With a flu season all upon us, one thing you can do for your children is pack a healthy lunch for them so they keep their immune system up. More and more parents are beginning to realize that children may not be getting the best nutrition from school lunches, and pre-packaged lunch foods.
School lunches are dubious at best. You would think it would be a simple matter to simply provide nutritious and healthy food for children, but you would be wrong. The USDA should be able to procure wholesome foods to be served in the over 90,000 American public schools, but instead, they are mired down in politics and a bureaucratic nightmare. For instance, when the USDA was going to recommend that children eat less meat, the Cattlemen’s Associations, and Meat Producer PACs (Political Action Committees) pitched a fit, and through lobbying, was able to make them not only reverse the decision, but to include even more meats in the school lunch programs. Food producers have a vested interest in keeping their products in the programs. They have also allowed some questionable practices, such as the inclusion of Pink Slime (meat trimmings, heavily processed) into school lunches. There are no guidelines as to nutritional requirements, and school lunches can be heavy in fats, sugars, salt and other undesirable chemicals like MSG. So, school lunches are out for a healthy lunch choice.
What about sack lunches? Aren’t the traditional lean lunch meats a good choice? Well, yes, and no. The nutritional content of lunch meats vary by type. And, unless you have a grain grinder, and bake all of your bread yourself, from freshly-ground wheat, commercial breads are horrible, and commercial Whole Wheat bread is nothing of a kind. It is just commercial white bread with a tiny bit of wheat germ added back in with some brown food coloring. They remove over 80 nutrients, and ‘enrich’ it with 14. The math just isn’t there. As far as lunch meats go, lean turkey is a great choice. Lean roast beef, and lean ham are next on the list. Tuna fish by itself would be good, but tuna salad has a lot of mayonnaise (a lot of fat). Bologna is probably the worst, because it has a much higher fat content. When you add lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, etc…you balance the nutritional values out nicely. Avoid cheese if you can, and stay away from potato chips (waaaay too much salt), and sweets such as Little Debbies, Hostess Cupcakes, Ding Dongs, etc…. The last thing your kids need is more sugar.
The really hard part is coming up with healthy food that your children will actually eat. I doubt if it comes as a shock to any parent, but the majority of children will select a cookie over a piece of fruit, any time. And candy…well, that’s a no-brainer. One way to get your children to actually eat what you prepare is to get creative. Instead of a boring ham sandwich, make a ham roll-up with a flour tortilla. Make sandwiches with pita bread. You can roll ham and some veggies up in dough, and bake them to make your own Hot Pocket-type foods.
All children are different, and no one rule will work for everyone. But here are my guidelines to help you find that perfect combination of fun and nutrition that your kids will love:
- Keep Things Fun – Children like to stack, assemble, and dunk things. Sending the sandwich ingredients separate, so they can build their own sandwich makes a difference. Also, you can send things like veggies and dip sauce, peanut butter and crackers, fruits with dipping sauce, etc…
- Don’t be afraid to get creative –Try cutting sandwiches in triangles, or even circles. Make small finger sandwiches. Include canned tuna with neat-shaped crackers. Roll lunch meat up in tortillas. Wrap ham and low-fat cheese up in pastry dough and bake it the day before. Cut boiled eggs into fun shapes. Or better yet, color them. You can take a soft-boiled egg, crack the shell lightly, then put it in a pot of boiling tea, especially black tea, and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. This will give the egg a scaly, crackled appearance when peeled, and you can call it a dinosaur egg. Use your imagination.
- Keep everything cold –especially anything with eggs or mayonnaise. The best way to do this is to freeze a container of fruit juice, and place it in the lunchbox. By lunch time, your child will have a great fruit slushy to drink with the food, and they won’t have to bring home any ice-packs. Again, be creative….
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible –leave the heavily salted potato chips, and ultra-sugared pastries on the shelf. Consider getting a grain mill and mandolin-slicer. It’s not that hard to grind fresh wheat and learn to bake real bread, and with a mandolin slicer, making fresh potato chips at home is a snap, with greatly reduced salt. You can also bake them to make them even healthier. Try sending your child to school with some great cold pasta salads, especially with tuna and chicken. But be sure to either make your own pasta, or get whole grain pastas. Use the fun shapes like shells, and bow-ties.
There is really no reason why your child’s lunch can’t be fun, as well as healthy. With a little planning, you can make lunch be the best part of your child’s school day.