Tips For Healthy School Lunches

Sayre, Pa. –For some families the idea of the lunchbox has gone the way of the TV antenna. The philosophy is why pack a lunch when kids can get a healthy meal at school? School meals are, overall, well balanced and follow the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The trouble can come when students veer from the suggested meals to the a la carte items which may not be as balanced.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2008 more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Pre-diabetes among young people is on the rise. Obese children most often grow into obese adults facing myriad health problems like cardiac illnesses, joint problems, and a higher incident of cancer.

Renee Allington, MS RD, is a registered dietician at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital. She says many parents are using the lunchbox as a tool to educate children about healthy eating habits.

“The balancing act between nutrition and your kids’ willingness to eat the lunch you provide is a delicate war of wills, but it can be won. With the current rate of obesity among American youth, it is an issue that parents cannot ignore. Like all healthy decisions, packing a nutritious lunch takes planning and participation from the kids is essential to success.” Allington said. 

Being a part of the process increases the chance that your child will actually eat the lunch they helped choose, make and pack. The hard part is in steering them away from the popular, easy selections to something with more nutritional value.

Convenience foods are fast, but they also tend to be high in fat, calories, sodium and preservatives and can be expensive. They also don’t offer your child the kind of solid nutritional foundation they need to get them through an afternoon that includes algebra and gym class. Protein should be a constant ingredient in a school lunch including lean meats, nuts, peanut butter, low fat cheese, milk, and yogurt. Allington makes some suggestions. “Switch out the traditional white bread for a whole wheat pita pocket or a whole grain tortilla. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be included. Cutting and peeling them before packing them will make them more easy to consume.  Pre-packaged fruit cups with no added sugar are also an easy way to add a serving of fruit.”

Adding an element of fun is a great way to entice younger kids to open the lunch sack. Take a cookie cutter to sandwiches and vegetables.  Include a note of encouragement or a copy of a favorite family photo to remind them that you are looking forward to being with them again. Give them a riddle to puzzle over with a promise to reveal the answer at their homecoming. Lunchtime in school is just as much a respite from the daily routine for your fourth-grader as it is for you in the working world.  

Guthrie Health is a community-based, not-for-profit health care system jointly formed by Guthrie Healthcare System (GHS) and Guthrie Clinic, also not-for-profit health care organizations. GHS provides inpatient, outpatient and home-based services through Corning Hospital, Troy Community Hospital, Robert Packer Hospital, and Guthrie Home Care and Guthrie Hospice. Guthrie Clinic provides primary and specialty physician services at 25 regional clinics. Guthrie Health provides care for 200,000 patients annually within its eleven-county service area across the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York.