Posts Tagged ‘ school lunch ’

Why I’m Okay With Chocolate Milk

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

There are few issues as hot-button as chocolate milk when it comes to school food. Kids love it. But some parents don’t—and those who don’t REALLY don’t. In fact, some have petitioned to have flavored milk removed from their children’s school completely.

As a parent (and a registered dietitian), I understand the concerns about flavored milk, namely the extra sugar it provides. But I just don’t think it deserves its bad reputation. Though I get fired up about birthday cupcakes in the classroom and candy valentines, I’m actually okay with chocolate milk in the lunch line. Here’s why:

1. The sugar content is greatly exaggerated. About half of the sugar in flavored milk is natural milk sugar. I cringe when I see people comparing a carton of chocolate milk (about three teaspoons of added sugar in a standard school milk carton) to a can of soda (almost 10 teaspoons of added sugar in a standard can) because it’s simply not accurate. And if we’re going to get outraged about the added sugar in chocolate milk, we should also get outraged about the added sugar in lunchbox staples like fruit snacks (2.5 teaspoons of added sugar), granola bars (2 teaspoons), and juice pouches (4 teaspoons)—but for some reason, those often get a pass as being “healthy”. (Ideally, kids should have no more than 5-8 teaspoons of added sugar per day.)

2. It’s loaded with nutrients kids need. Those comparisons between chocolate milk and soda? Hardly. While soda is a nearly void of nutrients (besides carbohydrates from sugar), a carton of flavored milk has all the same nutrients as white milk, including calcium, vitamin D, protein, and potassium.

3. There are bigger fish to fry. The lunch menu at my child’s school is dominated by chicken patties, hot dogs, and pizza that arrive at the school in plastic-covered trays. I would love to see fresher, healthier foods in schools—and I’d much rather have my child wash down a healthy whole-foods-based lunch with chocolate milk than eat a breaded chicken patty sandwich out of a plastic bag with a carton of white milk.

But balance is also important. So if your child’s school serves flavored milk, here’s my advice:

  • Talk to your kids about the sugar in flavored milk. Make sure they understand that foods and drinks with extra sugar should be a much smaller part of their diet than unsweetened foods—even if that sugar is in otherwise wholesome foods and drinks like milk. So if they’re choosing flavored milk in the lunch line, don’t pack a sweet treat in their lunchboxes.
  • Be sure your child has lots of access to water at school meals too. Pack a water bottle in their lunch bag or talk to the school about making water more available at lunchtime.
  • Stock white milk at home and limit other sweet drinks like juice, sports drinks, and punches. Sugar in beverages can add up quickly.

What’s YOUR opinion about chocolate milk in schools?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. She is the author ofCooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk
Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk
Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk

Image: Glass of chocolate milk via Shutterstock

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6 Ways to Simplify School Lunch—Without Packaged Foods

Friday, August 29th, 2014

This is a guest post by Laura Fuentes, mom of three, author of The Best Homemade Kids’ Lunches on the Planet and founder of MOMables, where she helps parents make fresh school lunches and meals their kids will love. You can get a free week of the MOMables meal plan here.  

Do you want to know the secrets that make packing lunch a breeze? Prepping healthy school lunches that your kids will love is easier than you think! Plus, you don’t have to spend a lot of time cutting food into works of art for kids to find it appealing; most kids like simplicity and appreciate variety.

Here are six of my favorite tips to simplify the lunch-packing process without relying on packaged foods:

1. Plan ahead. Mapping out a weekly meal plan that includes lunches is the ultimate time saver. It’s simple to pull out the ingredients and assemble them when you already know what to make!

2. Repurpose leftovers.  If you want to pack a variety of healthy school lunches, you’ll have to make the most of your family meals by utilizing leftovers in new ways. Variety, in my book, means thinking beyond the sandwich. Repurposing leftovers into something delicious is simple when you have a plan. Have pasta Monday night for dinner? Boil extra and make a pasta lunch on Wednesday. It’s really that easy.

3. Pack before you clean up from dinner. Does your kitchen look like a tornado just swept through after dinner? Mine does! Before I begin to put away leftovers and clean up the disaster zone, I look around and see what I can immediately transform into tomorrow’s school lunch. Leftover rotisserie chicken can be transformed into a quesadilla. In the morning, all I have to do is grill it and pack it inside a lunchbox.

