Tag Archive | school strategies

Think Outside the (Lunch) Box

By Karen Hendricks

One of my top priorities as a mom is to play the role of “Nutrition Nazi.”  I try my best to infuse nutrients into our meals and ban empty calories.  Equally important as the nutritional value of meals:  The family value of gathering everyone together for meals.  That gets extremely difficult through the middle and high school years, I’m finding, but it’s a priority we try to maintain.  Now that I am “off the merry-go-round” and working from home, I feel like I have a better handle on meal time routines, although most moms with growing families will agree that it’s a constant struggle to keep enough food in the house!

One of the biggest challenges is packing school day lunches.  Although lunches provided in school cafeterias are becoming healthier, my kids prefer to pack because waiting in lines takes too much time and they don’t always like the selections.  This is fine with me!

I like to think of every lunch box as an extension of our family meal times, upholding those same nutritional values and reminding my children that their family loves them.  (Please note:  I would never embarrass my middle or high schoolers with “love notes” in their lunch boxes, although I was known to add a few random notes and jokes through their elementary years!)

I think the challenges include:

  • Finding the time to pack lunches.
  • Making sure they’re nutritious.
  • Not succumbing to easy, but expensive and empty-calorie, pre-packaged lunch items found at the grocery store.
  • Ensuring that lunches can be devoured quickly, since schools are constantly cutting the amount of time allotted for lunch periods.
  • Making sure that everything fits within your child’s lunchbox!

Our entire family helps with the packing of lunches in some way. Here are some tips that have helped us streamline the process, and I hope they help you as well:

Prepare a Lunch Menu.  When my kids were learning keyboarding (4th-5th grades), I set up a simple spreadsheet on our home computer which we still use today.  The rows going down list food groups (Meats/Sandwiches/Grains, Fruit/Veg, Dairy, Snacks, Drinks) with rows under each heading for the kids to customize each week’s menu with our grocery shopping (for example, ham or tuna salad sandwiches, yogurts or string cheese).  The columns are set up per the days of the week, with a column for each child to check off their selections.  It’s great typing practice for the kids, plus they learn organizational skills and the menu is a great help to the chief lunch packer (my wonderful husband).  When my children were younger, they could also see how a nutritious lunch was built using the various food groups.  Now it’s second-nature for them to include at least one item from each food group.  One of the kids typically prepares the lunch menu on Sunday, printing it out and stationing it on our countertop (you could also post it on a bulletin board or refrigerator).  Every night before bedtime or during evening snack time, all the kids make their “picks” for the next day’s lunch.

Banana Keeper! Made by Tupperware and sold in a set of 2, these happy yellow containers keep our bananas from being bruised and squished. Pure genius!

Invest in Reusable Containers.  There are some great products made specifically for lunch boxes today!  Plastic sandwich containers not only keep sandwiches from being squished, but they also negate the need for plastic bags which are costly and not environmentally-friendly.  Our family also uses stainless steel water bottles (found inexpensively at Target and other stores) and small plastic containers with lids for fruits and other snacks (grapes, pretzels, etc.).  Sometimes it’s a challenge to fit all the containers within a lunchbox—it can be like a puzzle—but you develop a knack for it.

Pre-Package Lunch “Staples.”  My kids all pitch in around the house with tasks like dishwashing, unpacking grocery bags, etc.  So when the stainless steel water bottles get washed, they also get refilled with cold water and stashed in the fridge, so they’re chilled and ready to be popped into lunchboxes.  When groceries are being unpacked and there’s an item like grapes, one of the kids washes the grapes right then and there, and prepares 7-8 small plastic containers full of grapes, so they’re ready for school mornings.  This is a great time-saver!

Prepping grapes for the lunchboxes

Include a Touch of Home.  If you have a leftover, homemade biscuit, why not use it for a chicken salad sandwich?  Have a leftover cup of homemade soup?  It takes some effort, but pack it in a microwaveable container or warm it the next morning to pack into a thermos.  The same idea applies to leftover fajitas, a bowl of chili or homemade pizza.  Be creative and think outside the sandwich box.  Sometimes, these are the most popular, sought-after lunch items in our house!  Of course, fighting over them is a subject for another blog… Hey, at least they are eating well!

