I Love School Lunch (and So Do My Kids)

A version of this post originally appeared on Stone Soup, a blog written by registered dietitian contributors. 

For the past several weeks, my social media feeds have been flooded with tips, tricks and gorgeous pictures of nutritious and appealing lunches for kids. It seems like kids across the country will be plunking down properly insulated and portion-perfect bento boxes of adorable cookie cutter-cut sandwiches and sides of fruit in caterpillar-shaped cuteness served with a carton of organic milk.

Not my kid.

In our house, we nudge our school-age child toward buying a hot school lunch. If you haven’t been to a school lunch cafeteria in while, I urge you to visit with your child someday. You might be surprised. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required for the first time in more than 15 years that school lunch standards conform to the latest dietary guidelines. This meant using only whole grain ingredients, serving more fresh fruits and vegetables, providing lowfat or nonfat milk only, reducing sodium and setting calorie limits, among other changes.

The foods served at my child’s school may look like normal kid fare, but they are made with better-for-you ingredients. Chicken nuggets and buns are made with whole grains, hot dogs are actually turkey dogs, and pizza is made with a whole wheat crust and lowfat cheese. All vegetables served on the side (and a child must take a vegetable) are either fresh or reduced-sodium if canned. There isn’t dessert served except on special occasions. Yes, not everything on her tray gets eaten and may end up in the trash, however more often than not the packed lunches I give her come home with untouched food as well. With lunchtime crunched into a 20-minute timespan, that barely gives enough time to get lunch, sit at a table, have some unstructured time to connect with friends, and, oh yeah – eat!

Another thing I like about having my child eat school lunch is that it allows positive peer pressure to work. If other kids at her table are eating the same thing and her good friend is gobbling up the pea-and-carrot cup with gusto, that may inspire her to give it a try. Exposure and modeling are powerful teaching tools, especially when it comes to trying new foods. It works great at my son’s preschool, where kids and their teachers are all served the same lunch and snacks. They even have paella on the menu, which apparently my son has gotten to like.

So parents, when you get tired of making broccoli tree and celery boat dioramas, packed lovingly but returned home as if an avalanche hit the scene, put some money in your kids’ school lunch account and send them off with a kiss and the knowledge that they’re getting a healthy lunch…served lovingly by someone else!

Disclosure: none. All opinions are my own.

Published by

Elana Natker, MS, RD

I'm a dietitian, communications professional, wife, mother - just your typical modern-day woman trying to juggle it all.

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