Lunchtime is a "hot" topic recently, especially as Jamie Oliver's show "Food Revolution" returns to network television on ABC and one school features prominently in the news for banning packed lunches. What exactly can parents do to ensure that their children are eating healthy lunches at school ?
Pack 'em up. Do you have concerns about your school lunches? While one school features prominently in the news as denying parents the right to pack lunches, there are very few others, if any, that actually will not let your child eat a lunch packed from home. I admit in my school district there is a "zero" tolerance level for "junk" food; so items like cookies, snack cakes, and pop will be removed from a child's lunch or snack, but in the majority of school districts parents are permitted, if not encouraged, to pack healthy and nutritious lunches for their children.
Take advantage of technology. Our school district offers an online interface system where you can designate several of your preferences about the school district's food. In our district it is associated with Edline. Parents simply log in and can add money to the account, check its balance and what exactly the money has been spent on. You can even refuse to permit your child to purchase certain items, making sure they don't eat too many chips, ice cream or "slushies." Find out if this program or a similar one is available to you and use it to "block" those foods that are not healthy or that you choose to monitor how much and when they eat them.
Teach your children to make good choices. After finding out that one day my daughter ate an "Icee," chips and an ice cream sandwich for lunch, we had to have a mommy-daughter talk about which foods are healthy and can help you grow and which foods can't. If your child will be buying lunch, look at the menu and review the choices to help them know and remember which ones are the best to use each day.
Involve your children. I have had much better results with the children eating packed lunches and making good choices with the occasional school lunches since they have become involved. Review the lunch menu with your child each week and discuss which items would be good choices to keep them healthy. Choose and mark a limited number of days that they can buy their lunch. At the grocery store and farmer's market, provide your children with the opportunity to choose some items on their own. Teach your children while shopping and packing about which foods are healthy and tell them why they need certain types of food in each meal. Involve your children in packing, providing them with a choice of this fruit or this fruit, this food or that to help them make healthy choices and learn to pack their own lunches. Whether your child is making choices for a school lunch or dining out they are always more likely to eat their food if you limit the choices, but leave the final "answer" up to them.
Set the example. Do you eat fruits, vegetables and all the required portions? Do you overeat or indulge? Take the time to set the example for the children at the table by using manners, eating slowly, eliminating books, television time, and smart phones from the dinner table discussions and including plenty of the four major food groups.
The best results for teaching your children to eat healthy occur when they become involved. It may seem a small thing but including them in the grocery shopping and in the lunch preparation not only teaches them valuable life skills but empowers them to make choices for the future regarding their health and nutrition.
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