3 Steps to Healthier School Lunches

3 Steps to Healthier School Lunches

Do you know what your kid is eating at the school cafeteria?

Over the past few decades, school lunches across the country have become vacuums of high fat, refined sugar and off the charts levels of sodium. (Not to mention the fewer gym classes and less sports time.)

Just see what Jamie Oliver has tried to do by introducing healthier, local food into American schools over the past few years.

At school, fattier foods plus less exercise can really set the stage for dangerous habits. But thanks to parental involvement, many schools across the country have made strides to improve the situation.

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In fact, according to The New York Times, a new study found that obese fifth graders who lived in states with stronger school lunch laws were more likely to reach a healthy weight by the eighth grade than those living in states with no laws.

If you're not sure what your kid is eating at school every day, or you're unhappy with what's on offer, there are steps you can take to help make a change.

1. Find Out What's for Lunch

The first step is to find out what’s on the lunch menu at your child’s school. Many schools post weekly or monthly menus online, while others have them posted in the school cafeteria. Get a copy of the month’s menu and read it over carefully.  If for some reason you get pushback, or are not successful in obtaining a menu from the cafeteria, speak to the head of the school, the principal or even a parent representative.

Once you have the menu, highlight all the healthy items in one color and the unhealthy foods in a different color. Then, sit down with your child and go over the menu. Point out the healthy things your child can choose, and show him the basics of putting together a nutritious lunch. If your kid is armed with the information in advance, he'll be in a position to pick foods that are better for him.

2. Get Involved

If you discover there are few healthy options for your child to choose from, you may want to get involved.

I happen to sit on the food committee for my daughter's school. The committee meets five or six times over the course of the year and has generated a great deal of change. We've brought in local, grass-fed milk, replaced almost all white breads and pastas with whole grain varieties and eliminated overly processed luncheon meats, replacing them with natural, low-sodium varieties that don't contain nitrates.

Many schools have food committees that enable parents to meet and discuss, and there is usually a parent representative who has a direct line of communication with the cafeteria staff. If a committee doesn't exist at your kid's school, think about starting one. Even a small amount of involvement can go a long way in changing the landscape of your school's lunch menu. But beware: Change may not happen overnight. It takes a diligent approach and serious dedication to change a damaged system.

As my fellow committee member says, "My daughter often came home from school feeling tired and lacking energy. The changes have provided her with the energy she needs at a key point in her day. I feel better, too, knowing that she has options to pick what she likes to eat at lunch, and they are all good ones."

3. Take Control of Their Meals
If you continue to be dissatisfied, your best option may just be to send your child to school with lunch from home. Include him in the brainstorming about what he can make that would be both fun to eat and nutritious. If your child feels left out when all of his friends are purchasing lunch at school, try allowing him to bring lunch from home four days a week and purchasing it on the fifth.

Keep in mind that there are two goals to be met. The first and obvious one is to get healthier foods into the school. But an even more important one is to teach your children to be able to make healthy choices by themselves. The end goal is not only to have them eating well, but to know what and why things are good for them, so that as they get older, they will have all the tools to make the right decisions.

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