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School lunch: Pack it or buy it?

What’s better for your child — the school lunch you pack and send, or the cafeteria lunch provided by the school? For many families, it’s a mix. Discover the best option for your child’s meal with these helpful tips.

School lunch line

Options eliminated

In one Chicago school, the option of packing and bringing a home-prepared lunch to school is banned, and students are now required to eat the provided school cafeteria meal.

While this isn’t a trend in school districts, it’s alarming to both students and parents who are worried about losing the ability to make their own decisions. And if the school meal is unappealing to the child, it’s likely they’ll skip it entirely or fill up before and after classes with high-calorie snacks or sugary soft drinks.

When to pack it

If your child has food allergies, a condition such as diabetes, or is just an extremely finicky eater, you will probably feel more comfortable having control of their food choices by preparing their lunches yourself. Home preparation allows you to select foods that they like, and portion sizes that are appropriate. You’ll be able to avoid the foods that trigger allergies and substitute with foods that will give them the energy and vitality they need for a productive afternoon. With handy thermal packs, thermos containers and insulated lunch totes, you can include soups and chilled items that will still be the right temperature when the lunch bell rings.

When to buy it

If buying the school lunch appeals to your child, fits into your schedule and budget and is a more convenient choice, then check out the monthly or weekly menus; most schools post these online. Make sure that the meal is balanced and provides nutrition without a lot of empty calories. There should be a healthy mix of protein, vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Consider letting the child who normally takes their lunch to school buy on special days as a treat: kids love school pizza day, and you can balance the meal by sending along fresh green grapes or a small can of tomato or orange juice. A regular lunch of greasy fried foods, chips and sodas will affect your child’s classroom performance negatively and put them at risk for obesity and high cholesterol. They’ll be more sluggish and tired at the end of their school day.

More on school lunches

8 Fun school lunch bags and boxes
Real women speak: My kids’ favorite school lunches
Back to school food dos and don’ts

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