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Healthy School Lunches

By HERWriter Guide
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Last week I watched my children graduate from whatever class they were in. Right? Wait, it was three months ago and now I have one week to get all three little chirruns back-to-school ready. I'm sure many of EmpowHER members and readers are feeling the same way!

This year my oldest (a proud first grader) will stay in school for lunch. When he was not a full-day student last year I checked his school cafeteria menu (what the heck, I thought) and Monday through Friday was a collection of fried and processed foods (pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, grilled cheese and cheeseburgers are the five main lunches that cover the weekly menu). What amazed me was that this list was set forth by a legitimate nutritionist! Were they serious?

This year they have the same rubbish for sale but also on the menu is a choice from well-known chef Jamie Oliver who is trying to bring some nutrition to school lunches. His choices are a lot better. There will also be a fresh fruit and vegetable salad bar open daily. Only 100 percent juices will be served. It’s not perfect and there is no specific daily vegetarian option (many meat eating kids, as well as vegetarian kids love the veggie option) but it’s a heck of a lot better than before.

Still, my son will brown bag it for lunch – his choice as well as mine. No one makes a lunch like Mom! But lunches from home aren’t exactly healthy either, if pre-prepared packages are thrown in a backpack to sustain our kids through the day. Almost all are processed. Processed meat and cheese, with salty crackers added in order to make a sandwich. The overall salt content is very high, the fat isn’t "good fat" and the calories are high too. Lacking in fiber and anything fresh, these are the kinds of lunches that drain our kids by early afternoon. There are better options out there that are far more nutritious, fresh, and in the end, cheaper. We have to spend a little time preparing them but sometimes good things take an extra minute or two!

Some ideas that work well for the lunch box are some of the simplest. Fresh or dried fruits, cut veggies and a little light dressing on the side. A mix of almonds and walnuts.

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Thanks for the good ideas! Some things that I include in my sons' lunches are pretzels and hummus, applesauce, muffins (when I have time to make them), and my kids also ask for "lunchables" but I make my own. I cut up different kinds of cheeses, deli meats and a variety of crackers. It is fun for them when they are tired of sandwiches. (I also use cookie cutters for fun shapes.) Still, not ideal but at least I feel better about sending that then the packaged ones!

August 31, 2010 - 9:58pm

Great reminder, Susan!
It is too easy to grab for a package of cheese flavored crackers, or a granola bar (which don't sound so bad, but still...processed). It would be great to have a cheat sheet of sample menus for easy reference when standing in front of the fridge or pantry wondering what to put in the lunch box. I'm going to post this to the parenting group!

August 31, 2010 - 10:24am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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