by Dr. Sandy RebrovichHealth and wellness bloggerAt the beginning of the school year, the focus is always on shopping for school clothes and school supplies. Unfortunately, many will forget one of the most important necessities for the school year – a healthy lunch.It’s common knowledge that the school cafeteria has become just another franchise; foods aren’t healthy and well-balanced. Vending machines offer chips, cookies, sodas and all kinds of other junk foods that children shouldn’t be eating.This creates a challenge to parents that many have decided to ignore. Accepting that it’s a lost cause, many parents have rationalized that the rest of their children’s meals are healthy and nutritious so they can be lax regarding lunch. This is a misconception, considering what is being served in the majority of school cafeterias.
What’s being served?Although programs have begun to appear over the past few years addressing the problem, the fact is that not much has changed. The majority of entrees served on school campuses include pizza, Sloppy Joes, cheeseburgers, spaghetti, hotdogs and corn dogs.It’s rare that you will see anything made with fish and chicken; unless it’s fish sticks and chicken nuggets, which contain processed meat that is breaded and deep fried.It’s rare to see FRESH fruits & vegetables. This is not nutritious.Unfortunately, it’s time to accept the fact that raising healthier children means they won’t be eating school lunches, but instead will need to be provided lunch from home.
So where do you start? First create a menu.
Great lunches start with great menu preparation. No one knows better than your own child what they’re going to eat, so let them help you prepare their lunches.Remember that if they like what their eating they will bring home an empty lunchbox. The best way to accomplish this is to insure that their options are only healthy choices but with variety.This can be made easy by creating a mix-and-match menu. Using a white board, poster board or similar display, draw out five columns and label them for each day of the week.Then using color-coded post-it notes, index cards or by printing on colored paper, create a square for each lunch option.For example, their protein options would be on blue, vegetables would be on green and fruits would be on yellow.Every Sunday, let your child help you prepare their menu by picking the appropriate cards and placing them in the column for each day. You and your child can then begin prepackaging those options that can be frozen or stored for a few days.
Alternative Lunch Ideas:Beverages: Your best option is to encourage your child to drink water. This can be done by providing water for them in their lunch box using a stainless steel thermos or by placing ice cubes in their thermos in the morning. By lunch time they will have begun to melt and, in the meantime, they have helped to keep the other items in the lunch box nice and cold.
Side Dishes:The best side dish choices for your children should be tasty cut vegetables; remember that greener is better.Fruit is also a great side dish, but while it is healthy, it is also a source of sugar and not as rich in vitamins and minerals as vegetables.Also, invite your child to help you prepare vegetable soup or vegetarian chili. These can be put in a thermos and taken to school over the span of a week.Consider putting together a grain salad. This can include couscous or steamed long grain brown rice with chopped cucumbers, red peppers, baby carrots, or any other similar vegetable.You may also choose to marinate the chopped vegetables in a salad dressing for a few days prior to preparing the salad. Drain the vegetables and then mix them in.This will add moisture to the salad without having to add excess dressing.
Great sources of protein that can be put in a small lunch container are cubes of baked chicken, turkey or fish. This does not include processed meat that you buy at your grocery store; but should be prepared at home and cut into bite sized pieces.Remember that you can freeze these in small portions and use them randomly over several weeks. A hardboiled egg is also a great source of protein. Beans are an excellent source of protein and can be served in a thermos with organic tortilla chips for dipping. Alternatives to beans can include meat or vegetarian chili or stew.
Check out this blog!Just last week, my sister-in-law (thanks Joni!) told me about a blog called “This Lunch Rox” (http://thislunchrox.com). Jamie Schultz, a wife, mother and business owner, shares her passion for giving her boys a healthy lunch that’s full of fun. She has links to other websites and numerous recipes (pictures included!). It is a must read/follow for anyone interested in improving their children’s lunch.It’s important that your children like their lunches but it’s more important that their bodies get the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need to develop and grow properly. A balanced diet is more than just a healthy recommendation; it is the building blocks of your child’s growing and developing body.