Lunch Room Lessons: 6 Tips for Helping Your Child Eat Healthy at School

In my last blog, I talk about the evolution of dining – from eating with the family at the dinner table in the 50’s to eating in the backseat of your mom’s car after going through the drive through window. There’s no doubt about it, American’s eating habits have changed drastically – and so has our waistline.

In the 50s and 60s my dad either brought a bag lunch with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or he ate the school lunch with was also pretty basic, like a hamburger and green beans. Bottom line, food was simple – but not any more.

Pro Choice
Today, it’s all about choices, but kids rarely make healthy food choices. That’s why they have parents. Unfortunately, even if a school serves a set lunch menu, many kids have access to vending machines too. When I was in high school, it was a daily thing for me to grab some chili cheese Fritos and a coke from the vending machines and call that lunch. Schools also have a “salad bar” and many extra options like pizza, hamburgers, french fries and chicken nuggets – and there’s really nothing keeping these kids from just walking away with fries and a coke.

The best way to help your child to eat healthy is to pack your child’s lunch. This way you can choose healthy foods the like, and they are less likely to skip foods they want to avoid like my mom did when she was in school. She said there were some days she didn’t eat anything at all if she didn’t like what the lunch room served. Then she’d save her lunch money from a few days of skipped meals to spend more money on the food she did like when it was available. So, essentially, she was already a yo-yo dieter by her mid teens.

6 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Eating Habits

  1. Pack your child’s lunch together, to help them get in the habit of preparing their food for the day – plus you’ll learn what foods they like and don’t like.
  2. Review the school lunch menu for each week and give your child the choice to eat off the menu or bring something from home.
  3. Ask your child to provide receipts for food purchased, so you can see what they are ordering – especially for teens who go off campus.
  4. Verbally follow up with your child on how they liked their lunch and get feedback on what they ate.
  5. Put a list of “approved” snacks on the refrigerator to help your child create healthier snacking habits.
  6. Continually analyze your children’s eating habits to make adjustments that are healthy, but also keep your child happy. Healthy eating shouldn’t be miserable eating. It’s important your child does not think healthy food is nasty food, so work hard to help them discover healthy foods they really love.

Evolution of School Lunches

Look how the menu has changed – and grown.

1917 – Soup was a regular staple

  • Vegetable Soup
  • Roll
  • Milk or Cocoa

1948 – Peanut Butter was popular in the lunch room

  • Corn
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Pea salad
  • Cookie
  • Milk

1953 – A basic meal could be only 3 items & milk

  • Hamburger on a Bun
  • Potato Chips
  • Prune Cake
  • Milk

1971 – Meals were still simple, but growing

  • Vegetable beef
  • Peanutbutter or ham salad sandwich (EL)
  • Biscuit and butter (SEC)
  • Cole slaw
  • Milk
  • Ice cream

pFIT pFACT: Vending Machines were introduced to schools and kids started drinking less milk and more soda pop.

1985 – Fried Food & Salad Bars were becoming popular

  • Fried chicken
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Applesauce
  • Roll and butter
  • Salad Bar Option
  • Milk or Chocolate Milk

pFIT pFACT: Of the milk served in U.S. schools, 71 percent is flavored.

1990’s – Enters the Freedom of Choice with more choices, salad bars, vending machines, and the option to get more than one item. Here are some popular menu items

  • Cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, spaghetti or Pizza
  • French Fries or Tater Tots
  • Salad Bar (healthy options kids still could skip)
  • Bread or Roll
  • Fruit cobbler
  • Milk
  • Vending Machines with Coke, chips, cookies, crackers and candy
  • Food Bar for high schools with fast food style options

Your Experience

What are your children eating for lunch?
Do you approve of the school lunch menu?
Is it getting better or worse?
How do you manage healthy eating while your children are out of your sight?

Related Topics

Junk foods widely available at elementary schools – USA Today
Schools struggle to serve kids healthy food – CNN
School tells mom her child’s packed lunch was unacceptable – Fox News

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About Bonnie Pfiester

Fitness Columnist and Lifestyle Coach, Resident Trainer for Designer Whey, Fitness Advisor for FitStudio, powered by Sears, FitFluential Ambassador and Owner of Max Fitness Club, home of BCx Boot Camp in Vero Beach, Florida.

Posted on August 15, 2012, in Diet & Nutrition Tips, PFOODIE and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I always packed my daughters’ lunches because they did not really care for the school lunches. I work in a school and our students have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable choices but typically they do not eat very much of it. My problem is the food that is prepared is all pre-packaged or processed.

  1. Pingback: Lunch Room Lessons: 6 Tips for Helping Your Child Eat Healthy at … | Healthier Eating Tips

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