Think of school lunch for your child as the fuel you put in your tank. Choose the wrong kind of fuel, and your child might run out of energy before the day is over. Some children prefer the cafeteria selections at their school while others prefer to bring their lunches from home.
If your child prefers the cafeteria, take time either in the evenings or weekly to sit with your child and review the cafeteria menu. Knowing what’s for lunch beforehand will let your child know if he/she wants to eat it! Help them choose the best options that will ensure good nutrition and, if necessary, avoid allergic/gastric reactions. Have them bring home a copy of the menu or figure out how to find it on the school website.
If your child prefers a packed lunch find out what they like to eat and stock up on those foods. Help them make healthy choices that include vegetables and/or fruits along with good portion of protein and carbohydrates. Encourage, and if necessary assist, your child to prepare and pack their lunch the night before. Also, be creative. For younger children, give them cookie cutters to cut designs in their sandwiches; teenagers may enjoy having specialty breads/rolls for their sandwiches.
The following are other great tips for your kids from Kids Health!
- Choose fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are like hitting the jackpot when it comes to nutrition. They make lunch colorful and they’re packed with vitamins and fiber. It’s a good idea to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, so try to fit in one or two at lunch. A serving isn’t a lot. A serving of carrots is ½ cup or about 6 baby carrots. A fruit serving could be one medium orange.
- Know the facts about fat. Kids need some fat in their diets to stay healthy — it also helps keep you feeling full — but you don’t want to eat too much of it. Fat is found in butter, oils, cheese, nuts, and meats. Some higher-fat lunch foods include french fries, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets. Don’t worry if you like these foods! No food is bad, but you may want to eat them less often and in smaller portions. Foods that are lower in fat are usually baked or grilled. Some of the best low-fat foods are fruits, vegetables, and skim and low-fat milk.
- Let whole grains reign. “Grains” include breads, cereals, rice, and pasta. But as we learn more about good nutrition, it’s clear that whole grains are better than refined grains. What’s the difference? Brown rice is a whole grain, but white rice is not. Likewise, whole-wheat bread contains whole grains, whereas regular white bread does not.
- Slurp sensibly. It’s not just about what you eat — drinks count, too! Milk has been a favorite lunchtime drink for a long time. If your child does not like milk, have them choose water. Juice drinks and sodas should be avoided.
- Steer clear of packaged snacks. Many schools make salty snacks, candy, and soda available in the cafeteria or in vending machines. It’s OK to have these foods once in a while, but they shouldn’t be on your lunch menu.
- Mix it up. Do you eat the same lunch every day? If that lunch is a hot dog, it’s time to change your routine. Keep your taste buds from getting bored and try something new. Eating lots of different kinds of food gives your body a variety of nutrients.
- Quit the clean plate club. Because lunch can be a busy time, you might not stop to think whether you’re getting full. Try to listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel full, it’s OK to stop eating.
Finally, remind your children to use their manners during lunch time including chewing with their mouth closed, avoiding talking and eating at the same time, and using utensils and napkins. Encourage your children not to share or trade their food with others to avoid possible allergic reactions or interfering with other dietary restrictions.