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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
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Healthy School Lunches Your Kids Will Love

Healthy School Lunches Your Kids Will Love

School lunches have been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism in recent years, with accusations abounding that they are too high in fat and sodium and too low in fiber and other nutrients. Even if your school is among those that have made efforts to increase the nutritional value of its lunch program offerings, it can be difficult to convince kids — who can be notoriously picky eaters — to choose the healthiest options available.

Maybe, like many parents, you’d feel more comfortable if you could choose your kids’ lunches for them, at least some of the time. Here are a few helpful, and healthful, hints for putting together a nutritionally complete lunch your kids will actually eat.

The Main Course
Sandwiches are a classic and can continue to form the backbone of a healthy home-packed lunch. Kick up the nutritional value by opting for breads made from whole grains instead of the more traditional white bread. Keep things interesting by cutting your child’s bread into fun shapes using a large cookie cutter (you can always save the scraps to dry as croutons), or substituting a whole-wheat mini bagel or tortilla wrap from time to time. Avoid fatty, salty lunchmeats like salami or bologna. Opt, instead, for low fat turkey, ham, or sliced chicken breast. Instead of mayonnaise, add a little mustard and/or hummus. Cheese is rich in calcium, but also high in fat. Go light, or opt for a lower-fat version. Peanut butter and jelly is always a good choice, but try to find fruit spreads with no added sugar. Most jams and jellies are sweet enough on their own. If your child isn’t a fan of sandwiches, make roll ups out of sandwich fillings — a little meat and cheese skewered with a pretzel stick — and add a grain snack on the side, such as tortilla chips with fresh salsa or whole-wheat pretzels with peanut butter. Homemade pizza, made with whole-wheat dough, low-fat cheese, and fresh vegetables are another good option.

Fruits and Vegetables
Always include at least one fruit and one vegetable. Remember that kids can find it difficult to eat large or complicated foods, especially within the span of a short lunch period. Finger foods make the best bet. Baby carrots and/or chopped up celery sticks are popular, especially when accompanied by peanut butter, hummus, or about two tablespoons of ranch dressing. Cherry tomatoes are another great kid-sized finger food. You can also chop up green or red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers and more. You’re only as limited as your own imagination (and your child’s palette). Fruit should also be cut or separated into kid-sized pieces. Remove the peels for them, where applicable, to make it as easy as possible for them. Bite-sized berries make a great choice. Not only are they packed with nutrients, they’re also less labor-intensive for you! Dried fruits, such as raisins, cranberries, or apricots, are OK in moderation, but are higher in sugar and calories than regular fruit. You can use canned fruit, as long as it is packed in its own juice, rather than in a sugary syrup. Applesauce also makes a good choice, but it’s best to opt for a variety with no added sugar.

Drink
Instead of soda or sugary drinks, opt for low-fat milk, water, or 100% fruit juice.

Dessert
Every kid deserves dessert, and you don’t have to sacrifice your children’s health to provide them with a fun treat each day. There are plenty of snack foods that are as nutritious as they are delicious, including popcorn, pretzels, trail mix, low fat yogurt, nuts, and homemade baked goods such as oatmeal cookies or whole grain fruit muffins.

No matter what you pack, make sure you pack it safely. Keep everything clean when packing it, and never contaminate fruits or vegetables with liquids from meat or dairy products. Always keep cold foods and hot foods hot. You can purchase and insulated lunch box and cool it with a commercial ice pack, or simply freeze a juice box. The juice box will keep your child’s lunch cold, and should melt back to liquid by lunchtime. Likewise, you can store hot foods in a special heat compartment or thermos.

Be sure to give your child’s homemade lunch a personal touch by adding in some fun stickers, a handwritten note, or an occasion inexpensive toy. These bonuses will help to keep kids excited about their lunch from home when pizza day or hot dog day roll around.

4 comments

1 Cheryl { 09.29.12 at 10:40 am }

I almost always packed my sons’ lunch for school. They got either a pb & j sandwich (usually on whole wheat bread), a mom packed or lunch size chips (pretzels, goldfish, cheetos, etc), an apple or snack pack fruit and a sweet. The sweet was either homemade bar or cookie, pudding or Little Debbie. I have also packed cold pizza! Or deli sandwiches. I have been known to buy a Subway sandwich, slice it and send half. Or make my own!

2 Shirley Moore { 09.07.12 at 7:33 pm }

I so agree with your article. It’s the parents responsibility to ensure their children are getting healthy meals – not the school. The meals at schools have all but disappeared where we live. We now live in the ‘technology’ age where everyone is more inclined to sit. The cut-backs took physical education (or PE) out of schools – so more sitting. Inactivity along with a not so good diet will be the death of us all.

3 Paula { 09.06.12 at 9:50 am }

Teddy, I totally agree with you. While I believe we should provide our kids with nutritious meals, I think we are doing the majority of them an injustice with the meals our school cafeterias starting serving this year. I eat in a school cafeteria for lunch and my two children eat in two other cafeterias. I do not feel full or satisfied and I’m looking for snacks during the day. I did not have this problem last year. I no longer eat my daily salad because there aren’t any options anymore. It’s plain and boring and I find myself turning my nose up and walking on by. My kids have been so dissatisfied that they’ve started taking lunch from home. They main complaint being that they are hungry. I do not believe that we are providing enough calories for their growing bodies, especially our athletes. Do you think 160 calories is enough for a 6 foot – 200lb – 16 year old football player??? I feel very sorry for the kids that don’t have ample food at home and school is their main food provider. These kids are going to starve!!

4 Teddy Ladner { 09.05.12 at 11:29 am }

I agree our kids need to eat healthy, but you make it sound like there no such thing as “good fat”. Do you agree there are some good fats and are neccessay for a healthy diet, especially for growing children? Take milk for example, the fat in milk is a good fat! The fat in milk is needed for the body to absorb the calcium that milk provides. Which is so important for a growing child. I think we all need to take a step back realize what we are doing. We are not providing the adequate nutrition needed for healthy, active, growing boys and girls. Yes there are over weight kids in the classroom, about 20%. I’ve got news for you, they aren’t getting fat because of what they are getting to eat and drink at school and/or their school lunches. And therefore, we are not providing adequate nutrition in our school lunch programs, or school sack lunches, to 80% of kids so as to try to shrink the other 20%, that aren’t getting “out of shape” in school in the first place!

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