Don’t Let an Unhealthy School Lunch Hold Your Child Back

It’s 7 a.m. and you’re getting your kids ready for school before rushing to work. It can be tempting to throw together whatever you can find into their lunch bag and push them out the door. However, what you pack can have a significant impact on their health and their ability to focus in the classroom. Chips, cookies, and pre-packed lunch kits may not make the grade when it comes to providing adequate nutrition.

“Everybody’s schedule is hectic these days—from work and school to a million sports and activities—which can wreak havoc on any attempt at healthy meals,” said Emily Rubin, R.D. LDN, Clinical Dietitian in the Jefferson Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology . “Convenience foods become the easy lunch. As both a dietitian and mother of 12-year-old twin boys, I understand the struggle to provide healthy options.”

With a little planning, which should involve your kids, you can take some of the mystery out of eating healthy and make the task a little easier for everyone.

Figuring Out What’s Healthy—and What’s Not

If you’re packing a lunch for school, Ms. Rubin suggests following the MyPlate guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture. To ensure your kids are getting a well-balanced meal at lunch, envision your child’s plate divided into sections:

  • One-half of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables
  • One-quarter should be filled with lean protein
  • One-quarter should be filled with whole grains and low-fat dairy foods

“Focus on packing fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Ms. Rubin. “Include chicken, fish, lean meat, nuts and nut butters, brown rice or whole grain bread and pasta, and dairy options such as low-fat Greek yogurt, skim milk and part-skim cheese.”

Make Lunch Selection a Family Affair

If your child will be buying lunch instead of packing, it’s up to you as a parent to guide them to the healthiest choices. Left to their own devices, most kids will pick the tastiest thing on the menu, which is usually not the healthiest.

“Fortunately, most schools have the menu on their website, or a copy is available at the school,” said Ms. Rubin. “Sit down with your kids and review the heathiest options together so they understand the nutritional value of their options. Sometimes, there may be symbols on the menu that indicate the healthy options.”

The Power of “FOMO” Is Real

One battle you’ll have to fight is with “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out. If kids see their friends eating junk food, they’re more likely to want it, too. Your best strategy is to explain how healthy foods will support other areas of their life that may matter more to them.

“For instance, if your child is an athlete or wants to do well on a test, explain how the right nutrition will make them stronger and faster, and support their brain and ability to think,” said Ms. Rubin.

However, Ms. Rubin also suggests that parents pick their battles, since over-restricting junk foods won’t work and may actually lead to overindulgence.

“Healthy nutrition is about moderation and balance,” said Ms. Rubin. “If your child eats junk food at one meal, teach them to eat a more balanced selection at the next meal.”


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