School Lunches Don’t Have to be Junk

Full disclosure: I worked for three years in the cafeteria at my kids’ school. I am intimately familiar with school lunches, cafeterias and kids and the meals involved. My kids attend a private school and the food offered is often homemade, so I do not have experience with the pre-made, packaged foods that are outlined in the Fed Up With Lunch blog.

Why do we equate “kids food” with “junk food”? Attend any birthday party, soccer game or meal in a school cafeteria and you will see that we all think of our children’s palates as infantile. There are often no spices, instead bland and inoffensive flavors. Everything is high in fat, covered in cheese, or supersaturated with sugar. We give our kids cereals sprayed with vitamins and toss the milk after they fill up on sugar and white flour. We offer a choice of pizza, tacos or hot dogs – all full of fat and empty calories. We serve white spaghetti noodles with Wonder Bread – and then demand that they do not fall into a food coma after lunch. We end each meal with ice cream, cookies or candy, and send kids home from soccer games with Fruit Roll-Ups and Doritos. We shoo them out the door in the morning with Pop-Tarts.

We need to change this, for every bite that our kids take either helps or hurts them to grow to be a healthy, vibrant adults full of energy.  How can we get past the mindset that our children won’t eat whole wheat pasta, carrot sticks or broccoli? We get past it BY NEVER STARTING IT.

That sounds easier than it really is, but I know from past experience that it works. Before I lost weight, we were a family of junk food, fast food, chocolate cake for breakfast eaters – and, don’t get me wrong – those things haven’t totally disappeared from our family. But, I’ve made a mindset switch. Hungry after school? You can have any fruit, yogurt or veggie. Hungry before bed? How about a low-fat string cheese? These switches have helped me to change my family’s diet slowly but surely – but that still leaves lunch. I don’t know about you, but I feel much better sending my kids with a home packed meal that I am certain is healthy.

  • Instead of boxed Lunchables, why not make your own with whole grain crackers, organic nitrate free meat and low fat cheese?
  • Make sandwiches into shapes using cookie cutters, natural peanut butter and banana slices.
  • Cut carrot sticks with a crinkle cutter and send along low fat dressing for dip.
  • Switch from sugary juice boxes to organic milk or water in a thermos.
  • Freeze a HFCS-free yogurt tube for a frosty after meal treat.
  • Make a bento box of tiny, bite size pieces.
  • Add some air-popped popcorn.

You aren’t powerless and your only option isn’t buying a prepared lunch that’s often a full day’s allowance of fat and calories. With minimal effort, you can take the baby steps necessary to improve your children’s diet, and maybe even their performance in school.

What other choices do you make to ensure that your kids have a healthy and delicious lunch?

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