The kids are back in school and, although we're seeing progress in many locations, most school lunches are still pretty unhealthy, making it necessary for most parents to pack their kids' lunches.
The challenge is to provide a variety of healthy foods that kids will actually eat. Here are some ideas that may help you to prepare healthy school lunches:
- Wraps. Kids love these and you can use a variety of vegetables, combined with hummus or a favorite healthy dressing on a whole-grain tortilla. Helpful hint: wraps are a great way to introduce a new vegetable - chop it really fine and mix it in with familiar vegetables, and your child may not even notice that it's there!
- Pita pockets - same concept as above, but with a different appearance. Adding sprouts that kids grow themselves will make the pitas even more nutritious!
- Peanut butter sandwiches - use natural peanut butter without additives, and healthy, whole grain bread. For variety, try other butters such as cashew, almond, or hazelnut, with bananas or sliced peaches. Cutting sandwiches into interesting shapes using a cookie cutter can make the food fun for younger kids.
- Vegetable sandwiches - tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, onions, and shredded carrots, or any other combination of vegetables, on whole grain bread.
- Soups - fill a thermos with homemade soups, or instant soups if you're in a pinch for time. Sometimes, high school students have access to hot water and can reconstitute instant soups at school themselves. Send healthy crackers or croutons to round off the meal.
- Hot meals - send leftovers such as pasta with tomato sauce, vegetarian chili or vegetarian franks and beans using vegetarian hot dogs and vegetarian baked beans.
- A combination of any of the following will make a great meal: individual boxes of rice or soy milk with healthy cereal; homemade muffins; rice cakes with almond or other nut butters; chopped vegetables and dip; fresh fruit; raw nuts and dried fruit or trail mix; soy yogurt with dried fruit or cereal.
If your child does have to eat a tray lunch once in awhile, the USDA still mandates that cow's milk be served with school lunches. However, you can request that juice or water be substituted. If the school is uncooperative, tell the staff that your child is allergic to cow's milk (most kids are) and is absolutely not permitted to have it. Fewer schools are challenging parents on this issue, but if worse comes to worse, threaten legal action. One acquaintance of mine did so and the school immediately backed down.
Some kids are resistant to bringing their lunches because they would rather have chicken nuggets and pizza for lunch. Although it is important to be a parent and make good decisions for your child, compromising by allowing your child to purchase lunch in the cafeteria once per week can be helpful.
We'll all keep working on the school food issue, and I am confident that eventually all children will get a good lunch daily at school. Until then, the only way to guarantee that your child is not consuming an excessive amount of fat and sugar daily is to pack a healthy lunch.