Same Lunch Every Day - How Bad?

Filed under: Opinions

Ever had a cringe-worthy parenting moment that made you wonder: What kind of a parent does this? If no, check back in a bit for celebrity news! If yes, read on...

I was picking up my little girl at preschool, when one of her little friends lifted his unzipped lunchbox. Out tumbled six perfect containers, each with remnants of a delicious, nutritious-looking mini-feast. "Ooh," I said, impressed. "You pack such a nice lunch!" The other mom looked guilty.

"I did today," Other Mommy agreed, "But usually I pack him the exact same thing every day." Hm, really? Why so confessional -- is that bad? Because, honestly, I do that too. Now that I think about it, I've been packing my daughter pretty much the same lunch for...well, a while now. Is that bad? For advice, I dialed Mommy Advisor Christine M. Palumbo, R.D., a nutritionist in private practice in a Chicago suburb, and an adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University.

"Same lunch every single day?" Palumbo asked. "And you want to know how bad that is?" She sounded a little more dismayed than I had hoped...
Palumbo wanted to know what I was tucking into the Princess Pack every day. Resisting the urge to, uh, lie, I told her that lunch-plus-snacks equaled:

Tofu nuggets
Baggie of goldfish
String cheese
Grapes or banana
Drinkable yogurt

So? "It sounds protein-heavy," Palumbo says gently, sensing that I am just a touch defensive. "And maybe you could include less processed food," she adds. Okay, I can work with that.

But I need suggestions. Because my daughter goes way beyond the usual definition of "Picky Eater." As in, she classifies Wheat Thins as spicy, exotic "Grown-up Food." Palumbo and I agree that I will give my girl new foods to try at lunch time because she won't just refuse it or whine to her teacher (it's a wonderful school where they have somehow magically outlawed whining). Here's what Palumbo suggests I try:

1. Make gradual changes so she doesn't freak out. "Mix the goldfish with some small whole-grain crackers, and gradually shift the mix to mostly whole-grain crackers." (Same goes for the juice-water ratio at home).

2. Add a vegetable, take away a protein. "Edamame are good starter-vegetables," Palumbo says; she also suggests broccoli cut into tiny trees, carrots in thin strips, sugar snap peas (fun to open). I'll do this instead of the nuggets.

3. Mix it up more. This is the hard one but I see now that it's important. "Mother Nature intended for us to eat a variety of foods every week," explains Palumbo. "That's how we're sure to get all the nutrients we need." I'm going to start putting the following into rotation: Tofu cut into squares, cucumber, tomatoes, apples with peanut butter.... (any other ideas?).

4. Steam some veggies and offer them before dinner when the kids are super-hungry. "Especially if she didn't eat her lunch," Palumbo points out. And Palumbo has a good tip for this, too: "You can add a little sugar or fat to veggies if it will encourage your child to eat them." Picturing a little brown sugar and just a dab of butter on tender carrots, I imagine this just might make me eat them, too.

5. Don't stress so much over every meal. "Children will not starve if they don't eat lunch one day, or dinner one night," says Palumbo, who does not yet know that I'm going to put her on speakerphone with my child the next time white rice is not offered at dinner.

My fear is that my little girl will refuse all this new lunch food and then she will be starving and wickedly cranky all day (and night). Palumbo, a mom of three, says it's a risk worth taking. "Don't be an enabler," she reminds me. "She'll eat healthy food when she is hungry but she'll only eat the stuff she likes if it's always available." Snap.

So, same food every day for lunch: How bad? "I'm going to say this is a 5," says Palumbo. "I'm not concerned about it if it's just one meal only but if you're also letting her eat the same thing every night for dinner, that's a 7."

Do you feed your kids the same thing every day? Tell the truth! Better yet, do you have good lunch suggestions? Please comment below. And if you've committed a parenting crime and you want to know, How Bad? Send it to and you might find out.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.