Your Child’s School Lunch –Superstar or Fails the Grade?

HealthGal Health Guide
  • There’s been a sweeping effort by the government, led by Michelle Obama, to improve kid’s eating habits.  Vending machine snacks, drinks sold on school premises, and school lunches have all been targeted for a healthy makeover.  But, what about habits in the home?  Specifically, do you make the grade when it comes to the choices being packed for daily school lunches?  According to a new study, a home-packed lunch is not necessarily healthier than a school cafeteria meal.  Whose fault is that?


    The challenge


    Moms and dads mean well.  They want to pack foods that their kids will eat.  They are pressed for time, they want to minimize battles with their kids, and they may not have a full understanding of healthy nutrition.  Maybe you shopped bulk sales and your pantry and frig are full of highly processed, quick grab foods that are also non-perishable.  Maybe your child is a picky eater and you pack items that are full of fat, sugar, salt – but you know your child will at least eat it.  Maybe you never had a formal course in cooking or nutrition, so you buy foods with labels suggesting healthier or fortified, despite the fact that many of these foods are not really nutrient dense.  It can be challenging to pack a tasty, nutritious meal and snacks that your child will actually eat.  But we have to try because here’s a shocking statistic – the new research found that just 27% of the lunches that third and fourth graders brought from home, met three of the five National School Lunch Standards.  A quarter of the lunches did not have a formal entrée (like a sandwich or leftovers from dinner), and most did not offer healthy foods like yogurt, low fat cheese, peanut butter (or other nut butters), other protein choices, and of course loads of fruits and vegetables.  Sadly, twenty five percent of lunches contained a sugar-sweetened beverage, and forty-two percent of snack foods (when included) were chips, cookies, or candy.  C’mon moms and dads – we need to do better.

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    Current National School Lunch Standards


    The current school lunch standards for meals served in the school cafeteria are:

    • Half a cup of fruit
    • Three quarters of a cup of vegetables
    • One ounce of grains (preferably whole grains)
    • One ounce of meat/protein
    • One cup of milk

    So the question is - are you even coming close to those minimal standards when you pack school lunch?  The truth is that you need to aim even higher than those standards (to meet serious daily nutrition goals), but the guidelines are a reasonable starting point.  The research also revealed that a parent’s education level did not seem to make a difference when it comes to brown bag lunch standards.  Maybe that’s because we confuse love with less nutritious food choices, regardless of our education level, or even our socio-economic status.  That needs to change now if we are to intercept childhood obesity.


    Pack a healthier lunch that your child will eat


    Go for balance and phase out “the crap” gradually.  Pack one fruit and a vegetable with a dip like hummus or bean dip, or a yogurt-based dip, because kids may embrace vegetables in particular, if they have fun eating them.  Include a dairy serving like Greek yogurt with a side topping like high fiber cereal or sunflower seeds to add crunch.  Sandwiches are easy, but consider a whole grain tortilla wrap, baked whole grain crackers, whole grain pita, or a whole grain English muffin or even a whole grain waffle along with a protein choice for the main course.  Protein choices can include low sodium deli turkey, tuna, hard-boiled egg, and if peanut butter is not allowed because of allergy issues, try almond or cashew butter instead.  Grapes, apples, strawberries, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, pickles, cut up carrots, cold sweet potato chunks, cucumbers, celery and peppers, and a banana will all hold up well, and a frozen water container will keep things cool.  Some other tips:

    • Involve your child by giving them a list of choices from each food group.  You determine the list, but allow them to make the choices.
    • Consider healthy dinner leftovers for an entrée.
    • Consider using a Bento box which has little compartments for different offerings.
    • Examine the nutrition bars, cereals, fruit cups and vegetable chips nutrition facts to see how much sugar, salt, fat and calories these “healthy snacks” you pack daily have, and decide if they are indeed healthy or actually treats (which means they are very occasionally packed).
    • Phase out unhealthy snacks and treats over several weeks
    • Involve your kids in the food preparation – homemade trail mix, healthy muffins, homebaked carrot chips or kale chips.  You can google simple recipes online and have fun together. 


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Published On: September 02, 2014