For many families this time of year is a time of transition. The long days of summer seem to come to a screeching halt. It's also a time when many parents are talking with our children about either taking lunch to school or buying lunch. Which is better and more nutritious? Having kids eat the most nutritious foods before, during, and after school is truly just as important as their school work.
Many families have trouble choosing between a child buying or bringing lunch to school - as do many adults. Some of the considerations include:
So what are good solutions? There can be equally nutritious food choices at the school or brought from home. If you choose to have your child eat the lunch provided at school, here are a few tips:
- Many complain that the school lunch has mostly poor nutritional choices.
- Lack of time to pack a healthy lunch.
- If a family qualifies for reduced or free school breakfast and lunch, they feel there are not any healthy choices.
- The children are very 'selective' about what they will eat, so they eat the same lunch from home every day.
- Arguing with children about what goes in the lunch brought from home is sometimes stressful, so the parent often gets frustrated and usually gives in to chips, fruit drink and/or a pre-packaged lunch kit.
- Stick with baked, whole grain foods and limit any fried foods (chicken and fries) to once or twice a month.
- Get the fruit and vegetable most days; if fresh is the favorite, get an apple or banana. Does your child like canned fruit? Applesauce or apricots are great choices. Some kids enjoy a salad every day and some like cooked. The bottom line is to eat a variety of foods and enjoy it!
- Don't forget the milk or yogurt (if available). Chocolate or white is fine, but nonfat is best and is sometimes the only kind available, which is fine.
Bringing lunch from home? The sky is the limit here, but if you stick with the following tips, your student will have most likely have more energy and learn more this year:
When kids are hungry, they will eat - and the school day is a crucial time for solid nutrition. We hope this school year is healthy, happy and a great success for you and your family.
- Pick a whole grain food (whole wheat pita, corn tortilla, pasta, brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat bread) as a base and add to it
- A lean source of protein from either the meat, vegetable or dairy group. Turkey is great, but can be salty for young kids, a hard-boiled egg (packed on ice), edamame, beans, nuts and nut butters (if allowed at the school), low-fat cheese sticks and yogurt are great choices too.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables should be staples, so let your child pick out what they like. Some tasty combinations include baby carrots and dried cranberries mixed with a bit of cinnamon, cucumber slices mixed with grapes, applesauce, pepper slices, celery hearts with almond butter and cherry tomatoes with sugar snap peas.
- If your child does not buy milk at school, stick with water or 100% juice.
Source: Adapted from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Nancy Roger)