FOOD: Lunch Smart
What comes to mind when you think of your old school lunches? Did you like bringing your own, or like the food served in the cafeteria better? If you brought your lunch, who packed it?
Children’s school lunches should be super tasty, but equally healthy. It’s important for kids to have a healthy lunch to keep their energy up to actively interact and focus on learning, not a growling stomach.
The best part about packing a healthy school lunch is that it doesn’t have to be hard! Lisa Johnston, a registered dietitian and owner of Nourish Nutrition & Diabetes, shares some tips that can help parents pack a nutritious lunch for their child.
“I encourage parents to provide lunches that contain four components: a protein, a high fiber carbohydrate, a fat source and a vegetable,” says Johnston. “When you provide meals with a good balance of macro-nutrients, kids will feel satisfied longer and will be able to focus better all afternoon.”
Johnston shares that some good protein options are meats, eggs, beans, peanut butter, yogurt, milk or cheese. She says some high fiber carbohydrate sources could be fruit, 100-percent whole-grain English muffins, whole-grain crackers, a small whole-grain wrap, brown rice or quinoa.
An issue many parents have is accidentally leaving out a fat source in their child’s packed lunches. While we are trained to think fat is bad, Johnston explains how not having healthy fat in their lunches can make children hungrier sooner. A slice of unprocessed cheese, a handful of almonds or peanuts, a tablespoon or two of natural peanut butter, or a small amount of dip for vegetables are all ideal options for a fat source.
An avid lunch packer, Callah Staggs, mother of three John Ross Elementary School students, sends her kids off with a packed lunch every day. A mother to one very picky eater, packing lunches could be a challenge, but she allows her kids to be very involved in what they eat and pack. Her children actually enjoy picking out their food in the morning—packing their own lunches with her overseeing.
“I think it’s healthier when they pack their own lunch,” says Staggs. “They also don’t have much time to eat at lunch so I like that they can go straight in the cafeteria, relax and start eating.”
To save time, Staggs always has their fruits and vegetables washed and ready to be packed in the morning. She explains that having easy grab-and-go items in the fridge makes packing lunch super simple. Some staples that the Staggs use and enjoy in their lunches are carrots, turkey sandwiches or turkey roll ups. They also usually take some yogurt and fruit.
“They love getting up everyday and having everything in the fridge ready to go,” says Staggs. “They get in there and make it each day. They enjoy putting it all together.”
It’s important to consider what they will actually eat so that food is not wasted. Staggs says she always gives her kids carrots because she knows they will eat them. She can make sure other vegetables are eaten when they are at home for variety’s sake.
However, there are other options besides packing a lunch everyday. If the idea of making lunch each morning is too difficult, parents can simply better prepare their child to make healthy food decisions and teach them what to look for when selecting school lunch. Teaching children to eat right, while also allowing treats along the way, can be a really practical and healthy way for kids to stay healthy long-term.
Parents can explain to their children and give examples of what a healthy lunch looks like and encourage them to choose wisely. After all, a parent won’t always be there to pack their children’s lunch.
Another great option is when a child’s school participates and provides healthy options. The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement with Sodexo was recently introduced at Deer Creek schools. This food program offers healthy food options for children to choose in the lunch line.
Cara Orr, mother to students at Deer Creek, used to pack her kid’s lunch but since Deer Creek adopted the Movement, she has opted to have them eat lunch at school. She shares how her children always begged her to let them eat at school and how this movement finally convinced her.
“For me, it seemed they had good healthy options and definitely made it more convenient for me,” says Orr. “They have three healthy entrée options and have to choose a fruit or vegetable, too.”
Whether a packed lunch or a school lunch is determined to be the best method for a family, parents should consider the options and plan with their children to ensure healthy eating habits for the school year.