It’s estimated that only one percent of all school-age children have eating patterns that meet the dietary recommendations of the USDA. Though you can control what they eat at home, it’s often difficult to know what your kids are eating in school.
In many areas, school lunch programs are getting better and better in terms of nutrition, however, most of America’s children are still not eating enough fruits and vegetables, whole grains or calcium-rich foods. The results of poor-eating habits vary from undernutrition and obesity to anemia and tooth decay. Get your children on the right track by teaching them healthy eating habits and supplying them with nutritious school lunches, as well as the healthy meals you serve at home.
Create a weekly school lunch menu
Encourage your children to eat more healthfully by asking them what they want to eat for lunch. By involving your kids in the process, they’ll be more apt to eat what you pack.
Head to the farmers market
To get fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables, head to your local farmers market. Make it a weekend ritual and allow your children to pick out new and interesting produce that they haven’t tried before. Children will love to explore all the options the farmers market has to offer. If you have the space, teach your kids how to plant and care for a vegetable garden in your own backyard.
Make a game of it
When planning your weekly lunch menu, make a game of it. Create index cards that feature the name of a food group on one side and a particular (healthy) food in that group on the other. Each lunch should include two servings of fruits and vegetables, five to six ounces of meat or poultry, whole grains (wheat bread, brown rice, etc.), low-fat dairy products (milk or cheese) and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, cheese, avocado, etc.). Have your kids pick a card from each food group to create the lunch plan. Write down everything you need for five days of lunches before heading to the grocery store — no need to make multiple trips.
Let your kids help with the shopping
Make your weekly trip to the grocery store a family outing. Talk to your kids about the components of a healthy meal. If they are old enough to read, show them the packaging of processed foods so that they understand how these foods are unhealthy — high in calories and fat, plus low in nutrition. This will encourage kids to make healthy food choices, even when you aren’t around.
Keep food safe
When creating your menu, remember that lunches don’t always have to be sandwiches. If you have a thermos or insulated lunch container that keeps food hot, you can send along stew, chili, soup or any other hot meal. If you pack your child’s lunch the night before, keep cold items in the refrigerator until it’s time to leave in the morning. Right before you leave the house, add a cold pack into their lunch container to keep perishable items from spoiling.