Q&A – Healthy School Lunches

In Lifestyle & Fitness, Q&A by Robert Irvine

With the rise in childhood obesity rates, the topic of healthy school lunches has become a hotly debated issue amongst parents, school administrators, and the media. While the healthiness of the offerings in our public schools is not a quick fix, the things that we CAN work on helping is what our kids choose out of the options available and what we send in our kids lunch bags everyday. So I asked my facebook and twitter fans if they had any questions on this subject! 

Question: Besides fruit and veggies, what are good sides or snacks to put in school lunches?

The biggest issue with this is that you are often limited to cold sides in your child’s lunch box, but that is not a major limitation if you can be creative! One thing’s for certain: kids LOVE to dip! This opens up a whole new world of small sides like hummus (did you know that just about anything can be turned into a hummus), guacamole (not the spicy kind, please), or yogurt-based dipping sauces that can be paired with veggies, crackers, or breads. Another kid-favorite is pasta salad. Many of you may remember the pasta salad that I made for the Boys and Girl’s club in Joplin, MO on the “Holiday Impossible” episode of Restaurant: Impossible (click here for recipe)? That particular recipe incorporated an entire day’s serving of vegetables into just the sauce and it tasted GREAT! That’s a win-win for parents and kids alike! 

Question: How do I ensure that my child is making the proper choices at their school cafeteria? 

Accountability is a tough issue when trying to encourage that correct lunch choices with your child. Especially when pizza (sure, it’s a vegetable) is situated right next to the salad bar in the lunch line. One of the best ways is to make a plan! School cafeterias make their menus public for parents, so try to take the time to go over the menu with your child in the morning to discuss what you would like them to eat. Also, don’t try to force them to ONLY eat the healthy items. If they choose the veggies over the fries, let them reward themselves with a small dessert or something they really like. Teaching your kids the idea of “balance” over “abstinence” is a much better food choice philosophy. If you still need some checks and balances in place to ensure they are choosing well use technology! Most kids have smartphones or iPods these days. Tell your child to text you a picture of their lunch and discuss with them where they chose well and where they went wrong. Lastly, and most importantly, is to ensure that the food choices you want them to make in school are reflected in what you serve at home. If you are instilling a love of healthy eating at home your kids will be much more successful making those choices at school. 

Question: At my school there is salad so I got salad and a milk but I noticed I was hungry only a couple hours after. Today I got pizza and milk and I wasn’t hungry after. How can I still eat healthy but not be hungry after? 

That hungry or un-satisfied feeling you get soon after a salad or plate of veggies is often because your body is craving fat and carbs. Now that doesn’t mean that you should jump head-first into the french fries. There are plenty of sources of “good fats” and “slow carbs” that will satisfy your cravings without ruining the good stuff that salad is doing for you. Beans, nuts, avocados, whole wheat breads, eggs, and fish are all sources of good fats and carbs. Remember, anything in excess is bad so only eat enough to supplement your lunch by either using these items at salad toppings or eating them after you’ve had your fill of salad. All of these items also make great snacks!