Secrets to a Healthy School Lunch

fullsizerender-10When you think of school lunch do you think of chocolate milk and Domino’s pizza? Because I do.  That and Hostess donuts (the crumb variety obviously).  If I’m being honest (and if you couldn’t tell already), my healthy eating days definitely started after my school lunch days.  When my mom stopped making me a sack lunch (ahem… in high school…), the nutritional value of my lunch definitely went downhill.  Have you ever wondered what your school-aged sprouts are eating for lunch? School lunch gets such a bad rap, is it really as bad and unhealthy as everyone says? The short answer is no, the long answer is coming if you keep reading.

Since 2010, the school lunch program has undergone a major makeover.  Initially, the changes encountered some resistance but in the long run they seem to have improved the nutritional quality of our children’s lunches.  Some of the requirements include calorie restrictions, lower sodium meals, and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Pretty reasonable if you ask me (except, on occasion, the calorie restrictions… but we’ll discuss that another day).   

These changes require healthier meals to be served to your sprout, but whether they are benefitting from these changes is questionable.  Once you send your sprouts to school, what they eat is pretty much out of your hands until they get home.  That’s like 6 hours (or more) of time they could spend eating hostess donuts and tutti fruities (forgot to mention those above… still one of my favorites after helping me survive AP Chem).  Even if you are sending a sack lunch, they could be trading it with friends or just opting to eat something else.  Here are a few ideas to encourage healthy eating while your kiddo is at school:

  • Teach them at home.  If you’ve encouraged healthy eating at home, they are more likely to eat healthy elsewhere.  Plain and simple.  
  • Involve them in the planning.  If they are bringing a lunch from home, let them have a say in what they bring.  Don’t send a meal they don’t like and expect them to eat it.  Asking them to try new foods is great when you are there to be their cheerleader, but you can’t expect them to do it on their own.  Lunch is one time it’s ok to cater to their tastes (within reason).  For example, my saintly mom (who packed my lunch until I was in 9th grade…) would make me a sandwich and put the lettuce and tomatoes in a separate bag because they would make my bread soggy if on my sandwich.  Nobody likes soggy bread and it definitely encouraged me to eat my lunch (veggies and all).  
  • Be involved yourself.  Look at your child’s lunch menu.  Discuss it with them.  Help them understand what options are healthier than others.  Encourage them to take the fruits and vegetables and if they have several options, discuss which ones might be better brain fuel.  You can even request the calorie content of lunches from your child’s school.  Growing up we would discuss the menu with my mom to figure out which days we wanted to eat school lunch and which days we would bring a lunch from home.  

Encouraging your child to eat school lunch is a great way to help them eat healthy, and another wonderful teaching opportunity to help them understand the ins and outs of nutrition.  With the recent improvements and a little involvement on your part, school lunch can be a nourishing part of your child’s day for both body and mind.  What are your thoughts on school lunch?

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