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School Lunches: Buy at school or pack it from home?

Today I put on my “secret investigator hat” and went to have lunch at school with my daughter. She is 5yrs old and just started Kindergarten in a public school here in Florida. The school, the teachers, the principal, her friends, and her class are all great, but the school lunch … not so much. I understand that recently school lunches went through several reforms to promote healthier eating and inclusion of more food groups. But you couldn’t tell by what I saw in the cafeteria today.

school lunches (3)The lunches are served on a paper tray and depending on their lunch choice the food goes right on that – not very appealing, but I understand budgets and sanitation are a big reason. Kids go through the line and are given only a few seconds to make their choice. There is no visual display of what will be served ahead, there is however a menu board where they can read it.  And parents can access an online version to see what will be served. Most of the food was the same color and there was an alarming lack of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Next question, did the kids actually eat it? In this school, by brief observation only about 30-40% of the kids in the cafeteria seemed to buy lunch, the others packed. And overall there was an obvious waste of food. Kids were leaving most of the foods on the tray, there was no specific trend of leaving just the vegetable (today it appeared to be just corn, although I was only there briefly therefore I can’t confirm if there were other choices available). The kids were just not eating much of the food at all, which is worrisome to think they may be getting hungry before the end of school day.  We know this can affect their ability to focus and learn during the last couple of hours at school.

Again, I want to emphasize the issue is at a national level. Individual schools do not control school lunch, it is decided by the county and it is standardized. Our school in particular does a phenomenal job at limiting junk foods at parties and snack time in order to promote healthier eating.

I wasn’t so much shocked by what they were serving today – the expected hamburgers, chicken nuggets, and cheese sandwich with tomato soup. It was the lack of fresh vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fresh fruits that left me to wonder what that is teaching our kids.

On the brighter side of things, most of the kids that packed lunch had fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, water and lots of great lunch box foods! Which goes to show that parents are getting it! They are health conscious and trying to nourish their kids so they can perform to the best of their abilities in school.

I believe in leading by example and nutrition education. We can press for changes, lobby with politicians, ask for improvements, but we need to educate our children so they can start making better choices and asking for the changes from within the system.

corn dog bites menuFor now I will continue packing my child’s lunch so that I can make sure she gets a full serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein in every meal. But I will educate her and continue to push for changes. Every school age child should have the opportunity to eat a healthy lunch every day!

For lunch box menus and ideas please visit our Lunch Box Menu Board on Pinterest, and also our Recipe tab on our website. I will be doing a series of posts on school lunches, so stay tuned for more!

… for the health of your family,

Carolina

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