Finding healthy ground on school lunches
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:03AM
With the school year approaching, it is time to start talking to our kids about making healthy choices at lunch time.
For a lot of kids, packing their own lunch or buying lunch from the school cafeteria will be one of the first and most frequent opportunities they have to make independent decisions. With so many options, it is important to educate our kids about the healthier choices, while also staying within a budget.
When thinking of common lunch items, things like candy bars and soda pop often come to mind as easy and fast. But the American Heart Association recommends children between the ages 4 to 8 take in no more than 12 grams of sugar daily, for children between the ages of 9 and 13, no more than 20–32 grams daily, and children 14 years or older no more than 24–36 grams daily.
This means one can of Coke (39 grams of sugar) and a Snickers bar (30 grams of sugar) would be giving a child, of any age, much more than the recommended daily amount of sugar.
If you have ever prepared a child’s lunch you know the feeling of opening their lunchbox after school to find nothing you prepared had been eaten or touched. Not only does your hard work, time and money go down the drain, but it is uncertain what your child actually had to eat, if anything. One way to eliminate this from happening is to include your child in the process of preparing their lunch.
Talk with your children and put together a list of all of their favorite fruits, vegetables, healthy main courses and snacks as a starting point. Educate your kids about the value of nutrients, and the roles vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats have in tissue formation and overall health.
If your child wants chips as a snack, offer them the option of baked or veggie chips as a healthy alternative. Try to steer away from the pre-packaged lunches, even if they include a combination of your child’s favorite lunch foods, because they are often expensive and less nutritious than they could have been if you created your own lunch with healthier ingredients.
Creating the grocery list is the next step. The list should contain everything tneeed to create the meal combinations that have been agreed upon, which should make this process easier while also giving your child ownership of what they eat.
Parents of children who purchase lunch from the school cafeteria also should take time to sit down and look at the options available. Ask what a normal lunch combination would be and start recommending items that may be healthier. Encourage selecting lunch combinations that include fruits, vegetables, leaner meats, whole grains and water or low-fat milk.
While you may begin this process now, remember that as the school year wears on, your kids will need reminders and refreshers. And it’s also a good idea to continue to communicate that you’re interested in the foods your child is choosing at lunch and that fueling up in the middle of the day makes for a smoother and more productive afternoon.
The author is Lance Williams, Health Educator at the Robert Crown Center for Health Education.