In the nearly twenty years of eating lunch with children, I've seen a lot of meals. One year I had a child who would only eat spaghetti O's and gatorade. By the end of the year we had managed to introduce him to actual vegetables. Another child brought curry that was too spicy even for the teachers, but smelled amazing. He happily ate it with gusto.
Nutrition for children is one of the subjects most of us pore over when our children are small. As they grow and get more active, we tend to fall into the routine of what works, and what we'll try later. Children have favorites that are in heavy, sometimes exclusive rotation, partially because children like routine. For many children, these favorites tend toward snack type, carbohydrate heavy finger foods that are portable. As your child begins school you get a new opportunity to influence what they eat, lunch time.
Unlike at home, where they know where the snacks are and can be horribly persistent about getting them, school lunches are a set quantity. What they bring is what they have. This is a wonderful chance to go heavy on the produce, limit snacks, and really make sure they have a nutritious meal. You can even introduce a few new things. We've heard many times that children will eat things at school that they refuse at home. So how can you make the most of school lunches?
First, review nutrition guidelines and serving sizes for children. Second, get your child involved. Have them shop with you and choose fruits, veggies, and meat for their lunches. They can, and should also help pack their lunches. Finally, skip the snacks and treats. Kids don't need them. They will eat more healthy foods if there are fewer fruit snacks and crackers to choose from. Make this meal the most nutrition packed one you can. Take a look at the lunch before it gets sent. Are their multiple choices for breads and grains but only one choice for fruit, and one for vegetables. Flip flop it! A sandwich made with two slices of bread is 4 servings of grains. That is half the recommended amount for preschool age children for the day! Let them fill up on vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and dairy instead.
And lastly, take a hard look at the sugar pouring into those little bodies every day. Most child geared foods like yogurt, fruit snacks, lunch kits, and drinks are loaded with extra sugar. Kids do not need sugar to make their food palatable. It's a slick marketing tool. The current guidelines from the AAP is that children over age 2 consume no more than 6 added teaspoons of sugar daily. The average child consumes 19!!
So keep it simple. Start with lean protein, add in vegetables, fruit, and finish with complex carbs. Skip the juice. Your kids will eat, and it sets them up for healthy habits for the rest of their lives.