pack or not to pack

To Pack or Not to Pack?

It’s lunchtime at the office and you’re hungry. Your morning has been stressful, and your co-workers are pooling their money for some fried take-out from the local burger joint. You decline their invitation (even though comfort food sounds particularly comforting right now), and instead sit down with the healthy lunch you brought from home, complete with whole grains, lean proteins, raw vegetables, and lots of water. You know you have an afternoon full of meetings, phone calls, and errands, and the fiber and vitamins will carry you through your to-do list valiantly. Congratulations, you made a responsible adult decision, which will benefit your energy levels and probably your long-term health. Do you think you would have made the same decision in the lunch line in grade school?

Kids in school face complicated lunchtime decisions on a daily basis. What a child eats for lunch at school not only influences their energy levels in math class but also sets the stage for adult eating habits. Too many wrong decisions can be a recipe for a nutritional disaster.

Buying Lunch
Although school lunch has gotten a bad rap in the past for being too high in fat and too low in nutrient-rich fruits and veggies, school lunch standards have been making steady improvements over the past few years. Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, led by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, lunch is looking better than ever.

Even before the recent regulations, schools all over the country were  voluntarily implementing healthy changes for years, such as incorporating local and organic produce, growing on-site vegetable gardens, and banning fast food and vending machines.

Speaking of home, that’s where nutrition really starts. Here’s what you can do to help your child choose a healthy lunch when they’re buying:

  1. Feed them breakfast. If their stomach is growling in homeroom, they’ll be more likely to load up at the vending machines. If you don’t have time to feed them a home cooked breakfast, try natural peanut butter on a whole wheat bagel and an apple, or a smoothie, frozen bananas and peanut butter.
  2. Talk to your child about healthy food choices. Help them to realize that it’s ok to like candy and fast food, but that doesn’t mean they should be an everyday treat.
  3. Lead by example. This may be the most effective way to teach anyone anything, but the most difficult. The next time you’re out to eat with your child, explain why you choose to order the garden burger instead of the hamburger with cheese, or the chicken salad instead of the fried chicken. Kids are sponges—use it to your (and their) advantage.
  4. Discuss the cafeteria menu with your child, preferably before you’re rushing out the door in the morning. You can help them learn which options are healthier, and talk about the importance of fruits and vegetables. If they don’t like what’s on the menu, then they’ll have time to pack instead.
  5. If you are unhappy with your child’s school menu options, talk to the school lunch coordinator. Many cafeteria menu makeovers started with just one parent.