June 17, 2024

8 Simple Steps to Fill the Nutritional Void of School Lunches By Dr. Kent Sasse

Remember when you went to middle school, and the choices you encountered in the hot lunch line? I still can clearly recall the tater tots and fish sticks as well as a gallon jar of oily peanut butter! Sure, there might have been an apple as well, but the point is when kids are faced with unhealthy options they will gravitate towards them. The school lunch has received attention recently for nutritional void- truth is the hot lunches we dealt with when we were kids are confronting our kids now.

Here are 8 simple steps to fill the nutritional void from school lunches.

Step 1: Take time to pack your kids lunch with them, either the night before or the morning of school. Parents directly influence meal choices their kids make; packing a lunch at home is the best way to prevent poor choices. Understandably, preparing a lunch is inconvenient in what can be a chaotic time of day; sending money in place of a lunchbox is much more conducive. But, first and foremost this is more than just lunch. We are “teaching and educating” kids on how much and what to eat.

Step 2: Completely remove soda and juice boxes. Sodas are responsible for the most extra calories in today’s diets (12 ounces has about 150 calories). If it is carbonation kids crave, introduce flavored sparkling waters that are infused with natural flavors. Try a brand that doesn’t add artificial sugars. Even the tradition milk, or chocolate milk, is a healthier option, packing vitamins and protein.

Step 3: Replace the mayonnaise with mustard. Trade the high fat and cholesterol condiment for the flavorful yellow alternative. French’s classic mustard boasts zero fat and zero cholesterol, and a little mustard goes a long way on sandwiches.

Step 4: Pack lean protein lunch meats. Sure, hotdogs and bologna are a favorite of kids, and adults, but the high sodium and high fat meats pack little to no protein. Protein is an important component in a child’s growing body, from rebuilding muscles to supplying the necessary antibodies to fight off diseases. Think grilled chicken breast, lean turkey or tuna salad as a lunch alternative.

Step 5: Fruit with yogurt is a sweet alternative to store bought dessert. Forget the three C’s: cookies, cake, and candy, it is just as easy to pack an apple or banana. Get creative with a homemade parfait by adding yogurt and granola to the mix. 

Step 6: Replace potato chips with something healthy and crunchy. With high sodium, fat and calories, it is difficult to see any redeeming quality to serving chips on a regular basis. Give vegetables a chance to replace the fun and crunchy aspect of chips. Fill celery sticks with almond butter (a great alternative to peanut butter), or pack snap peas and carrots with a side of hummus.

Step 7: Forget the white bread and go for whole wheat bread and pita. White bread has been under scrutiny for years, slowly being replaced by whole wheat options. Whole wheat grains are linked to lower risk of health problems, like diabetes. 100% whole wheat bread or whole wheat pitas are great for sandwiches and provide the necessary grains.

Step 8: Put something fun in your kid’s lunch every day. After all these steps, it may seem like your child may not enjoy their lunch as much as before, but that is why this step is important. A little something special, like a Jello cup or fruit roll up can make a lunch something to look forward to…and hopefully not trade with other kids.

Dr. Sasse founded Western Bariatric Institute and iMetabolic. He is also the author of numerous books and a featured speaker nationally in the field of weight loss.