Ever heard the saying, “You are what you eat” and not think much of it? Well, it’s a scientifically true statement because “ the nutritional content of what we eat determines the composition of our cell membranes, bone marrow, blood, hormones, tissue, organs, skin, and hair ” and some research has even suggested that what we eat affects our genes.
Clearly, our physical and mental well-being are directly linked to the foods we eat. Unless your children are homeschooled, they’ll probably eat lunch, one of the most important meals of the day, at school almost every weekday for most of the year.
While you may not be able to 100% control what they eat and how much when they are out of sight and away for most of the day at school, there are some practical measures you can take to ensure that they have healthy options to choose from.
If you pack a lunch for your child to bring to school
Plan ahead. It's almost impossible to pack a healthy lunch if you don’t plan ahead. Plan out your child’s meals for the week and make a shopping list of all the things you’ll need. Take that list with you when you go grocery shopping so you can purchase all the necessary items. Then choose a time slot of an hour or 2 during the weekend to set up the lunches.
If you have younger children, it’s important that you pack their lunches for them so that all they have to do is grab it and go.
If you have older children, just provide the options, and they can select what they prefer to eat that day. For example, if you prepped an assortment of salads, sandwiches, and wraps for the week for your tweens and teens in middle and high school, place the items in the fridge, let your kids know where the items are and then every morning before they leave for school, they can reach in the fridge, grab what they want and head out the door.
Choose a sturdy lunch box or lunch bag that will last the entire year. Brown paper bag lunch sacks are great for packing snacks every now and then, but if your child is bringing perishable foods to school for lunch, it’s important that those items stay cool to avoid food poisoning. Find an insulated lunch box that will keep foods cool and make sure to pack an ice pack as well.
Before packing leftovers that may need to be reheated, make sure there is a microwave or toaster oven available for your child to use at school. Nothing is worse than eating cold leftover spaghetti.
Pack a variety of foods. It’s ok to include a cookie or a bag of chips but make sure that’s not the only snack you pack. Make sure the lunches you pack include a protein, a fruit, a vegetable and some water and if you pack a cookie or a bag of chips, make sure that it’s being packed in addition to (and not instead of) the healthy items listed above. Click here for some healthy lunch ideas.
Never pack a soft drink or sugary drink. Always send your child to school with a bottle of water. If you do pack something in addition to water, please make sure the label says 100% juice, otherwise (unless it’s tea or milk), the drink is usually just some artificially flavored, artificially colored liquid filled with ingredients your child is best to do without.
If your child eats a lunch provided by the school
See if you can get a menu of what the school cafeteria will serve for lunch each day. Many elementary schools will send one home with the child every month. Be sure to pay close attention to it by hanging it on the door of your refrigerator. That way, you can know what days you may need to supplement your child’s lunch or send your child to school with a lunch from home (for instance, if they are serving something that you do not want your child to eat). Most middle and high schools serve pretty much the same options every day for your child to choose from. If that’s the case, talk to your tweens and teens about what they’re eating at school and encourage them to always eat a piece of fruit or vegetable if it’s available. Just in case, try to have some fruits and veggies such as oranges, apples, bananas, carrots, sweet peppers, celery and grape tomatoes available at home so they can take it with them to school to eat along with their school lunch.
If you notice that your child is gaining weight or often lacks energy even though you typically serve healthy options at home, your child may be purchasing unhealthy foods at school. Many schools sell cookies, cakes, ice cream, chips, sports drinks, sodas and other sugary drinks in the cafeteria during lunch and it’s possible that your child is spending his lunch money on those unhealthy options. If that is the case, you may want to consider packing their lunches instead.
On the other hand, you might need to start packing something for your child to bring to school to supplement her school lunch if you notice she is always hungry when she comes home because she is not getting enough to eat at school.
Regardless of whether your child eats a school lunch or one brought from home, please always send them to school with water. Kids these days are not getting enough water which is negatively affecting all aspects of their health including their brain health, their physical health, and emotional health . To save money (and to lessen the negative impact on the environment) purchase a water bottle that will last for the entire school year instead of repeatedly buying disposable water bottles. That way, your child can bring that bottle to school with them every day and refill it at water fountains throughout the day.
Obesity is rapidly becoming an epidemic amongst our youth. Preventing it starts at home. In addition, eating unhealthily can wreak havoc on a child’s mental health, physical health, energy levels, ability to focus and academic achievement.
So do your best to encourage and support your children to eat healthily now, and they will continue reaping the benefits throughout their lives .