General Health & Wellness • Aug 17, 2010

School Lunch: Packed or Purchased?

     Do you pack lunch for your children, or do your kids buy lunch at school?  We welcome your comments. 
     When was the last time you saw a kid in the lunchroom eat their entire standard school lunch without skipping the veggies or adding alternative choices from the a la carte line?  This is the primary problem with the school lunch program.  Although the basic school lunch does meet some basic nutritional standards, children are allowed to pick and choose from a variety of foods that include high fat and high sugar options.  Chocolate milk, for example, is a “sometimes food” as part of a healthy grade-school diet.  But in the lunchroom, kids are permitted to choose flavored milk daily.
     Medical research shows that a healthy diet improves school performance and social skills.  Although packed lunch can be a healthy and cost-saving option, it all depends on what you pack.  The school lunch program can be a healthy option, but allows your child to make unhealthy food choices. 
     Last week the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which, if passed by the House of Representatives, would permit regulation of food sold in school vending machines, improve nutritional standards of school lunch, and improve funding for school-based meals.  But even Washington cannot convince a kindergartener to eat the green beans on her plate instead of a fried chicken nugget and tater tots. 
     Here are some tips for helping you make the right lunch choice for your child.

  • If your child eats school lunch, talk to them each morning about their food choices.  Is today a chocolate milk day?  If so, remind them that they will have to choose a healthy after-school snack such as fruit. 
  • Honestly ask yourself, “Am I packing healthy lunches?”  Many items marketed for lunch boxes are high in fat, sugar, artificial colors and flavors.  Examples include go-gurts, nutrigrain bars, apple sauce with added sugar and color, most brands of fruit snacks, rice crispy treats, cheetos, and most versions of snack chips.   If you are filling your child’s lunch box with processed, pre-packaged foods, consider shopping for fun, child-friendly lunch box favorites such as:
    • Baby carrots, celery, and peanut butter or dip
    • Clementines
    • Turkey and cheese roll-ups on whole-wheat tortillas
    • Trail mix made with mixed nuts, raisins, and chocolate chips
    • Beef jerky (avoid Slim Jim brand and others with high fat and low protein content)
    • Cheese sticks
    • Apple sauce (avoid the kind that has added sugar and color)   
    • Dried fruit (prunes are especially good for avoiding constipation)
    • Pretzels
    • Granola bars
    • “sipable” soup in a thermos bottle

     Remember, kids eat what their parents eat.  If you want your kids to eat well, make sure you eat well!