School lunches packed by parents stopped

It seems like the days of parents packing lunches for their kids to take to school are nearly over – the Little Village Academy in Chicago has stepped forward and decided to ban all lunches and snacks provided by parents. The idea behind this is that they feel that parents are not packing healthy lunches, and that the children would benefit more from the schools’ provided lunches.

This affects all of us, even those of use that were very careful and thoughtful on the lunch they were packing for their kids. I even went as far as to get organic popcorn for them. I think maybe what is needed here is some education for parents on how to pack the right lunches. If schools insist on healthy, balanced meals for the kids (which is what should be provided regardless), then offering child-appropriate cooking classes could be offered by school districts.

Here are some ideas for healthy packed lunches for school children:

  • Wraps made with whole wheat tortillas, containing either lean cold cuts or low fat cream cheese topped with veggie slices.
  • Single portions of trail mix made with cereals, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit or raisins.
  • Baby carrots, celery sticks, or apple slices with dips made from yogurt or low fat sour cream.
  • Mini-burritos made with rice and black beans or refried beans in a tortilla with tomato salsa.
  • Drinks made from water with a splash of cranberry, peach, grape, or other fruit juice are healthier than sodas.
  • Whole grain bagels topped with cream cheese spread.
  • Air-popped popcorn.
  • Low fat cheese cubes and seedless grapes.
  • Cold strips of grilled chicken with honey mustard dip.
  • Quesadilla slices made with cheese and chicken or vegetables.
  • Oranges, bananas, peaches – any fruit is also a good addition.
  • Instead of bags of fried chips, baked chips or pretzels are a better choice.
  • Boiled eggs.

Single parents often have a hard time coping with raising their children alone, and having to think about healthy food can often add more pressure to already-busy lives. Focussing on food that can be prepared in advance, like the trail mix, drinks, popcorn and baked chips, will save a lot of precious time.

Getting the kids involved will make them more eager to eat their food. Lay out a weekly schedule, and get the kids to suggest different food for different days, like Meat-free Mondays, Friday Quesadilla Day, etc, or even Pizza Thursday – there are many great wholegrain pizza base recipes available, and the toppings can range from cold meats to vegetables and even salad, if your kids happen to enjoy rocket, basil and pesto.

Another way to get the kids involved, is for them to pack the lunches themselves. Buy bright lunch boxes, with different compartments and space for a fork or spoon. If you have the time, try to mix the colours of the different foods, so that there is always variety and interest when the kids open their lunch boxes.

And if you decide to pack in a packet of chips or a peanut butter sandwich once in a while, is this one small concession really going to stunt their physical and mental growth?