What is a Healthy School Lunch?

Healthy School Lunch
As a special education teacher, Shari Duddy sees kids who either don’t eat school lunches at all, or don’t make healthy eating choices. Educators need children to eat healthy foods as it improves their cognitive skills and can help them have the energy to stay engaged in their studies throughout the day. Lunch is situated in the middle of the day, hopefully after having a well-balanced breakfast early in the morning. A healthy lunch is important to help them continue to think clearly and act responsibly until school is out in the afternoon. There is a lot of discussion going on about how schools can provide healthy lunches for students. What exactly is a healthy lunch for kids?

What should a school lunch contain?

School lunches are in the midst of being totally redone and professionals are trying to find the right balance between what kids will actually eat and what is healthy. School meals are beginning to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and low-fat milk has replaced whole milk. Schools are finding ways to reduce salt and sugar content while setting reasonable limits on caloric intake. Some of the latest guidelines for healthy lunches that have been set forth include:

  • Ensuring students get choices from fruits and vegetables each and every day
  • Increasing a variety of whole grain foods
  • Offering only two choices of milk only low-fat or fat-free milk
  • Reducing saturated and trans fats, and sodium
  • Providing students with proper portion sizes and caloric intake

The main idea is to get away from the empty calorie foods like pizza, hot dogs and fries and include foods that are richer in nutrients.

Packed Lunches

Just because parents pack a child’s lunch at home doesn’t guarantee that it is healthier. Parents can help their children eat a healthier lunch by carefully choosing the types of foods they contain. When parents pack a lunch for a child they should be sure to include their favorite healthy foods. Maybe one child prefers a peanut butter sandwich and a banana where another child prefers a turkey sandwich and fresh veggies with ranch dressing. Try to always include fresh fruits and vegetables since these make the lunch appealing and provide lots of nutrients and fiber. Avoid fats even though children do need some fats in their diet. Include fats found in proteins like cheese, meats, and nuts. When including bread or crackers always choose whole grains.  Include a healthy drink like milk and avoid sugary drinks like juice or soda. It’s also important to avoid salty and prepackaged snacks in school lunches. Provide a variety of foods the child likes and mix it up so they do not get tired of having one thing all the time.

Healthy Lunch Guidelines for Parents

It can be a huge task to help children become healthier eaters and it takes a joint effort between school and home. If the family is not following healthy guidelines, it will make it difficult for a child to learn how to make healthy choices for themselves. Here are some ideas on how parents can encourage children to make healthier choices when they are at school.

  • The best way to encourage your child to eat healthy is to eat healthy yourself.
  • Don’t focus on your child’s weight, and don’t ask one child to eat differently than other children in the home. The entire family should be eating healthy together.
  • It is not more expensive to eat healthier. Try buying produce that is in season for lower prices.
  • If packing a child’s lunch, include healthy foods that will be enjoyable to them and will satisfy their hunger.
  • Provide a healthy snack at the end of the school day to encourage healthy choices.

Children should be a part of the decision making process, especially when it comes to what they are going to eat. When it is possible, let them make the food choices and try to mix up their choices with even more healthier options. Remember that kids are used to eating a lot and it is what they eat most of the time that matters most. When a healthier lifestyle is observed at home, it makes it easier on the kids to carry that over into school cafeterias.

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