Despite the efforts of the First Lady, Jamie Oliver and our Congress, school lunches still need a lot of work. I don’t have kids but I hear tales from my sister in law and my clients. School lunch menus are available online too. Here is what the summer menu looked like for the elementary and middle school students this past June in Springfield:
I don’t know about you but all I see are a lot of starchy carbs, sugar and not enough vegetables. It looks like a fast food menu not a nutritionally balanced one. I would love to see the nutritional information to see how much sugar has been added to the baked beans, blueberries jubilee, applesauce and mixed fruit. I don’t even know what a “Breakfast Stick” is?
I understand schools are in a bind. Their budgets are way too small for the important job they have to do. I also know that they don’t want the food to go to waste so they are doing their best to mimic what kids are familiar with and like to eat. Lunch boxes are filled with the same. Lunchables, granola bars and go-gurt are popular from what I understand. So is mom showing up with McDonald’s.
I’m not judging parents either. I don’t have kids, but I was one once. I remember what a picky eater I could be. Even though we qualified for free school lunches my mom packed my lunch most days in grade school because I wouldn’t eat at least half of what was on the menu. With a limited budget and a desire to get some food in her child, my mom did the best she could with peanut butter sandwiches, juice “drink” boxes and something called banana flips from the discount bakery.
Yet I think we can all do better. A healthier lunch can be economical and tasty. It doesn’t require making your own applesauce or baking your own bread. Here are some tips and recipes for ways to make the lunch box healthier while keeping it kid friendly.
Emily at That’s What I Eat shares what seems like a weeks worth of her daughter’s lunch box on her blog. Leftovers work for kids too! I never thought of a cold quesadilla but it makes perfect kid friendly finger food. I love (and covet) the Hello Kitty thermos.
Mix 2 tbsp chia seeds with ½ cup coconut milk and by lunch you’ll have a lovely pudding. Pack fun add-ins like shredded coconut, raisins or cocoa dusted almonds. You can add date syrup or honey if you need a touch of sweetness. For a side, add some cheese cubs, grapes, apple slice or baby carrots.
Kids like fruit or chocolate smoothies. You don’t have to tell them about the protein and greens you’ve added. Throw whatever fruit you have, fresh or frozen, into a blender along with unsweetened almond milk, ice and a scoop of Vega Protein + Greens powder. Mango, blueberries and vanilla protein go great together. I love chocolate, peanut butter and banana. Pour into the thermos and whatever won’t fit becomes breakfast for you.
Egg salad (or chicken salad) can provide a healthy lunch for you and the kids. I love this Avocado Egg Salad from Clean Eating Magazine. If you do eat meat, try this cranberry apple chicken salad from Ari’s Menu. Wrap it up or put in a pita, with greens if your child likes them.
There’s nothing wrong with PB& J! Make it on whole grain bread and use natural peanut butter and low sugar jam. Try this Lunch Box Favorite Salad from Vegetarian Times as a side.
I know for a fact kids love hummus. You can buy any variety of brands or make your own. Put it in the lunch box along with a variety of dippers – pita, carrots, cucumbers, apples, pretzel sticks- and a side treat like a Date Lady Date Snack Pack.
I would love to hear your ideas and feedback! How do you make healthier school lunches that your kids will eat AND love?