Learning how to deal with comparing ourselves to others is a key part of getting through life in general, no different for kids starting back to school. This can often be more of a concern to kids than grades or other aspects of school success. Social networks, and social standing – fitting in – is absolutely crucial for kids to feel engaged in activities, including school. Who has the coolest shoes? Which kid has the best supplies or the hippest clothing? It is often such a significant challenge that parents long for the days of school uniforms in order to minimize the level of worry and focus on this aspect of going to school.
The grass is always greener…
Lunchbox envy is not very different in many regards; based on the phenomenon that the grass is always greener on the other side of the road. We just want what others have. Somehow it seems better, more satisfying, more able to complete the picture of what we think happiness might be. So, how then does a parent send a kid off everyday with a lunch that satisfies both parties? Everyone is familiar with the scenarios of trading peanut butter and jelly for bologna or of opening the lunchbox to find yet another tuna fish sandwich and thinking, “not again!”
Try these strategies, and your child just might start to be proud of what’s in her lunchbox:
- Variety is the spice of life. This is just as true for your kids as it is for you! Consider that some of what you experience is resistance to repetition or boredom, as much as we might value routine. If you work together with your child, making adjustments especially early in the year as they see what others are bringing, you may have more success in getting them to eat the lunch that you pack.
- Choice is key. Even though some of us ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everyday year after year, it was out of choice. Maintaining a sense of control is important for a sense of satisfaction. Build a repertoire of options that are acceptable to both of you. You remember your mother asking you if you would also jump off a cliff if that’s what an admired classmate did—well, times have not changes that much. We want what others have. Somehow it seems better and more satisfying. Remember that there might be good alternatives to choices like Cheetos or other foods that you would prefer not to pack for your kids and find those. Provide choice of which ones to include.
- Creativity is so much easier today than it once was. There are whole-wheat breads and meat substitutes that are so much more appealing than their original counterparts. Is there some way to make the food you are including more interesting? Or, consider whether it should be less interesting or different? Sometimes the attraction is fitting in or being more similar. Determine what your child is after and then see if there is an alternative that makes an acceptable choice attractive to both of you.
- Flexibility is fairly key. As a parent you have standards that fit an ideal. How much can you flex that ideal and still fall within an acceptable range of what constitutes a healthy diet? Chances are, you can give in on some items in order to maintain a good nutritional balance. If your child is getting a good serving of vegetables and fruits for example, can you also include some sort of “treat” that lives up to the more interesting contents of another kid’s lunch?