For many families this time of year is a transition time: the long days of summer seem to come to a screeching halt and turn into jam-packed days of school work, after-school activities and nightly routines. So if you are like me, you are also starting to talk with your children about either taking lunch to school or buying lunch. Which is better; more nutritious? We all want our kids to be successful by achieving good grades, doing well in any activity they are interested in and just performing their best. So to me, as a mom of three children and a registered dietitian, having kids eat the most nutritious foods before, during and after school is just as important as the school work.
Many of the families I work with have the same struggles when deciding about buying or bringing lunch to school. Here are a few you may relate to (note-this also applies to adults who decide to bring or buy their lunch during the work week!)
- 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’ on what they will eat, so they eat the same lunch from home every day.
- Arguing with the children about what goes in the lunch brought from home is stressful, so the parent gets frustrated and usually gives in to only chips, fruit drink and/or pre-packaged lunch kit.
So what are the solutions? Frankly, there can be equally nutritious food choices at the school or brought from home. If you choose to eat the lunch provided at school, here are a few tips:
- Stick with the baked, whole grain foods and limit any fried foods (chicken and fries) to monthly!
- Get the fruit and vegetable most days; if fresh is the favorite, get an apple or banana. Like canned fruit? Applesauce or apricots are great choices. Some kids enjoy a salad every day and some like cooked: bottom line is to eat a variety 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 great!
- Bringing your 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!
- Pick a whole grain food (whole wheat pita, corn tortilla, pasta, brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat bread) as a base and add
- A lean source of protein from either the meat, vegetable or dairy group: turkey is great, but can be salty for young kids, 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 favorite combinations in our house are: 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.
When kids are hungry, they will eat and during the school day is a crucial time for solid nutrition. May this school year be healthy, happy and a great success!