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Nutrition Articles  ›  Eating Away From Home

The School Lunch Dilemma

To Buy or To Pack?

-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
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Though it does appear that things are looking up for school lunches, there is always room for improvement. For example, sugary fruit juices and (fat-free) flavored milks are still on the menu, and starchy potatoes and corn still count as veggies (although they are now limited in how often they are served). Plus, kids get to choose one fruit or one vegetable at lunch, which hardly adds up to the ''half a plate'' of produce per meal that the USDA MyPlate recommends. But even so, the changes are definitely a step in the right direction. SparkPeople's Registered Dietitian, Becky Hand, states that most school lunches under these new guidelines are balanced, healthy options for kids--and are often much better than what they would receive at home.

Speaking of home, that's where nutrition really starts. Here’s what you can do to help your child choose a healthy lunch when they’re buying:

 
  1. Feed them breakfast. If their stomach is growling in homeroom, they’ll be more likely to load up at the vending machines. If you don’t have time to feed them a home cooked breakfast, try natural peanut butter on a whole wheat bagel and an apple, or a smoothie with soymilk, frozen bananas and peanut butter.
     
  2. Talk to your child about healthy food choices. Help them to realize that it’s ok to like candy and fast food, but that doesn’t mean they should be an everyday treat.
     
  3. Lead by example. This may be the most effective way to teach anyone anything, albeit the most difficult. The next time you’re out to eat with your child, explain why you choose to order the garden burger instead of the hamburger with cheese, or the chicken salad instead of the fried chicken. Kids are sponges—use it to your (and their) advantage.
     
  4. Discuss the cafeteria menu with your child, preferably before you’re rushing out the door in the morning. You can help them learn which options are healthier, and talk about the importance of fruits and vegetables. If they don’t like what’s on the menu, then they’ll have time to pack instead.
     
  5. If you are unhappy with your child’s school menu options, talk to the school lunch coordinator. Many cafeteria menu makeovers started with just one parent.

Source

United States Department of Agriculture. "Nutrition Standards for School Meals," accessed August 2012. www.usda.gov.


 

Want to get kids off to a healthy start this school year? So does SparkPeople! With "A Month of Fun and Healthy School Lunches," you'll end the food fight and get kids excited about packing lunch--with fun yet simple meals they'll actually eat. Written by a mother of three, with 50 easy and healthy recipes plus plenty of ideas tested by real moms in real life, this e-book turns lunchtime into fun time! Bonus: You'll also get 25 healthy, kid-friendly after-school snack ideas! Click here to check it out!

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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.