9 School Lunch Commandments: 2015 Back to School Edition
#1 School lunch should be a balance between what is healthy and what your child will eat.
Some of my dietitian friends post gorgeous pictures of kid lunches with kale, beans and quinoa. My kids would never go for it, but I’m happy their kids do. (I secretly harbor unkind wishes that their kids are trying to trade for Cheetos on the Lunch Table Black Market.) It’s okay if you want to send chips or crackers, just make them better choices (see below).
#2 Grains should have a short ingredients list
A random Nutrigrain bar has 34 ingredients not even counting all the vitamins. A random Clif Kid Z Bar has 23 ingredients not counting all the vitamins. I much prefer Nature Valley Oat and Honey bars with 11 ingredients. The ingredients list should not be 3 inches long!
Fine choices for grains include: Triscuits, Wheat Thins, TJs Organic Corn Tortilla Chips, Cheerios, Puffins, Gorilla Munch, graham crackers, pita chips, pretzels, Pirate’s Booty, granola bar with a short ingredient list, whole-grain Goldfish, regular potato chips like Lay’s or kettle chips, regular SunChips, animal crackers or TJs cat cookies.
Bonus points if your grain has 2-3 grams of fiber.
#3 Limit my Shelf of Shame Kid’s Lunch Products:
Sara Lee Soft ‘n Smooth “Whole Grain” White Bread
Entenmann’s Mini Blueberry Muffins
Lunchables (one variety has more than 70 ingredients)
Capri Sun (any variety that is not 100% juice, which is most of them—also see below)
“Fruit” Gummies–princess, Shrek, lego, Fruit by the Foot, etc.
Yogurt with candy or cookie topping (Oreos and Fruity Pebbles don’t belong on yogurt)
If your child is clamoring for these items you can compromise—just once a week and the rest of the time they have to choose a better option. A better option is something without fake colors, and with a shorter ingredients list. All pouches of fruit gummies count as a treat, not a fruit. Even Annie’s Organic fruit snacks are concentrated fruit juice made into little shapes.
#4 Fruit and Vegetables—Send them Please.
If you do not send any, there is zero chance of consumption. Don’t give up! Any fruit, any vegetable, all are fine. Ideas include:
Cutie/Halo/clementine, apple slices, grapes, peaches, berries, mango slices, melon cubes, baby carrots, Persian cucumber slices, sugar snaps, cherry tomatoes, avocado/guacamole. Pantry produce is great too: TJs or other fruit leather, applesauce crushers, raisins, dried apple slices
#5 All juice should be 100% juice.
Capri Sun Juice Drink—NO
Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters—NO
Capri Sun 100% Juice—YES
Capri Sun Super V—has “soluble corn fiber,” yuck, what is the point, and you do not
need your fiber from a juice pouch.
Capri Sun Big Pouch—NO
Lunchables with Capri Sun—Do you have to ask? NO!!!
Juicy Juice 100% Fruit Juice—YES
#6 It is better to send less than more
If the lunch comes back uneaten (or if you find out he is throwing it in the garbage), reduce what you send.
#7 It is OK to send a small treat
According to my 10 year old: “People like to have treats in their lunchboxes so they have stuff to trade….you never want to be the one without stuff to trade because that makes you feel bad.” A treat can be Hershey kisses, a couple Cat Cookies or animal crackers, etc. They also trade Goldfish, Wheat Thins and potato chips on the Lunch Table Black Market. Try to send treats without fake colors, though. Skittles don’t belong in school lunch.
#8 Worry Less About Protein
I think protein is the hardest category of school lunch because many items will spoil or just won’t taste good if they aren’t at the right temperature. Here are some creative protein sources for school lunch:
Turkey or ham slices, yogurt or yogurt tubes (can freeze), Edamame, chocolate milk or regular milk/soymilk, cheese, cheese on pizza. If your school allows it and your child isn’t allergic, go for nuts (cashews and pistachios are great choices) and nut butters. Sunflower seeds are a great nut-free option.
Most kids get enough protein by just eating a variety of foods throughout the day. If you have specific concerns, talk to your pediatrician or a registered dietitian.
#9: Do not trust “health” and “nutrition” claims made by companies on the front of the package.
Here’s how you know if a food is a good choice
- Short number of ingredients (5 or less is best, more than 10 think again)
- No fake colors
- Grain Grams—grams of fiber should be 2-3 for products claiming to have whole grains
There are so many food wolves in sheep’s clothing. Food marketed to kids has the most creative and attractive packaging, but it’s unfortunately often the junkiest food.