By Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist
When I pack my 3rd grader’s lunchbox I try to keep his daily school schedule in mind… with only 35 minutes to walk to the cafeteria, eat, walk to the playground and have time to play at recess I have to really make the most out of each bite. I’ve begun packing fewer items since he doesn’t have time to eat most of them. With fewer foods to choose from it’s easier to ensure that each bite is nutrient dense to fuel the rest of his day.
Besides packing lunch, I always pack a BPA free, reusable water bottle – actually two. One goes inside the lunchbox and the other on the outer pocket of his backpack for sipping during the day and at morning snack time.
After interviewing dozens of children of all school ages, in a variety of school systems – urban public (Boston), affluent suburban public (our town of Wellesley), private (big name, expensive schools around Boston!) I am shocked to report that none offer water as a beverage choice in the cafeteria lunch line. The options are: white, low fat cow milk, chocolate low fat cow milk and juice (sadly not the kind from your juicer!).
Luckily, laws are beginning to change in some states. While some districts are within the law if they provide a water fountain inside the cafeteria, we all know this is not truly a practical option for students. With such a short amount of time to eat, it’s very unrealistic for a child to get up repeatedly during lunch to visit the water fountain to drink. Many also feel the fountain isn’t clean or students will say “gross” and therefore is underutilized. In California, it is state law as of 2010 to offer water when food is served to students, but the logistics of how, where and the enforcement of the law is a real challenge.
Offering water as a beverage choice in Massachusetts and across the US has become a personal campaign I feel strongly about changing in our school systems. I’d love to hear your support and ideas for making water a viable choice for our kids!!!
2. Fresh Fruit
Bright fresh fruit in season is a welcome sweet treat in your child’s lunch box. Try whole fruit like an apple, pear or plum that you’ve already washed, or cut up strawberries, melon or add some grapes to a small container inside the lunchbox.
3. Brightly Colored Veggies
Veggies help fuel your child with plant power! Full of mental focus boosting nutrients, fiber and lots of crunch, veggies can be a simple yet possibly the most important addition to the lunchbox. Try cutting up carrot sticks, celery, peppers, cucumber, cauliflower or broccoli florets. If your child likes, add a small container of their favorite healthy dip.
4. Thermos for Leftovers (don’t forget a fork or spoon)
Leftovers can be a protein packed, warm, healthy quick choice for the lunchbox main dish. I like to pack up leftovers for lunch the night before when I’m cleaning up from dinner to save time in the morning when it’s always a hectic rush to get everyone out the door on time. Check out some tasty meal ideas like soups and stews that taste great the next day.
5. Fun snacks.
Whether it’s a smart sweet or after school snack (which are perfect any time of day!), your child can enjoy these kid-approved fun treats that you’ll feel good about sending.