Fun Lunches Help School Kids Eat Healthy Foods

19 September 2022

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

When it comes to making lunch for their kids, moms and dads have usual favorites. For some parents in the United States, those favorites are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — also known as PB&Js. Fruit like apples and bananas are also popular.

But one mother has an unusual go-to ingredient for her children's lunches. Jenny Mollen uses funny-looking candy eyes.

This July 9, 2012 photo shows a Japanese bento box and Indian Tiffin. They give students a multinational type school lunch in Concord, New Hampshire. (AP/Matthew Mead, file photo)
This July 9, 2012 photo shows a Japanese bento box and Indian Tiffin. They give students a multinational type school lunch in Concord, New Hampshire. (AP/Matthew Mead, file photo)

She has learned that her children will eat any healthy food if it has edible eyeballs attached. The "eyeballs" are really pieces of candy.

Her children laugh while they eat healthy foods like bell peppers, kiwis, or dates. The writer and actor says candy "eyes" make lunch more fun.

She wrote about her creative school lunches in a book, Dictator Lunches: Inspired Meals that Will Compel Even the Toughest of Children.

"Honestly, first of all, just buy yourself some candy googly eyes. They (are) tried-and-true," she said. She admits that "you lose something nutritionally" by giving children candy. But she thinks that getting children to eat healthy food by putting candy on it is worth it.

Mollen's lunch tricks bring together food and craft. She uses tricks because her two sons do not like to eat different kinds of foods. So, she decorates their food to look like animals or even their favorite Pokémon characters.

She makes edible "bugs" made from dates, pretzel sticks for the legs, and, of course, candy "eyes." She also uses leftover Chinese food to make panda bears from rice and seaweed.

Mollen notes that she puts yogurt into fruit like strawberries and raspberries and then tops with some granola, a mixture of oats and nuts.

She says her lunch projects are easy to do. And her sons think they have won a big prize at their midday meal.

The edible art is not hard to make. To create it, she says you only need a few tools — a vegetable peeler, shaped containers and cutters, and some special knives.

She says she does not have to buy special ingredients. She uses leftovers from dinner the night before and everyday items from her food storage area. She likes using sunflower seed butter to stick her creations together.

This idea of making food fun-looking is not new.

Some Japanese parents are known for creating artful lunches, called bento boxes. They often have cute, animal-shaped rice balls and flowers or other shapes made from vegetables.

Mollen says making fun-looking, artful lunches for her children helps ease her guilt.

She says, "I (am) a working mom and not the mom doing pick up and drop off. I'm not with them at the park after school every day. I (am) usually working."

Her artful lunches are her way of reminding her children that she is thinking of them.

Mollen says she also wants to teach them healthy eating habits. She says that by getting kids to eat vegetables at a young age, they will grow up to eat healthy foods later in life. She also says it is a good way to get children to try foods from other cultures.

If they need to be "tricked" sometimes, that is okay.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Mark Kennedy reported this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

go-to –adj. something that is trusted to do a good job

ingredient –n. one of the things used to make a food or product

edible –adj. able to be eaten

tried-and-true –adj. known to be good or effective

craft –n. a skill used to create something

decorate –v. to make something more appealing by putting designs or similar things on it

peeler –n. a device used to remove the skin from a fruit or vegetable

cute –adj. having a pleasing, youthful appearance

habit –n. a usual behavior or way of behaving