalfa sprouts and 100-grain bread and if you get a few things sorted out, a treat is a great addition to a healthy lunchbox. So here are a few tips on how to get the balance right.
Yes, this is a bribe
Giving kids treats is partly also about teaching them healthy eating habits – yes it’s true! Teaching them the difference between food that will give them energy to get through the day, and food that won’t, but that we want anyway, is a great skill to have. I truly think there should be something yummy that kids can look forward to every day in their lunchbox, but I also believe that if they are repeatedly polishing off their goodies and leaving their lunch, then they stop getting the goodies for a while. This of course leaves space for some positive reinforcement when they do eat everything up. I also find that when I have something they want, they are much more likely to listen! So a conversation that goes: “eat your sandwich and you can have your muffin” actually takes on the characteristics of dialogue rather than one-sided rant, and becomes a great opportunity for some healthy eating conversations.
Treat doesn’t have to be sweet
Variety keeps up their interest so broaden your lunchtime goodies repertoire with some savoury alternatives. My kids love brie cheese with a nice salty cracker. In the right portion size, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as a treat. Some other ideas are: adding 4-5 (yes, just a few) pizza shapes or unsalted corn chips to a mix of healthier crackers. A little pot of homemade muesli mix (try our recipe), marinated Sicilian olives (kids love the buttery salty taste), dips (some of our ideas coming soon), are all a good treat.
Keep it short and sweet
In spite of the mental and physical energy you may put into their lunches, kids are really just busting to get to the monkey bars. Recess and lunch need to be able to be eaten more quickly than it takes to organise a game of tip, and preferably held in only one hand. They will probably dive into the ‘treat’ first, and if their friends have moved on by the time that’s down the hatch, your lovingly prepared salad and trout roe sandwich will be left getting stinky in the sun. A mouthful is enough to keep them happy, and leaves them time to eat the good stuff too before they race off.
No, this is not about putting your kid on a diet… far from it! But, from your own experience, you might know it doesn’t take much to take the edge off hunger pangs and when we are talking about the attention span of an actual 6 year old, that’s about all it takes for them to move on after eating their dessert and before eating their lunch. Of course, it depends on the child, their age, their activity level and temperament so you’ll need to put some trial and error into action. Most pre-packaged treats available in supermarkets are way too big in my opinion, which means I always either make my own, or buy in bulk and just pack the right amount into containers.
It’s all in the ‘sell’
This is a long-term game plan that requires commitment; so steel yourselves. Let’s get back to the dictionary definition of a treat: “an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.” An item they are allowed to enjoy rarely is always seen as special, even if it’s not something you would normally think of as a traditional treat. If crisps are a rarity in your household, enjoyed just at parties or other occasions, then putting just a few (I’m literally talking less than 5 chips) into their lunchbox can be cause for excitement! One sweet Californian date, or a fresh fig in season, wrapped in purple tissue paper from the grocer, or even a couple of cherries hidden below the apple all qualify, simply because of the sometimes-ness of them. So if you can make changes in your day-to-day home life, and reserve treats for an out of the ordinary day, you can keep simple pleasures exciting.
Treats are an important part of a healthy lunchbox and definitely have a part to play, its just all in the delivery. As always, balance is key and I hope these tips help you find it. Good luck!
Love Ali x