“It is our responsibility as parents, educators and citizens to put an end to our broken lunch system and change the way we feed our children. Children are our future. The good news is that change is possible.”
From the documentary “Lunch: What are kids munching on?” A film by Avis Richards
My kids notice exceptionally overweight people, especially if it’s a child. There’s no teasing, just a comment to let me know they’ve seen. I often will take this cue to remind them about healthy eating, exercise and lifestyle choices. Of course, there are some people born with an obesity gene that causes them to become overweight and every day is a struggle for them. But the majority of our overweight population gets that way from poor eating and habits, something that is changeable.
30% of our nation’s children are overweight and 38% have higher than normal cholesterol. Shocking, isn’t it? I learned that statistic while watching the movie “Lunch: What are our kids munching on?” by Avis Richards. It’s a must-watch, 26 minute film about our nation’s school lunch crisis, which also documents the steps the Baltimore City school system has taken to alter the way their students eat and interact with food. Here’s the link to the film Lunch.
I applaud the City of Baltimore and The Great Kids Farm for their effective work in challenging the deplorable school lunch system and setting an example for the rest of us. There are a few tangible steps that we can take as parents that can make the school lunch healthier. Packing a lunch is a good first step.
When Packing Lunch
Since school lunches have never appealed to my kids, I haven’t had much of an issue. I’ve always made them a lunch and I’ll admit that the mornings can get quite crazy in my house since two out of my three kids reject sandwiches. So I’ve gotten creative over the years in making lunch interesting and healthy. Here are my tips:
Invest in good quality supplies, like a good thermos that keeps foods hot. This opens up a whole new world of food options, with leftover dinners, soups and other foods that should be warm. My kid’s favorite thermos foods are fried rice (you can make this with any kind of grain — quinoa, brown or white rice — and endless veggies), empanadas and rice and beans.
Reject packaged and processed snack foods. I don’t believe in deprivation since I think results in in binging when kids eat out of the home. That’s why my kids always have a treat in their lunches. But more often than not, that will be something homemade like a cookie or muffin. When you make something from scratch using fresh ingredients like organic butter and eggs, your kids will enjoy a preservative free food that is much better for them. The small amount of time it takes to make something from scratch is worth every minute of your time towards your child’s health.
Get support from your friends: cook together. Look, it can be really frustrating battling your kids’ natural desire to eat unhealthy foods. Sometimes it can get isolating as we find ourselves caving into demands to eat foods we know are bad for them. That’s why I rely on my friends as often as possible. We make various foods together to fill their lunch boxes and dinner plates with healthy homemade foods. We have fun together while offering the emotional support necessary to battle the wills of our children and ourselves.
Set a good example. Practice what you preach. There’s no way we can expect our kids to eat well if we don’t. My 6 year old sees me start my day with whole grain toast, almond butter and a Greek yogurt every morning. It’s not a shock for him when he gets something healthy in his lunch later that day.
Make the Food Interesting. I’m the product of a busy mom who packed me the same lunch every day of my life: peanut butter and jelly with an apple thrown in on top. Yup, my sandwich was always mushed and never looked as appealing as my friend’s less healthy bologna and cheese. Take the time to think about how you are presenting food to your kids in their lunches. You’d be amazed at what a ball shape does to melon!
Don’t keep Unhealthy Foods in the House. I’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way. Of course if your stash high sodium chips or preservative laden cookies in your pantry, that’s what the kids are going to want you to put in their lunches. There’s a simple solution: keep them out of the house. Pay attention to nutrition labels in the grocery store and make sure to watch for trans-fats, sodium and carbohydrates.
Let the kids get involved in the shopping and preparing of food. If the kids are invested in what they are eating, they are bound to try things for themselves. Bring them to the markets with you and allow them to select a new healthy food for their lunches. Talk about what kinds of foods would appeal to them for lunch and then cook various foods together.
Get them while they are hungry! We have such an opportunity to feed our kids when they are hungry. They’ll eat practically anything that’s in front of them! When my kids come home from school, I’ll often have a pot of vegetable soup simmering on the stove. Before they have a chance to grab something less healthy, they’ll be devouring something more nutritious. We have this same opportunity in their school lunches. They’ll eat pretty much whatever’s in their lunch boxes, healthy or not. So, think about what you’re putting in.
Even though my kids don’t eat the hot lunches, I’ve been quite involved in my kid’s elementary school. Since I’ve been running the Healthy Breakfast program at their school and I’ve been appointed the Health and Wellness Chair next year, I’ve got a lot of insight into how you can help your child (and yourself) make better food decisions.
Get involved with the school lunches. Even if your school is on a tight budget and can only pay $2.00 per lunch, change is possible. My kid’s school is a perfect example of how a small group of parents started paying attention to what their kids were being served and demanded change. Since our involvement and numerous meetings, we’ve added fresh fruits, vegetables and new vegetarian foods like homemade hummus and black beans, to a school lunch menu that rarely offered anything other than processed foods. There are plans for next year to offer local produce as well. Speak up! Anything is possible.
Observe for yourself, taste and see what your kids are eating. Knowledge is power. The movie touched on this point, encouraging parents to get involved and see for themselves. If you wouldn’t want to eat the school lunch food, why should your kids?
Teach your kids how they can make the right food choices at school. Even if there are healthy options like fresh fruits and vegetables, more often than not I’ll see kids resisting the foods that are better for them. As parents, we can help with our children’s choices by talking at home. Make sure your kids understand at a very young age how important food decisions are. How can we expect our children to know what to choose at the school lunch if they are not taught? The earlier this education starts, the more likely you’ll witness kids lining up for fresh fruits and veggie bar.
Supplement school lunch with other initiatives. As with the Baltimore school system, in my kid’s elementary school, we have parent volunteers who grow and harvest vegetables with the children. We also create food events like “Pesto Day” where we make fresh pesto using the basil the children grew together. We’ve also had “Soup Day” where we’ve witnessed kids asking for third portions of a 12 vegetable soup. Educational food initiatives such as this will give your children knowledge, which in turn translates into power.
To purchase a copy of the short film Lunch, visit: http://lunchthefilm.com/lunch/order.php