Sunday, August 14, 2016

Healthy School Lunches : Part One: A Good Start

Where did summer go? I mean, seriously! Last I checked we still had a couple weeks left. But, here we are, at the start of a new school year. With so many things to think about and prepare for that big first day, planning school lunches can seem a bit overwhelming. If you decide to buy lunch for your child, you might enjoy the convenience, but what about the quality? With a little planning, you can pack your child a healthy lunch and have some control over the quality of the food your child eats. I say some because, let's get real, some days your child is going to come home with only a half eaten lunch and complain he/she didn't like something you packed them even though it's something that he/she has eaten before. Unless you won the jackpot and have a kid who always eats what is in front of him/her.

In this three part series, I want to open up a discussion on making sure our kids are eating healthy lunches at school, what that means for them, and point you towards resources like recipes and nutrition blogs to help you plan lunches your child will enjoy.

The following photo has been going around social media. This mom put a lot of time and effort into starting the school year out on a great note. She's organized and ready to go. Her intentions are good. She is happy because she has a month's worth of lunches, minus the sandwich, organized and ready to go for about $30. I think it's awesome. I would like to tell her that.

However, it upsets me that the corporations managing our food system think it's ok to convince mom's that chips and soda are fine to feed our children, let alone the adults. You may say that moms have a choice, and they do, but until we know better, how are we as a society supposed to do better?  For many Americans, health education is a chapter in a textbook in high school health class. As adults we have to educate ourselves in order to sort out the half truths on television commercials.

I don't know this mom's current financial situation, but it's obvious she thinks about keeping her grocery budget to a minimum as well. For many Americans, the bottom line isn't nutritional value, but simply trying to spend as little as possible on food in order to get by. When you are time strapped and struggling to get by, off brand soda and chips seem like an easy answer.

But we need to do better for our children. How are we to expect them to do their best when they are not fueled on highly nutritious food? They need to start their day with a nutritionally balanced breakfast, refuel with a healthy lunch, and end the day with a good dinner. A soda for lunch is going to create a sugar crash in the afternoon, and the child is going to be tired and unable to focus. The long term effects of eating like this regularly can include diabetes and obesity.

I'm by no means a food Nazi. I recognize that I can't always control what my son eats, especially when he is at a friend's house or spending the day with his dad. An occasional treat is ok. But the majority of the food I feed him I purchase based on nutritional value, not cost. I want my bang for the buck to be not how many ounces I can get for a dollar, but that I am spending my money on something of high nutritional value. When you are struggling to cut corners financially it can be tempting to load your cart up with cheap, low nutrient food. But, I promise you that when you change your focus to how much nutritional value you are getting for your dollar you are going to find it is possible to eat healthy without spending lots.

We all want to give our children the best we can, and the truth is we need to do better as a nation with the quality of food we provide them on a daily basis. It starts with educating ourselves first. Then we need to serve as good role models and educate our children so that they are able to make better choices.

Next: What Happens To You (and your child) When You Drink Soda

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