It’s that time of the year again – back to school! Health-conscious parents everywhere are stocking their pantries with nutritious options to ensure that their kids head off to school with the fuel they need to grow, focus, and feel their best.
While every parent would probably love to send their kids off to the bus in the morning with lunch boxes filled with organic milk and carrot sticks, it can sometimes be tough to find the time to pack a bag lunch. What’s more, it can be hard to control your children’s decisions once they get to school.
We asked the IIN community to weigh in on the question of school lunch. Of the parents surveyed, an overwhelming 91.3 percent indicated that they pack a lunch for their child the majority of the time, and 69.6 percent said they never trust the school cafeteria for healthy options. Here are some of their insights:
Talk to Your Kids
The easiest way to learn more about lunchtime is to simply talk to your children, find out what they’re eating (or what they’re trading!) and talk about which foods they enjoy. Almost half of our survey-takers said they always talk to their kids about the cafeteria options. Most kids will be very honest about the food at school. You can also encourage them to avoid certain cafeteria items, such as chicken nuggets or French fries.
Tips on How and What to Pack
If you decide that packing a lunch is the best option for your child, here are some tips from the health-conscious parents who took our survey:
- “Stock up on kid-friendly but healthy pantry staples. Make your kids lunches the night before so you focus on what you're doing. Involve your kids in the process.”
- “Let them choose what they want but only have healthy options available.”
- “Combine good protein, low GI carbs, fiber (whole wheat grains) and essential fatty acids all in one.”
- “Explain to your children how foods can affect the mood (i.e. too many sweet foods will make you feel wacky).”
- “Make hot lunch the treat- let them have hot lunch once or twice a month so they don't feel deprived. Get them to help with their lunch- both packing and in making choices. Kids love to make choices so give them a list of fun healthy things for them to choose from.”
- Pack healthy and delicious items that both parents and child can agree on: hummus (with veggies or pita), peanut butter (on whole wheat bread or pita), fruit, veggies, yogurt, and string cheese… the list goes on!
Get Involved in the Community
Survey participants noted that many schools don’t know how to budget for healthy meals, leaving it up to the parent to provide better options, which can be tough with a busy schedule. Advocate for a program such as Wellness in the Schools to be implemented at your child’s school, which provides a healthy environment and nutritious food in New York City public schools. One person recommended starting a nutrition council for your child’s school, as it’s likely that a number of parents have similar concerns.
How You Can Make a Difference
IIN graduate and mother Amy Kalafa felt so strongly about the school lunch issue, that she decided to take action. She created a movie, Two Angry Moms, and wrote a book about fighting for healthier school lunches, Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health. We’re hosting a two-part teleconference led by Amy herself, discussing these integral steps to demanding healthier school lunches:
- Why school lunches are unhealthy
- Assessing the food messages children receive in your local schools
- How to navigate the school lunch system and federal laws
To join the teleconference, just order Lunch Wars here, email Amy a copy of your order, and she’ll send you an invitation to secure your spot. Part one will be held on Thursday, September 8 at 12:00 p.m., and part two will be on Thursday, September 15.
How do you feel about your child’s school lunches? Do you prefer to pack a lunch or can you trust the cafeteria for healthy options?