What's in your child's school lunch?

If you're not sure what's being served at your child's school, get involved

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By Cassie I. Story, RD

There is a vast range of foods offered at schools throughout the country. Some schools purchase mostly fresh and local foods, have garden clubs where they use the harvest to feed their students, and employ chefs to prepare new cuisine each day. On the other hand, some schools depend on fast food companies to bring in pizza, tacos, and various sandwiches for their students to eat.

Do you know what is offered to your children at school? What can be done to improve the nutritional quality of the food provided?

In 2010 Congress passed the “Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.” Some key changes included ensuring that children had a fruit and vegetable serving on their tray, eliminating trans fats (except naturally occurring ones), reducing sodium levels, increasing whole grains, and a new set of guidelines on

If you’re not sure where your children’s school falls on the wide spectrum of foods offered, it’s time to get involved. Visit the school and see what’s being served at lunch, review the lunch menu sent home with your child, or look online at your school’s Web site. Talk to your kids about what’s being served at school, and help them come up with ways to eat healthy while they’re away from home.

Personally, my daughters’ preference is to take their lunch the majority of the time. After several stressful mornings of my attempts to increase the variety of their packed lunch and present it in a way that would earn me "Pinterest Mother of the Year," I realized we needed a new plan, one that was quick, easy and healthy (see sidebar).

Healthy choices can be possible whether your child packs their lunch or buys lunch at school. It will take continued effort to improve what’s being served to our children at school, as well as what foods we can purchase to send with them in their lunch boxes. We may not have all the answers on the best ways to improve school lunch, but we must continue to put an effort into making sure our children are served healthy and nutritious options.

Cassie I. Story, RD, is a dietitian who recently started a food blog, WLSDailyPlate.com, to help inspire healthy eating following bariatric surgery. Source for the above article is the Obesity Action Coalition: obesityaction.org.

Hang this chart on your frig

Whole grain
(Choose 2-4)
Whole wheat bread (1 slice), whole wheat english muffin (1/2), whole wheat tortilla (6”), whole wheat cereal (1/2 cup), whole wheat pita bread (1/2), whole wheat crackers (6), whole wheat mini-bagel (1), whole wheat frozen waffle, whole wheat pasta (1/2 cup), brown or black rice (1/2 cup), quinoa (1/2 cup)
Protein/healthy fats
(Choose 2-3)
Minimally processed deli meat/poultry (2 oz.), hard-boiled egg (1), tuna/salmon/ chicken salad (2 oz.), grilled chicken (2 oz.), beans (1/2 cup), cheese stick (1 oz.), yogurt (3-4 oz.), tofu (2 oz.), veggie burger (2 oz.), nuts/seeds (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, etc.) (1 oz.), avocado (1/4), natural nut butter (2 tbsp.), minimally processed salad dressing (1 tbsp.)
(Choose 2-3, raw or cooked, 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup)
Sliced bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, celery, corn, cucumber slices, mixed greens, green beans, potatoes (leftovers),
snap peas
(Choose 2-3, 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup)
Apple slices, applesauce (no sugar added), apricots, berries, cherries, grapes, kiwi, mandarin oranges
(packed in water), nectarines, peaches, pineapple, plums, tangerines, melon
(On PE days or sports activity days) (Choose 0-1)
Look for the healthiest options possible (least amount of added sugar, sodium, saturated and trans fats)
Fruit snacks, baked chips, bite sized packages of candy, animal crackers
Water – flavored naturally with fruit (lemon, lime, berries), sparkling water without added sugar
Complete meal ideas
Yogurt parfait: Yogurt, topped with mixed berries and whole grain cereal or granola. Serve with whole wheat English muffin topped with natural nut butter and sliced cucumbers.
Quesadilla: Melt cheese on a whole wheat tortilla in the microwave, then wrap in tin foil and place in an insulated container. Serve with tortilla chips and salsa, carrot sticks and sliced apples.
Homemade “lunch-able”: Whole wheat crackers with slices of ham and cheese, cherry tomatoes, almonds, chocolate covered raisins.
Skewers: Thread non-sharp wooden skewers with sliced melons, cheese, grapes and grilled chicken, serve with a small mixed green salad and whole wheat pita bread.
Baked potato: Top with grilled chicken, slightly steamed broccoli, salsa (can be enjoyed cold), with a side of berries and animal crackers.
Breakfast for lunch: Toast a whole wheat English muffin, add cheese and a sliced hard-boiled egg. Serve with orange slices and cherry tomatoes.

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