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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Healthy Lunches

Healthy Lunches? My Approach

I wonder how many lunches my 3 kids have eaten at school over the years? By my calculation, well over 5,000. That’s a lot of lunches! And since lunch counts for approximately 20% of their daily calories, it should be healthy and satisfying.

There are some things you can do to make your kid’s lunches count nutritionally. I often tell parents that almost everything can be solved by talking with our children – including what and how they eat. Our kids are eager to learn, and we can use that to help them make wise food choices. Whether your child is served lunch at school or brings it from home, success starts with your discussions at home.

School meal programs can provide much of what children need for health and growth. However, this depends in part on helping children make good choices from what is served.

  • Review the lunch menus to get an idea of what’s being offered at your child’s school. Ask your kids what they ate. If they chose the salad bar, did they eat the veggies or just the croutons? Did they toss the fruit that came with the pizza? Use this as a chance to talk about nutritional basics.
  • Consider going to school to volunteer at lunchtime. This will give you a bird’s eye view of what really happens. If you have suggestions or concerns, talk with the teachers and principal to help make a change.

If you make lunch at home, here are some healthy basics:

  • Pack a fruit and a veggie. Both will be more likely to be eaten if cut into pieces.
  • Pack water – not a sweet drink.
  • Pay attention to portions. Remember that kids’ serving sizes are smaller than ours. For example, half of a sandwich is usually sufficient. I find this to be true even for my athletic teens.
  • Have your children pack their own lunches – with your guidance and watchful eye.

This last idea was one that I was slow to use in my own house. As a mother, there are some household chores that I do happily and others that drive me slowly insane. Making daily lunches leads the list of things making my hair go gray. This changed a few years ago when on the way to his lacrosse practice, my son asked if we could stop by his school locker to pick up something too big to carry on his bike. Indeed, the sack of old lunches filling his locker was big – and smelly. Turns out he wasn’t eating much of what I had packed. The carefully cut veggies, the fresh fruit, the whole-grain bread? Much of it was…moldy.

That was it! Later that night I had one of those “look out, Mom’s head is spinning” moments that all children see occasionally. Now I no longer make lunch, they do. I made some rules:

  • Each lunch must have a fruit, a veggie, and some protein.
  • Water only; no sugary drinks.

This system has worked well ever since. They enjoy packing their own lunches, and my hair is looking less gray!

Children spend many of their waking hours at school, and a large part of their daily food intake is eaten there. As parents, we can make their lunches count as a nutritional bonus by talking with our kids, giving them healthy foods to choose from, and becoming involved at school ourselves.

Additional resources for your family:
Eat Well, Be Active, Live Better