4. Pack lunches assembly-line style. Henry Ford would be very proud of my lunch-packing skills. All I have to do is line up my family’s lunch containers, fill them, and close up! When you focus on a single task at a time, the entire lunch-packing process goes a lot quicker. I highly recommend reusable containers. They are easy to pack and better for the environment than the waste created by disposable baggies. One reusable container can replace the need for 4-6 disposable baggies each day.

5. Prep your fruits and veggies ahead of time. Did you know you can keep apples from browning in the lunchbox and that your berries can last up to a week in your fridge? Slicing and dicing fresh vegetables can seem time consuming when you’re trying to hurry and pack lunches during your late nights or rushed mornings. A great time to prep them is when you get home from the grocery store.

6. Bring variety back. When the kids aren’t complaining about the contents of their lunchboxes, it’s easy to fall into a sandwich rut. But remember that lunch is an important meal of the day, making for about one-third of the food our children consume! So on the nutrition front, it pays to keep things fresh. Some ways I add variety is by switching up the main meal option. One day I send a sandwich, followed by mini quiches, a thermos lunch consisting of dinner leftovers, a wrap, and finally homemade pita pizzas.

As you can see, making food that your kids will love doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s about using the best ingredients available, switching up meal ideas from time to time, and doing our best. In the end, homemade lunches do make for happier meals.

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids

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School Lunches: Better Brown Bag Bets

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Do you send your kids to school with a brown bag lunch, thinking it’s a more nutritious option than what they’ll otherwise find at school? You might be surprised to find out that might not be the case.

A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (JAND) found that among 626 elementary schoolchildren, nearly half brought lunch from home to school on any given day. The most common lunch foods included sandwiches, snack foods, fruit, and desserts. Leftovers, dairy foods, and vegetables were also included, though to a lesser extent.

Of the lunches children brought from home to school, only about one in four met at least three of five National School Lunch Program standards. And that means most fell short of the standards created back in 2012.

Researchers also found that while 97%—or just about all the lunches brought from home to school—included a snack, only about 4% of snacks met at least two of four Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) requirements.

According to the researchers, previous studies suggest that children who bring lunch from home consume less produce, consume more calories and less fiber, and are more likely to consume sugar sweetened beverages and snacks high in added sugars and fats while at school compared with children who rely on the NSLP for lunch. Studies also suggest that those who eat school lunch are also more likely to consume milk, fruit, and vegetables during lunch than those who brown bag it.

My children go to a school that requires them to eat lunches that are provided by their school. But when they were younger, I used to love to send them lunch—not in a brown bag, but in an insulated lunch bag with ice to keep it at a safe temperature until lunchtime rolled around. If you are able and choose to send your child to school with their lunch in hand, below you’ll find some great ideas from top registered dietitian nutritionists. These lunches provide a balance of nutrients to meet their needs for growth, development, and sustained energy—and a side of deliciousness—so that they’re less likely to make a trade!

From Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RDN, CDE

Mango-Orange Smoothie made with 1.5 cups frozen mango, 1/2 cup coconut milk, and 1/2 cup orange juice; string cheese; and a 100% whole wheat cracker-wafer.

My third grader doesn’t have much time to eat at school. Drinking her fruit ensures that she has time to fuel up and helps boost her fiber intake, which is so important for kids. I include string cheese to give her some protein, and a whole wheat cracker-wafer that is 100% whole grain made with healthy fats for sustained energy and no added sugars.

Whole wheat flat bread with pesto and shredded melted mozzarella plus a smoothie.

My daughter eats the flat bread with pesto and mozzarella cold. Sometimes we even add a few olives or artichokes to our homemade pesto. I vary the smoothies by color, sometimes adding frozen blueberries, fresh kiwi, pineapple and a little parsley, baby spinach leaves or kale. This is a good, balanced lunch that packs in plenty of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

From Holley Grainger, MS, RD:

One small whole wheat flour tortilla spread with seed or nut butter, topped with sliced banana, rolled up and cut into spirals; plain Greek yogurt with mashed blueberries stirred in; carrot and red bell pepper sticks with hummus; and a glass of nonfat milk or water.

