Monday: Beefy Cheese Nachos with canned green beans, canned pears, and skim milk
Tuesday: Italian Dunkers (French bread with mozzarella cheese dunked in marinara sauce) with a peach cup, brownie, and skim milk
Wednesday: Chicken Nuggets with corn, peas, and skim milk
Thursday: Cheese Pizza with Caesar salad, breadstick, and skim milk
Friday: Chicken Patty with applesauce, mixed veggies, and skim milk
Like thousands of parents out there, you probably recognize this as a run-of–the-mill school lunch menu. Whether you recently sent a child back to school or not, you likely understand that school meals play an integral role in a child’s ability to learn, grow, and remain well behaved in class. Adequate nourishment is critical not only for brain development but also for focus, attention span and to keep mood swings controlled. If anyone has been in a classroom when a group of seven-year-olds collectively have a mid-afternoon blood sugar drop, you know you are begging for snack time (and hoping snack isn’t a bag of Skittles).
Unfortunately, the main focus of school lunches is based on calories and balance of food groups, NOT macronutrients (PFC). A large amount of processed food continues to be served (i.e chicken patties) which is completely devoid of quality nutrients. The USDA requires that the daily offering is at least 2 oz of meat or meat alternative, at least an ounce of grains (must be 50% whole grains), ¾ cup of vegetables, ½ cup of fruit, 1 cup of fat free or low fat milk, and they just reduced the amount of grain-based desserts to two per week.
I do realize I am making a generalization here. I have seen with my own eyes some schools that truly are making an effort to provide better options for their children. It does appear that there is another push to provide more fresh and frozen fruits and veggies instead of solely canned options. However, if schools are strapped tight financially and can only get assistance from the state, the reality is that the push for real food isn’t going very far. The meals remain grain-heavy, processed, and provide only low-fat options for most foods.
If HSL was able to be in charge of the school lunch guidelines, we would definitely change a few things.
1. More FAT
Here’s why: Fat plays a large role in brain development. It is necessary for impulses and nerve signals to travel appropriately. The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat and fatty acids are among the most crucial molecules that determine your brain’s integrity and ability to perform. Healthy fats also keep the immune system revved up to fight the spread of the common cold. As the adolescent years are entered, fat is essential for adequate hormone health. Maybe avocado, full fat dairy, seeds (many nuts are banned in schools due to food allergies), and olive oil based dressings would be a good place to start.
2. Fewer Processed CARBOHYDRATES
Here’s why: If you have been following our PFC approach, you know how important controlling blood sugar is for our overall health and well-being. Sugar and simple carbohydrates are playing a large role in the obesity and diabetes epidemic in children due to their role in insulin resistance. First and foremost, if we had it our way, the serving size of the non-starchy veggies served would be doubled (at least). The carbohydrate focus should be on veggies and fruits first and there is likely room for foods like rice and beans to fill in some holes in the menu, if needed.
3. Quality PROTEIN
Here’s why: Protein is essential for growth! We all know how quickly kids grow and how much their demanding bodies require. We would include more wholesome proteins like real eggs (no egg beaters!), chicken without fillers, beef, fish… you know the drill.
So what can you do?
Consider sending your child with a lunch everyday or at least help them to decide what better choices are available to them in the cafeteria. Many schools send home a monthly menu that shows exactly what the options will be. Try sitting down with your child at the beginning of each week and help them plan out their balanced meals. That means that as the parent, you might need to start making changes at home to model what healthy, balanced eating looks like. So why not start our kiddos off on the right foot and get them to form healthy habits while they’re young?
Here are 5 HSL kid approved lunches:
1. Grilled chicken strips dipped in guacamole. Carrot and celery sticks with full fat ranch dressing (made with healthy oils!). A small handful of grapes.
2. Lunch on a stick: Cut up a chicken sausage or beef hot dog (no hormones or antibiotics, no MSG, nitrate free), and cube some full fat cheese. Add a grape tomato and one piece of meat and one cheese cube to make mini-kabobs! Add a few slices of cucumber and some strawberries on the side. Fun!
3. Tuna salad lettuce wraps. Match with a handful of pistachios and an apple.
4. Ham or turkey roll ups with a slice of Swiss cheese in the middle. Include a side of pickles and olives and a side salad with a healthy ranch dressing.
5. Hamburger patty with ketchup and mustard paired with a handful of olives and a small banana with nut butter.
Remember, keep it FUN! A lunch that had some thought put into it and full of color is much more likely to get consumed.
- Make smiley faces out of blueberries in yogurt.
- Use cookie cutters to get fun shapes out of cheese or cucumbers.
- You could use color “themes” for lunches – “Orange” day might include carrots, lunch meat wrapped in cheddar cheese, sweet potatoes, or clementines. “Red” day might be salmon, tomatoes, strawberries or red peppers. “Green” might be any number of veggies, green grapes, guacamole.
- Get the kids involved and let them put their PFC balanced lunch together the night before.
- PlanetBox offers fun options for lunch containers.
- You can make your own balanced smoothies and use reusable snack pouches. Freeze the smoothies and send to school with your kiddo. By the time snack or lunch comes around, it will be thawed perfectly for a delicious treat! Plus they can serve as a cold pack for the rest of the lunch.
Packing lunches can often be a dreaded task. With a little direction and some new creative ideas, the way your child performs and behaves in class can be optimized. Our kiddos deserve the best so put effort into providing them with quality nutrition.
What do you do to make sure your beloved kiddos eat a balanced school lunch?