I love volunteering in my kids classrooms at school but I don’t love when I volunteer over the lunch break and I see what the other children have packed in their lunch bags. Its a startling reminder that many school lunches deserve a failing grade.
I write about healthy eating and have many online conversations with like minded parents who inspire me with the photos they post of their kids beautiful lunches. Compartments filled with fruit kebobs, cut up veggies, home made muffins and cute shaped cheese, brimming with colour and overflowing with healthy ingredients. I’m not suggesting we all create art gallery worthy lunches, but the sea of cellophane and tetra packs I saw at school was a stark contrast to the fresh fruit and homemade snacks I was used to.
I forget healthy lunches are not the norm.
The overflowing garbage can told the story, too many kids lunch bags are filled with packaged food and boxes of juice despite the growing concern that too much added sugar, artificial ingredients and preservatives can have a negative affect on children’s overall health.
This was one child’s entire lunch:
3 Juice boxes
Chocolate Chip Granola bar
Choc Chip cookie
Squeeze bag apple sauce
School Lunches Are Failing Our Kids Health
I can only hope that this was a one off – maybe a busy morning at home – but looking around the room the other kids had cans of cream soda, bags of potato chips, giant chocolate chip cake ‘muffins’, and syrupy fruit cups. So many packages of food products. These kids were young and the amount of sugar and preservatives they were consuming that day at lunch was staggering.
I know we are all busy and buying these pre packaged items seems convenient, but a lunch void of fresh fruit, of whole grains, of protein not soaked in sugar or sodium on a regular basis is just not healthy for their growing bodies.
Quick Swaps For Healthier School Lunches
If I could magically change one thing, it would be to see less packaged foods in kids lunch boxes. Teach kids how to get involved in not only making their own lunches, but in understanding the importance of real food that does not come in a package. If it’s in a packaged it is processed. Purge the packages and pack real food.
Try these quick swaps and encourage your family to include grains and real fruits and vegetables in their lunch.
IN -> Fruit OUT -> Juice Box
Give kids a glass of 100% juice with breakfast in the morning and that is it for the day. With approximately 20 grams of sugar in one juice box, juice of any kind is best limited to one a day. More nutrients are found in the real fruit. Offer sliced apples, melon, grapes, oranges, pears, banana, kiwi, strawberries or watermelon.
IN -> Plain Yogurt with Berries OUT -> Yogurt Tube/Drink
By big containers of plain yogurt, put in single serve container and add frozen raspberries or blueberries before school. By break time there will be a naturally sweetened yogurt with all the calcium and no added artificial colour, flavours or extra sugar.
IN -> Whole Grain Bread OUT -> Packaged Pocket/Fast Food/Container Lunch
Even a slice of whole grain bread with butter is better than processed foods in packages. Find toppings they like such as cheese, non nut butter, or a slice of nitrate free meat and encourage the switch from white bread and packaged meals to whole grains and protein from home.
IN -> Baked OUT -> Granola Bar
I know, who has the time. I agree. But it is so worth it. Add up all the granola bars your kids will eat in their lifetime if they have 1,2 or 3 a day? Those bars are not preservative and chemical free and although you may think they are healthy, some contain as much calories, fat and sugar as a chocolate bar. Bake with your kids on the weekends – something with oats, bananas and chocolate chips. Store in the freezer and kids can pack their own snacks all week long.
IN -> Water OUT -> Pop
Always. Pop. Out.
IN -> Protein OUT -> Bar Muffins, Syrupy Fruit Cups
Try for a few grams of protein in your kids lunch instead of throwing in another packaged convenience food. Slices of cheese, a hard boiled egg, roasted chick peas, hummus for dip, turkey kielbasa or even homemade oatmeal cookies that include hemp and chia seeds, both very high in protein.
A balanced lunch fuels their growing bodies and may help them focus better with less sugar, artificial ingredients and preservatives.
Kids get plenty of ‘treat’ food for desserts, at friends houses and even soccer snacks have turned not so healthy, but school lunches are something we should all do our homework on and give a passing grade.