Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: School Lunch Tips for Parents

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS:  School Lunch Tips for Parents

"Higher sugar, fat, and salt make you want to eat more," a high-level food industry executive told me.  I had already read this in the scientific literature and heard it in conversations with neuroscientists and psychologists.  Now an insider was saying the same thing.  My source was a leading food consultant, a Henry Ford of mass-produced food who had agreed to part the curtain for me, at least a bit, to reveal how his industry operates.  To protect his business, he did not want to be identified."

-- David A. Kessler, M.D., The End of Overeating (Dr. Kessler served as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and is a pediatrician.)

It’s August and the kids are heading back to school.  During my talks in the southeast U.S. on how to prevent and reduce childhood obesity, I speak with lots of parents concerned about the quality of what their kids are (or are not) eating at school.  One suggestion I give parents of elementary age kids is to eat lunch with your kids (or breakfast if they eat it at school).  With all the changes in the school lunch program, a lot of schools have not figured out that kids don’t like changes and if you change something you better let the kids test it first or the food all goes into the garbage can next to the cafeteria door.  I liken it to “The Rule of Law” that says government needs to tell you well in advance of a change and not just spring it on you. 

Here are four back-to-school lunch tips for parents:
1.  If your child buys lunch at school or is on the free and reduced meal program, then schedule to eat lunch at least once a month (and at least twice a month during the first month that school is in session) with your child, selecting your lunch from the same choices your child has in the school cafeteria.
2.   Let your child pick out a new lunchbox that uses minicontainers.  These are great for including small portions of several healthy veggies, fruits, and proteins so that the foods don’t touch each other (kid rule number 1).  I was in Target last weekend and saw a cool Rubbermaid product for under $10 that included an icepack.  Pack a bottle of water instead of a drink with added sugar. 
3.  Create your own family test kitchen where your child can design his or her own lunchable staple such as a whole grain roll-up sandwich or a whole grain pasta salad.  Both can be made and packed the night before for an out-the-door-in-a-hurry school lunch. 
4.  Check the sugar content on the milk sold at your school’s cafeteria and steer your kids to lower sugar products.  In the school district where I live, most of the kids choose the chocolate and strawberry milks which have a whooping 7 teaspoons of added sugar (28 grams) per serving!  This is more sugar than kids under the age of 9 should have in an entire day!  Low fat white milk is a much smarter choice than the sugar-filled strawberry or chocolate milk served in schools.

I would love to hear from you about what works for getting your kids to eat more whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits for lunch.  Send me an email at

Remember to keep a big bowl of fresh fruit and veggies on the table so the kids can grab a healthy snack on their way into the house after school!    

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

PS - Moms and Dads, check out this site I found in last week's Relish magazine about a dad who prepares easy-to-make, everyday food for his wife and three sons.  Click here.