Students have been back to school for a little while now, but families may still be discussing whether children should take a brown-bag lunch to school or purchase a meal at the school’s cafeteria.
School lunches, have improved over the past few years, especially with the decrease in sugary beverages and emphasis on fruit and vegetables, but they may still offer some not-so-healthful options.
Given the choice, many kids will choose the latter – like pizza every day, no veggies and high-sugar chocolate milk, etc. It’s really important to stay ahead of those choices and make sure your children have a healthy option. Homemade lunches are usually a better choice because a parent can tailor the meal to the child’s needs and tastes. If your child has a food allergy or dietary issue, for example, you can address that.
School lunches also generally tend to be repetitive. School cafeterias have a rotating calendar of meals and generally serve the same thing each week. With a homemade lunch, you can have variety and make it healthy and what your child likes and will eat.
Ideally, a healthful lunch – one-third of your child’s daily intake of nutrition – should include some form of lean protein, a whole grain, a vegetable, fruit, and a source of calcium, like milk, yogurt or cheese. The same dish served at school may not be nutritionally equivalent to the one made at home. Mac and cheese, for example is likely made from white pasta and processed cheese at school. At home, she uses high-protein pasta and natural cheese.
Homemade lunches don’t have to be that elaborate. There’s nothing wrong with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread if you don’t have time to make something fancier. And all kids love sweets, so it’s OK to throw in a bit of sweet, such as a chocolate kiss or a mini candy bar as long as it’s in moderation.
Sandwiches and wraps with whole-grain bread or tortillas, lean meat and veggies are a good standby. Raw veggies, such as carrots, celery, jicama and grape tomatoes are always a good choice. Or consider looking for baked veggie straws or baked potato chips in single serving pouches as a side to a sandwich.
There are so many options for healthy simple lunches for your children. Consider packing it for them and making them as healthy as they can be.