Family, Food, General, Health & Wellness, Nutrition, Parenting

School Lunch: Dilemmas and Options

It’s the last day of September and many children have been back in school for almost a month (or longer).
By now, we’ve established our new (and earlier) morning routines, which for my children includes having their backpacks ready and lunch bags packed.

On occasion, my children will have the school lunch rather than a bag lunch. And I always keep a copy of the lunch menu on hand, so I’ll know what’s being served. As you can imagine, there are some healthy options and some that aren’t so healthy.
An article from the Columbus Dispatch, discussed how lax oversight and tight budgets in the National School Lunch Program have contributed to schools serving low-cost, often unhealthy foods to students.

The United States Department of Agriculture requires schools to provide a certain number of items from each food group, but doesn’t provide guidance regarding the nutritional content of these foods or how they should be prepared (thus, tater tots as a vegetable).
There are some schools that have started offering healthier options (e.g. salad bars, fresh produce, low-fat milk, reduced fat macaroni and cheese, etc.), and I hope that all schools will find a way to follow this trend.

Checking the School Lunch Menu

If your child gets a school lunch, I encourage you to check the school menu to see what’s being offered. And if you’re packing lunches, providing the healthiest options possible will make you feel good about what you’re giving them.

While I’m speaking of packed lunches, I’m sure all of us have had school lunch fatigue at one time or another: times when we’re tired of packing lunches, the kids are bored with the lunch “rotation,” or worse, don’t like what we’ve included in the lunch bag.
There’s also the infamous “lunch trade” that goes on in school (e.g. trading a perfectly good sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread for, say… a ziplock bag full of cookies). Yikes!

If you find yourself in this dilemma, getting your child to help with lunch ideas or preparation may help (kids are more likely to eat what they helped to prepare or plan).

Hold a Taste Test

I held a taste test for my kids one weekend to see what they might like. I made quarter-sandwiches of egg salad (didn’t go over well), tuna fish (really didn’t go over well), different lunch meats, PB&J, veggie “chick’n” nuggets and a veggie pita (one with cream cheese and one with hummus).

Even if your child doesn’t care for something now, it doesn’t mean they may not like it at a later date, so continue to offer it to them. Also, including a healthy snack with their regular lunch as a backup may help, (just in case the main entree doesn’t make the cut).
Finally, sending leftovers in a thermos (especially if they liked it at dinner) or soup/chili, is another lunch option.

There are many websites that offer lunch ideas for kids as well. 

A healthy lunch, combined with a healthy breakfast, will give our children the energy they need to learn, and stay active throughout the day.

Take care and God bless,
Dayo Wilson Lanier, M.D.

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