How to Help Your Child Become a GREAT Reader

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

It is that time of year when we mommies are getting another school year underway. If you are like me, your little one is heading off to preschool for the first time; others of you may have the whole back-to-school thing mastered.

As parents we all want the best for our children throughout their school years – and beyond. Part of their success in life begins with a good education, the foundation of which is based on the ability to read well. I spent close to 10 years teaching reading in various elementary schools both as a classroom teacher and as a reading resource instructor, so I have a few tips I can share with you.

Whether you are completely “off the merry-go-round” as a stay-at-home mom, or still “on the merry-go-round” to some degree, these are tips that all parents can work into the daily routine.

Reading is a process and each child develops the skill at a different pace. Try to avoid comparing your child’s reading ability with other children – reading is so much more than being able to read words on a page. A “great reader” can also read with appropriate expression, demonstrate understanding by answering comprehension and higher-level thinking questions, and connect his/her reading to other text and to real-life experiences. So, let the reading process evolve naturally for your child, and enjoy watching (and hearing!) his/her success along the way.

Ideas to consider:

  • Introduce reading early – From birth is best; I know some mothers who have even read to their children while they were in the womb!
  • Begin and end each day with reading – Then, no matter what happens in between, you will have gotten in that precious time! Some mornings, my son will ask me to read him a book as soon as he gets out of bed. Reading and cuddling in his ‘reading nook’ is always a wonderful way to start our day.
  • “Squeeze” reading into unique times of the day – I keep a book basket stashed with some of my son’s favorite books next to the potty. During bath time, he likes me to read while he splashes in the bubbles.
  • Model reading – Let your child see you reading! I use breakfast and dinner as family chat times yet when my son and I are eating lunch, I put on a story cd for him while I scan an article in The Economist.
  • Put the focus on reading – Reading is much more beneficial to your child’s developing brain versus screen time.
  • “Act out” stories – This can simply be talking in a character’s “voice” or “mimicking” a character’s actions.
  • Read stories of interest – Grab your child’s attention and foster a love for reading by reading books about things your child enjoys.
  • Incorporate activities – Retelling a story, doing a related art project or craft, going on a scavenger hunt to find something from a book, taking a field trip to the book’s setting – anything counts! In Harold’s Circus, a lemonade stand is mentioned and since my son had never tasted lemonade, I let him take his first swig. My husband helped him build a crown and scepter out of Tinker Toys – just like the character Max has in Where the Wild Things Are.
  • Do “closed” reading – While reading familiar books pause once in awhile to let your child fill in the word that comes next.
  • Give hints – Help your child figure out unknown words through picture and context clues.
  • Ask questions to gauge understanding – Begin with literal questions (“What is the boy holding in his hand?”), then slowly progress to comprehension questions (“Why did the family move?”) and higher level thinking questions (“What do you think the girl will do next?”). Doing this with my son from a very early age has him already making predictions and connecting what he has read to other books, his life, and the world around him.
  • Reading from memory is reading – My mother always tells me, “You were reading from the time you were 2!” Yet I was “reading” from memory – I knew the text “by heart” from having the same stories read to me over and over. However, this is indeed the very foundation of reading. From about 20 months old, my son was reading text word for word and turning the pages to match. He has a strong aptitude for memorization and recitation, and I too consider him a “reader;” I just recognize that he is only at the beginning of that journey.
  • Share reading – Alternate between you and your child reading one page or paragraph.

The best way you can help your child become a great reader is to foster a love of reading. Teach your child that books are treasures. Help them learn to respect and care for their books. Then, when you are finished with them, pass them on! As Jen’s boys got older, she had a hard time parting with some of their most treasured childhood books so she gave them to my son. Now they have become an important part my family’s life. Reading is a process – one that develops slowly over time. Yet, if introduced early and nurtured carefully along the way, your child will not only become a “great” reader – he/she will enjoy it as a life-long gift.

For more tips, check this link to the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) website.  And please feel free to share your reading tips below as well!