The Tragic School Lunch

School lunch is sad, there’s no other way to put it.  Processed meat wrapped in cheap bread, starchy, overcooked vegetables, fruit served in sugary syrup, over-salted, over processed “food” filled with additives and hydrogenated oils.  If you think I’m being a little bit pessimistic here, go eat lunch with your kids.  The lunch  menu can be a little deceiving, they may list “fresh vegetables and fruit” but they don’t say that they’re only going to give them 1/2 a cup of the fresh stuff, next to the huge piece of white bread that is 4 times the size of the little piece of processed meat tucked away inside.  I watch kids eat school lunch everyday…and I am never jealous.  They usually eat their unsatisfying lunch, then scavenge whatever they can off the next person’s styrofoam try, and an hour later they are complaining about being hungry.  Although they are not hungry from a lack of food, they are hungry from a lack of REAL FOOD.  Eating too many carbohydrates leaves you feeling full for a little while, until the simple sugars have all been digested, the insulin has been spiked and now you’re back down at your low, begging for more sugar.  All the while learning is supposed to be occurring?

If it weren’t already bad enough, most kids are also eating breakfast at school.  Either some sort of french toast sticks, mini pancakes, a piece of sausage wrapped in a pancake and served on a stick, or a 1 ounce piece of meat engulfed in a ginormous white croissant or biscuit.  Paired with a small carton of juice, a carton of milk with 27 grams of sugar, and a piece of fresh fruit…if they’re lucky.  Again, an hour later they are hungry from the surge of insulin and then the lowering of the blood sugar.  I would estimate that if I began eating the school lunch and breakfast now, I would gain about 10 pounds by April.  I am not kidding.  10 pounds in 2 weeks–it has taken me 3 years to lose 10 pounds!  No. Thank. You.

So, what’s the alternative?  A lunch box filled with nourishing protein, fresh fruit and vegetables,  and tasty treats without the sugar, that’s what.  Of course your kids love the addictive combination of salt, fat, and sugar that is offered to them on a shiny plastic tray at lunch time,  but wouldn’t your kid also love to drive at the age of 10 and watch television for 6 hours a day?  Some things just aren’t healthy.

My sister came across this issue with her 6-year-old, her oldest daughter doesn’t mind packing her lunch, she loves all the good food her mom cooks, but how do you tell a 6-year-old that everyone at the table is going to be eating pizza today….but you?  You could say “Sweetie, I love you, and that pizza is filled with hydrogenated oils, white flour, cheap meat, and fake cheese product, so today I’m going to pack you a healthy lunch!  Woo hoo!”  To which you’ll probably be met with tears, and possibly a call from the principal the next day telling you your child has high jacked another student’s Tony’s pizza and ate it before anyone could intervene.

Or, as my husband would say, you could start any insurgency.  Start with a new lunch box,  a totally awesome new lunch box with their favorite cartoon character on it.  (The 10 bucks will pay off over time as you start saving on lunch money).  Buy those little baggies with cartoon characters on them.  Find a cool water bottle.  You’ve got all of the goods, now for the food.  Make a batch of your child’s favorite food, even if it’s mac and cheese from the box, you’ve already made an improvement over school lunch.  Pick a school lunch that your kids don’t like and send them to school with their awesome lunch box and cool baggies filled with their favorite food, their favorite fruit or vegetable, a cheese stick, and  treat, whatever it takes to get them excited.  Come up with some occasion, make this a celebration.  Tell them it’s their half birthday or Harbor Day or something.

The second week: have your child pick their least favorite lunch again, same deal; cool lunch box, baggies, a smaller serving of their favorite food (if it is an unhealthy one), a piece of fruit, cheese stick, maybe one of those individual sized Greek yogurt, and this time include a homemade treat like these muffins or cocoa-nut balls.

The third week: have your child pick two meals that they don’t like and go through the same process.  This time pick another favorite food, put a small serving in a container (unless it’s something healthy, then go nuts), a fresh vegetable, cheese stick or plain yogurt flavored with honey, and a homemade treat that they helped make.

Continue to progress until they’re packing lunch for a majority of the days.  Eventually, you won’t have to pack their favorite food to get them to take their own lunch and it will be worth the effort.

What about the older kids?  I don’t know too many 13-year-olds that carry Superman lunch boxes, but at this age they will have a better understanding of healthy foods and it is time they start learning the importance of it.   If your teen is completely opposed to the thought of packing a lunch, you could start by only providing enough money to buy the school lunch, as opposed to all of the extra snacks and drinks that they buy with it.  Of course you don’t want them to go hungry, but it’s not like the chips and cookies they are buy are providing them any nourishment anyways.  Instead, make sure your house is fully stocked with healthy snacks that your teenager can take along with them to lunch.  A friend of mine tells her kids to pick 10 lunches off the school menu each month, every other day they pack their lunch.   Find what works for you.  Maybe my ideas would never work for your family, that’s fine, but find something that DOES work. Don’t give up.

Maybe your child’s willingness isn’t the issue, but instead TIME is the issue, where do you find the time to pack lunch amidst the crazy mornings and even more hectic evenings?  Again, that comes back to preparation, you’ve got the make the time to make healthy choices.  Make large batches of tuna, chicken, or egg salad for the week, grill some extra chicken, pork, or steak over the weekend, buy some quality lunchmeat, have fresh fruits and veggies on hand.  There are lots of options for you and your kids to pack a lunch and avoid the processed food found in cafeterias and fast food joints, just find what works for you.

This is just one more small change that will make the world of a difference for you AND your child.


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