Children in the early elementary years can be quite overwhelmed by the sometimes lack of structure encountered in the cafeteria lunchroom. Getting through the lunch or milk line, finding a place to sit, getting packages opened and staying focused on eating lunch can be a big challenge for small ones. Rehydrating and eating a healthy amount before heading out to the playground is an important step towards successfully making it through the second half of the day in addition to providing the necessary nutrition that a young body needs for growth. Compound this with getting snow gear on and off in the winter months and you’ve pretty much challenged even some third graders.
Three successful lunch strategies for schools:
- Send kids out to the playground before they eat. They are hungrier and better able to focus on eating when play is first, lunch is second.
- Make kids stay seated for a full 25 minutes. This way the kids who “eat the good stuff first” are inclined to eat more of the other options the longer they are seated. Unfortunately there are no national standards for school lunch period length. January 2016 research published in the J. of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics demonstrated that students who had <20 minutes to eat consumed ~13% less of their entree, 35% less vegetables and 63% less milk.
- Promote good manners, socialization and a relaxing environment. Discourage phones and electronics at the table so the children are mindful of their meal and engaged with each other. Excuse everyone at the same time, after the tables have been cleaned and cleared and the students show by good behavior that they are ready to be dismissed.
Healthy lunch strategies for parents:
Pack fun lunch box ideas beyond the traditional triangle sandwich that can make lunch more enticing. Invite your children to mash, mix, roll and skewer.
Boil 6 eggs, cool, shell, half and remove yolks and mash with ¼ cup Greek yogurt.
- Traditional – Add ¼ tsp. dried chives + ¼ tsp. ground mustard powder + 1/8 tsp. dill + 1/8 tsp. salt + 1/8 tsp. paprika. Dash tops with additional paprika.
- Guacamole Style – Add 1 avocado + 1 ½ Tbsp. Cilantro + 1 ½ Tbsp. minced green onion + 1 tsp. lime juice + ¼ tsp. ground mustard powder.
- Bacon and Cheddar – Add + 2 slices, diced bacon + ¼ cup shredded cheddar.
- Tuna Salad – Add ¼ cup tuna (drained/flaked) + 1/8 cup diced celery + 1/8 cup diced onion + 1 tsp. dijon mustard + 1 tsp. pickle relish.
Kabobed or Rolled
Select a bread that has 3 or more grams of fiber per slice.
Purchase pretzel sticks for skewers or 4-6 inch wooden skewers
- Cut bread into 4 squares. Kabob bread, leaf lettuce, string cheese, rolled ham, tomato, cheddar cheese and bread.
- Rolled turkey, cheese cube x 3. Serve with a side of flat pretzels.
- Cut bread into 4 squares. Bacon, lettuce, tomato x 3
- Make a traditional PB & J, cut off crust and quarter. Alternate kabob with banana slices that have been dipped in apple or orange juice to prevent browning.
Balance out the lunch box with:
- Baby carrots
- Rolls of zucchini, carrots or cucumber
- Skewers of grapes, melon or berries
- ¼ cup dried banana or apple chips.
- ¼ cup make your own trail mix
- Sliced apples dipped in juice to prevent browning.
- A dessert or chips (not both) of their choice.
Keep it cold by freezing a water bottle. Avoid soda, sports drinks, sweet teas and the oversized 20 oz containers of juice. Research shows that kids who regularly consume sugary drinks have higher triglyceride levels and may result in undesirable weight gain and tooth decay.