School Lunch

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” ~Winnie the Pooh

Lunch is an important meal because it refuels the brain and body in the middle of a busy day. This is particularly important for students who have been up and on the go for several hours and who still have a full afternoon of classes and activities that deserve their best effort. If any students skip breakfast (perish the thought!!) then lunch is even more critical to healthy functioning. Research overwhelmingly confirms that students who get appropriate portions of macronutrients (i.e. carbohydrates, protein and fat) are more successful in school and extracurricular activities, have fewer behavior problems, are tardy less often and rate themselves as happier than students who do not eat well.

Now that the school year is upon us, certain questions can make lunches seem tricky. Is the plan for your child to eat school lunches or bring one from home? Frederick County public schools adopted the policy last year to require all students to take a fruit or vegetable serving with school lunches which is a good, wellness-minded idea but it only works if the kids actually eat it. What would your child do with a helping of applesauce, or peaches or green beans–eat it or dump it in the trash? Have you asked your student what he or she thinks about school lunches? What will get eaten and what won’t? If a brown bag lunch is your child’s mid-day food, who will make it? What will go in it? How do you shop for items that are interesting, appetizing and healthy but have to keep in a backpack or locker/cubby with no opportunity at refrigeration or reheating?  It seems like it should be easy, but assuring that students consistently eat well at school often is anything but simple.  Yet, it is still important to try.

In my home, I usually make lunch for my boys to bring to school but, quite frankly, I find it challenging to dazzle them with new, healthy options. In fact, they get basically the same thing every single day–a turkey sandwich, occasionally peanut butter and jelly and, if I’m out of bread, they get chicken strips. They just don’t want to eat anything else. If I try to change it up and throw in something new, usually it comes back home in the bottom of their bag with their complaint of nearly starving or I find out it has been traded or tossed. So, I have come to terms with the reality that I can’t dazzle them with school lunch. Instead, I try to keep it simple by packing their tried-and-true staples and supplementing with a variety of sides, like different fruit as well as yogurt in various forms. Why they don’t wither with boredom by the end of the first month, I don’t know; at least they are not withering from hunger. It works for them so it works for me.

As for your family, I wish you luck with finding what works for you, too. I encourage you to keep the choices healthy. If you decide to make lunch, resist the temptation to pack junk food just because your kids will likely eat it or because it is conveniently packaged. There must be something healthy that they will also eat and it is your job as their loving, well-informed parents/guardians to provide it. It really does matter. Their growing, active, developing bodies need and deserve good nutrition.  A great resource is www.choosemyplate.gov, a website loaded with helpful information from the USDA. You can find just about anything you might be interested in regarding nutrition, food groups, suggested serving sizes per age group, sample menus, healthy eating tips and much more. You will also find the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook which contains lunch menus submitted by children from every state, Washington D.C., and 3 U.S. territories–it is free and entirely available online. Perhaps kids know best when it comes to what other kids will eat. The recipes are healthy and simple. Perfect.

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/sample-menus-recipes/HealthyLunchtimeChallengeCookbook-2013.pdf

Have a healthy, happy school year!

– Megan Richardson, Family Nurse Practitioner

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