The best way to ensure your child is eating a nutritious and well-balanced meal is to send them to school with a packed lunch. "Not eating the school lunches is a sure way to make sure they are eating and staying healthy at school," says certified holistic health coach and personal trainer Ondrea Lynn. "This way they are eating fresh foods, not the prepackaged stuff the schools serve."
It is not only school lunches that parents need to be aware of, it's the snacks and soda machines available to their children, too. Luckily, Congress passed the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, which will likely result in tightening of USDA standards for not only the food sold as part of school meals, but the foods sold in vending machines as well, says Christen Cooper, MS, RD, owner of Cooper Nutrition Education and Communications in Pleasantville, NY.
"Parents [need to stay] informed about and on top of what school food menus contain and what other stuff enters their diet during the day. Kids who eat a regular school lunch tend to get more fruits and vegetables and fewer empty calories during the school day. But kids who leave school or buy foods a la carte during lunch often end up buying less healthful choices," she says.
"The school nurse cannot give any medications, even over-the-counter ones, without a valid and signed doctor's order," says Lane, who says that in the NYC schools they are called 504 forms. "I have seen the school year start and children NOT receive needed medications because the proper form had not been brought in yet. This can be a disaster when we are talking about an Epi pen (for severe allergies) or an asthma inhaler; uncontrolled and untreated asthma can kill, and severe asthma attacks can result in many days of missed school. In fact, the most common reason I have dialed 911 has been for asthma-related issues. "
Get your children in the habit of washing their hands with soap and water frequently throughout the day, especially before eating. Teach kids to cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it away or, if a tissue is not available, to use their sleeve or elbow. This will ensure that the germs are not spread through their hands. Using hand sanitizer frequently will also keep germs away.
"Since the chances of our kids reaching for sodas and sugary drinks they have handy at school are high, buy them a really fun water bottle and send them in with a full bottle of water," says Lynn, who says this will also keep them hydrated all day. "Kids will more likely drink out of a bottle they find to be cool and fun -- no matter what we put in it."