When you think about school lunches and the impact they have on students’ learning, nutrition, and, ultimately, education, it’s not hard to see why the debate sometimes gets hot. School lunches are a huge factor when it comes to kids’ overall schooling, and many of us still, fail to see why it’s such a major issue. If your kid won’t eat school lunches, just don’t buy them, right?
Well, that’s easy to say when you have the option and ability to send a healthy, packed lunch from home. Unfortunately, of the over 32 million schoolchildren who participate in the National School Lunch Program, two-thirds qualify for free or reduced-price meals – which means that for many, school lunch is the only dependable meal option that the family and student counts on.
“When our kids spend so much of their time each day in school, and when many children get up to half their daily calories from school meals, it’s clear that we as a nation have a responsibility to meet as well,” former First Lady Michelle Obama said in the bill signing that pushed for more nutritious federal regulations when it came to school lunches.
Opponents of these regulations argue that students are less likely to eat healthy meals due to lack of flavor or taste. As parents, we know that getting kids to eat healthy, nutritious foods is not always the easiest, of course, but nutritious food does nothing for them when it just sits on their plate. Opinions are mixed at best. Some groups report, that in many cases, children are trying the new, healthier foods. When kids have access to nutritious foods that are delicious too, they are more likely to make healthy decisions. A handful of small studies have found that students are putting more fruits and vegetables on their trays, but it is unclear whether overall consumption is up.
Unfortunately, of the over 32 million schoolchildren who participate in the National School Lunch Program, two-thirds qualify for free or reduced-price meals – which means that for many, school lunch is the only dependable meal option that the family and student counts on.
But there are ways to make nutritious food delicious too! In honor of National School Lunch Week, which celebrates the benefits of the National School Lunch Program, we’re sharing why school lunches are so important and how you can increase nutrition education and build healthy eating habits with delicious foods at home and in your own community. Read on for more.
In honor of National School Lunch Week, which celebrates the benefits of the National School Lunch Program, we’re sharing why school lunches are so important and how you can increase nutrition education and build healthy lunches at home and in your own community. Read on for more.
Who Can Help?
Revolution Foods, a leading healthy school and community meal provider, is changing the course of this issue that plagues so many of our nation’s youth. Revolution Foods is on a mission to build lifelong healthy eaters by making kid-inspired, chef-crafted food accessible to all. They truly believe that everyone deserves access to real, high-quality food made with carefully considered ingredients, so they work tirelessly to design, produce, and deliver two million healthy, affordable meals each week to students and families at 2,500 school and community sites throughout the country.
But, how are they any different from other school lunch programs? Revolution Foods is engaging with kids at every step of the development process to develop menu items they’ll love and actually eat. Knowing our kids, this could be a game-changer. In addition, Revolution Foods’ chefs craft culturally and regionally relevant menus to deliver great-tasting meals that help to broaden kids’ palates. All the meals are well-balanced and exceed nutrition guidelines, and the company partners with local, regional, and national vendors to source high-quality ingredients that meet their clean label standards.
Beyond the lunch line, Revolution Foods brings nutrition curriculum, cooking classes, gardening lessons, and other educational events to students in partnership with community partners, including FoodCorps and Share Our Strength. These are important lessons that teach kids about the importance of eating healthy foods and how to appreciate those healthy habits for the rest of their lives.
We all want our kids to grow up and live healthy lives. But when we step back to think on a larger scale, it’s a goal we should hold for all children, not just our own. Supporting a company like Revolution Foods can help do just that.
What Can I Do At Home To Promote Healthy Eating?
The foundation for nutrition and healthy eating often starts at home and should be a priority for all families. When it comes to teaching healthy eating habits, there are many to encourage your kids to eat well-rounded lunches.
Check if programs like Revolution Foods are available in your area, and encourage your school, community site or early childhood program to incorporate a meal delivery service partner with a school meal provider that is both healthy AND kid-friendly.
We spoke with Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., best-selling cookbook author and Revolution Foods nutrition partner, to get the details on how to pack healthy lunches and instilling healthy eating habits within your own family.
Learn What Should be in Your Child’s Lunch
“All lunches should be balanced with at least three of the following food groups: fruits, vegetables, lean protein, grain, and dairy in order to ensure a well-balanced meal,” notes Amidor. And, since kids eat with their eyes first, meals should be colorful and eye-appealing. Neatness counts, here. “Easy to grab foods are also important for smaller fingers,” Amidor continues.
Her favorite go-to options?
“The first is hard-boiled eggs with cheese slices, grapes, and carrots with ranch dressing for dipping. Eggs are an easy-to-eat protein balanced with dairy. Kids love dipping, and ranch is the perfect dipping sauce for carrots,” explains Amidor. And who doesn’t love grapes or cheese?
Chicken and cheese quesadillas are also a winner. “Pair with salsa, black beans on the side, and a side of strawberries,” says Amidor. Quesadillas are easy to eat for tiny hands and the black beans are an easy-to-grab and nutritious food. “More importantly, black beans also provide fiber,” notes Amidor, “which most kids to do not get enough of.”
“Sunflower butter and jam sandwiches are a kid-friendly favorite that is also allergy-friendly for schools,” says Amidor. Pack the sandwich with a side of veggies, like sliced red pepper for a punch of vitamin C, and drinkable yogurt for protein and calcium.
All lunches should be balanced with at least three of the following food groups: fruits, vegetables, lean protein, grain, and dairy in order to ensure a well-balanced meal.
Teach Your Kids to Balance a Plate
According to USDA’s MyPlate, about half of your plate should be filled with fruit and vegetables, one-quarter with grains, and one-quarter with lean protein. A dairy product, such as a glass of milk, should be served on the side. “Try to have your kids point out how their plate is set up and discuss how it can be improved to be more balanced,” suggests Amidor. “If their plate is lacking veggies, remind them to add more to their next meal or snack.”
Having your kids serve themselves and plate their own meals can go a long way in learning balance and portion-control – both of which plague most adults. Sectioned plates (we love these) are great in helping young kids portion their food into appropriate amounts.
Include Your Kids in the Kitchen
“Involve your kids in the kitchen early on so that they can learn about food and establish an interest in what they eat,” recommends Amidor. “I started to teach my kids to cook when they were young,” she says. Whether it’s opening packages, mixing, measuring, there is value in it all. And, it is a great way to get kids excited about their meals and open their minds to trying and exploring new foods.
The self-sufficiency they develop from learning to cook is a skill that they will hold with them for the rest of their lives. Building a love for a variety of healthy and nutritious foods is one that will ebb and flow as they grow and go through phases, and it is one that takes time to develop. But if you value nutrition, cooking, and healthy eating in your home, there is a good chance your kids will learn to, too.
Talk About It
We often dumb things down for kids, not realizing that a little more information can go a long way in helping them understand the rationale behind things like healthy eating. Why are vegetables so important? What can healthy foods do for your body, brain, abilities? Why do we need to drink a good amount of water? Where does food come from? How does it grow? How can it help us grow? The more you talk about the impact of healthy eating and how bodies work, the more your children will involve themselves in the process.
There’s a ton of resources available if you need help with how to talk to your kids about keeping their bodies healthy and strong. Check out your local library for books on healthy eating for every age group. Or, look for an episode of your child’s favorite show that focuses on healthy eating and trying new foods – Daniel Tiger, Sesame Street, Story Bots, Arthur, The Magic School Bus, and The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That! all have relevant episodes.
The more you talk about the impact of healthy eating and how bodies work, the more your children will involve themselves in the process.
For more tips on teaching your kids how to love nutritious foods, check out the Revolution Foods blog, too!
This post was in partnership with Revolution Foods, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board.