School Lunches - - The News for South Mississippi

Nancy's Corner

School Lunches

School buses are rolling and for many that means packing school lunches.  Here are some great tips from  Happy and safe packing.  

Buying lunch at school may be the first time your child gets to call the shots about which foods he or she will eat. The good news is that school lunches have improved over the years, both in taste and nutrition. The downside is obvious: In the typical school cafeteria, your child can still choose an unhealthy mix of foods, taking advantage of the less nutritious fare often available a la carte or in the vending machine.  

A Lunchtime Opportunity

Use school lunches as a chance to steer your child toward good choices.  Start by explaining how a nutritious lunch will give them the energy to finish the rest of the school day and enjoy after-school activities.  Here are some other steps to take:

  • Look over cafeteria menu with your child.
  • Encourage your child to pack a lunch, at least occasionally.
  • Encourage your child to choose cafeteria meals that include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, such as wheat bread instead of white. 
  • Also, avoid fried foods when possible, and choose milk or water as a drink. 

If you're helping your child pack a lunch, start by brainstorming foods and snacks that he or she would like to eat.  In addition to old standbys, such as peanut butter and jelly, try pitas or wrap sandwiches stuffed with grilled chicken or veggies.  Try soups and salads, if your child is willing, and don't forget last night's leftovers as easy lunchbox fillers.

You also can take your child's current lunch and perform a lunch makeover.  Here are some suggestions for small changes that do make a nutritional difference.

Instead of                                                                   Consider

Higher-fat lunchmeats                                          Lower-fat deli meats, such as turkey                 White bread                                                         Whole-grain breads (wheat, oat, multigrain) 
Mayonnaise                                                          Light mayonnaise or mustard   
Fried chips and snacks                  Baked chips, air-popped popcorn, trail mix, veggies and dip 
Fruit in syrup                                                        Fruit in natural juices or fresh fruit                 Cookies and snack cakes                          Trail mix, yogurt, or homemade baked goods                Fruit drinks and soda                                            Milk, water, or 100% fruit juice    

Create your own packable lunch using healthier ingredients.  Consider these components and pack them in plastic containers, resealable plastic bags, or colorful plastic wrap:

  • Cold-cut roll ups (lean, low-fat turkey, ham, or roast beef; lower-fat cheese; and flour tortillas)
  • Cold pizza (shredded mozzarella cheese; pizza sauce; flour tortilla, English muffin, or mini pizza shell)
  • Cracker sandwiches (whole-grain crackers filled with cream cheese or peanut butter and jelly)
  • Peanut butter and celery sticks Veggie sticks with low-fat dip or dressing 100% fruit juice box
  • Optional dessert (choose one): flavored gelatin, low-fat pudding, oatmeal raisin cookie, graham crackers, or fresh fruit.

Don't forget to involve the kids in the process so that healthier lunches can become a goal they can strive for, too. Safe Packing A packed lunch carries the added responsibility of keeping the food safe to eat.  That means keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. 

Here are some suggestions to keep foods safe when packing your child's lunches:

  • Wash your hands first.
  • Use a thermos for hot foods.
  • Use cold packs or freeze some foods and drinks overnight. They'll thaw in the lunch box.
  • Wash out lunch boxes every day or use brown paper lunch bags that can be discarded.
  • Toss in some moist towelettes to remind kids to wash their hands before eating - and to clean themselves up afterward.
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