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Healthy School Lunches

September 25, 2013

September brings many things, the changing of season, fall festivals and of course the start of school.

School time traditions often spur back to school shopping and making the decision to pack lunch or buy lunch. Do you remember what you would eat in school? Did you pack your lunch or did you eat the school’s lunch? Yet, often the thought of school lunches gives us reason for pause. In a world of snack machines, fast food and devastating budget cuts to schools, the quality of school lunches can be affected.

Luckily, movements toward healthier school lunches and healthy eating in general have been taking root with thanks in part to local awareness by parents, community connections to food resources and farmer’s markets. Noteworthy is the national Let’s Move movement, Michelle Obama’s campaign to bring awareness to and promote the benefits of healthy eating in order to fight childhood obesity. Right here in Pittsburgh, Phipps has spearheaded Let’s Move Pittsburgh, a model based on Michele Obama’s campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of healthy foods, increased exercise and decreased screen time for children in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region.

healthy lunch kidIn an effort to raise awareness of the importance of preparing and eating meals together, Let’s Move Pittsburgh the 10,000 Tables Pledge, is challenging local families to cook at least one meal from scratch per week. To date, 3,000 families have taken the pledge, and Let’s Move Pittsburgh provides support and recipe ideas through workshops, cooking demonstrations, community events and email newsletters.  These pledges represent a commitment to improving personal eating habits and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  Will you join us and take the pledge?

Also worth checking out is the Food, Family and Farming Foundation or F3, whose mission is to empower schools nationally to serve more nutritious meals.  Lunch Box, a web portal of resources, includes information on connecting local farmers with schools, grant opportunities for schools, curriculum about healthy eating, the Let’s Move salad bar option in schools and healthy recipes.

As with many things in life preparation and habits really set the stage for choices, this is no different with food choices. Growing food at home is a great way to connect children to the fruits and vegetables you want them to eat. The seed to plate practice is a practical and fun way to introduce new foods to children. Involving children in the garden, having them help you to seed, care for, harvest and prepare these meals all have proven to be hugely successful at improving healthy eating and expanding children’s pallets. Children feel more invested in their “project” and want to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Good edible gardening options for families are containers and raised beds, especially since you do not need to have a large yard. Keeping these containers close to the house allows for easy access. Cherry tomatoes, basil, Swiss chard, peppers even carrots are just a few examples of  what can be grown in containers and harvested easily. These fruits and veggies can be nice, fresh additions to a meal or packed lunch.

So whether your child eats school lunches or packed lunches, general tips for guiding your family to healthy eating can be helpful. Just a little advance planning makes it possible to provide a nutrient-packed meal for your child. These tips are provided by Phipps and Let’s Move Pittsburgh:

  • Serve/pack ice water instead of juice to cut down on added sugar.
  • Variety is important, try not to serve/pack the same thing every day.
  • Include at least one fruit and one veggie in every lunch.
  • Skip the salty snacks and chips; they have the potential to create a preference for processed foods.
  • Keep it simple, including too many food items can sometimes have the unwanted effect of making children eat less.
  • Include your child in decisions about what goes into the meal, use fruits and vegetables that you grew or prepared together, if possible.

Great child-friendly recipes can be found here: 

Sandwich Sushi – Flatten 2 slices of bread with a rolling pin. Mix together 3 tablespoons of cream cheese and 1 1/2 tablespoons of sour cream; spread over slices. Lay two carrot and two cucumber matchsticks (6 inches long) at the bottom of each slice, let veggies hang over the edges if desired. Roll up the bread, pressing gently to seal, then cut each roll in four equal pieces.

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