My three-year-old daughter’s lunches vary day-to-day but always follow the same simple formula to keep her meals interesting while exposing her to a broad range of foods for a balance of nutrients and flavors. The breakdown is simple, and includes at least one food from each of the five food groups listed below with examples for each:

lean protein: grilled chicken, low-sodium turkey, sliced pork tenderloin

vegetables: green beans, red bell pepper strips, or carrots

fruit: pineapple, apple slices, banana, mandarin orange segments, or berries

dairy: milk, yogurt or cheese

whole grains: popcorn, whole wheat pretzels, whole wheat flour tortilla

From Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN, author of Fearless Feeding:

A sandwich with hummus or turkey, leftover mixed salad (or shredded carrots, purple cabbage and lettuce) on a whole grain wrap/tortilla or bread; a large serving of fruit; a small packet of nuts and dark chocolate (trader Joe’s); and a large water bottle.

The sandwich wrap is easy to make, utilizes my dinner leftovers and highlights a good protein source, whole grain and vegetables. In one meal, I am able to hit most of the food groups: protein, grain, fruit, vegetables and healthy fat. Since my girls (ages 12-17) are athletes, they usually eat the nut/dark chocolate mix before practice and I send in a separate chocolate milk box (dairy) for after practice.

From Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen:

Brown rice vegetable rolls, an apple, and low fat milk.

I like to buy vegetable rolls for my daughters, ages nine and seven, to bring to school about twice a month. This helps break the boredom of everyday sandwiches. The brown rice provides fiber, the apple has vitamin C and the antioxidant beta-carotene. The low fat milk provides nine essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and protein.

What’s your favorite lunch to send with your kids to school?

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids

Image of school lunch via shutterstock.

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Should Kids Eat a Vegetarian School Lunch?

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

How would you feel if your child’s school swapped out meat and fish in favor of tofu, beans and other plant foods? According to a recent article on, P.S. 244 in Queens, New York recently became the first public elementary school in New York City—and perhaps in the nation—to provide all-vegetarian lunchtime fare.

When I initially heard about this, I asked myself a few questions. Would the children feel that they were being force fed a vegetarian-only menu? Would the move send a message to the school’s faculty, students and parents that going meat-free was necessary to optimize the health and wellbeing of the students?

I’m all for improving the quality of school lunches. For some students, school lunches may be their best, most complete meals of the week. And for all students, having regular access to foods and meals that are palatable and presented in an appealing way is key. Not only does it make children willing—even excited—to eat, but it provides them with key nutrients. Being well nourished helps children perform optimally whether they’re taking a test, learning a new lesson or participating in gym class or in after-school sport or activity.

As a registered dietitian and nutritionist—and one who applauds the Meatless Monday campaign and other initiatives that push more plant-based diets—I’m well aware of the many nutritional and health benefits associated with a diet rich in plant foods. Plant-based diets are linked with a reduced risk of several chronic diseases and healthy body weight. Incorporating more vegetables and fruits, grains (especially whole grains), beans and peas, and nuts and seeds provides growing children with protein and fiber as well as an array of vitamins and minerals.

Being offered vegetarian fare only can also expose children to a wide variety of plant foods they might otherwise not know about. Seeing peers (and even faculty) enjoy such meals may also have a ripple effect and inspire some who are reluctant to try such foods. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says supports a well-planned vegetarian diet as a healthful, nutritionally adequate option for children.

Despite the possible health and other perks of going vegetarian, a recent study suggests that a plant-based diet with small intakes of red meat, fish and dairy products can improve health. Including small portions of animal foods that are prepared in healthful, low-fat ways—for example, broiled or grilled lean beef, skinless poultry and baked, unbreaded fish—provides high quality protein and other vital nutrients. Lean beef and poultry boast selenium and several B vitamins, and seafood—especially fatty, oily fish—provides potent omega-3 fatty acids.

While leaving meat, fowl and fish off of school lunch menus everyday is not, in my opinion, a reason to revolt, I think it’s unnecessary. There’s also a risk that children—especially those who are reluctant to try new foods or are ‘picky’ or particular in their taste preferences—perhaps they don’t like beans, tofu or edamame—won’t get enough protein. Having adequate protein at meals can help children fill up faster, stabilize blood sugar levels and support growing muscles.

Choosy children may also be at risk for eating nutritionally-imbalanced meals, especially if they have extra helpings of pasta, rice, bread and fruit because they don’t like or are unwilling to try other foods.

Only time will tell if an all-vegetarian lunch will come to a school near you. For now, I advocate that children should be offered a lunch menu that’s heavy in plant proteins and colorful produce, and lighter in meat, poultry, fish and low fat dairy foods. It’s all about providing a variety of healthfully prepared foods to please different palates.

Would you support an all-vegetarian menu at your child’s school?

Image of students in cafeteria via Shutterstock.



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