For Better Living: Time for School Lunches

By: Sandra Cain - Bladen County Cooperative Extension

Summer has flown by and students have already started back to school. Buying lunch at school may be the first time your child gets to make decisions about which foods he or she will eat. The good news is that school lunches have improved over the years, both in taste and nutrition. School lunches meet the standards for protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron. Most schools also have made an effort to serve better dishes, such as grilled chicken sandwiches and salads.

Use school lunches as a chance to steer your child toward good choices. Especially with younger kids, start by explaining how a nutritious lunch will give them the energy to finish the rest of the school day and enjoy after-school activities. Here are some other steps to take to help them make healthy choices:

— Look over the school lunch menu with your child. Ask what a typical lunch includes and which meals he or she particularly likes. Recommend items that are healthier, but be willing to allow your child to buy favorite lunch items occasionally, even if that includes a hot dog.

— Ask about foods like chips, soda, and ice cream. Find out if and when these foods are available at school.

Healthier Alternatives

Encourage your child to choose cafeteria meals that include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, such as wheat bread instead of white. Also, choose milk or water to drink.

If you’re helping your child pack a lunch, start by brainstorming foods and snacks that he or she would like to eat. In addition to old standbys, such as peanut butter and jelly, try pitas or wrap sandwiches stuffed with grilled chicken or veggies. Try soups and salads, if your child is willing, and don’t forget last night’s leftovers as an easy lunchbox filler.

“Eat Smart Move More North Carolina,” is a statewide initiative that promotes increased opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating through policy and environmental change. The “Eat Smart” Web site ( is loaded with resources and handy tips for parents to guide their children toward healthy eating.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension and two other partners in the “Eat Smart” initiative – the Departments of Public Health and Public Instruction – published a report, “Eat Smart, North Carolina’s Standards for all Foods Available in School.” Available on the “Eat Smart” Web site, the standards suggest that parents should encourage their children to eat school lunches — not a la carte selections — because the meals are nutrient rich and served in age-appropriate portions.

The school food standards also encourage parents to teach their children about appropriate portion sizes. Children are surrounded daily by ads for unhealthy food. It has become the norm to consume fast food, meals away from home and sugar-sweetened beverages in large portion sizes. Couple that with limited physical activity, and you have a recipe for unhealthy weight.

For more information, including tip sheets and other resources, please visit

Source: and North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Italian Chicken Wraps

1 package (16 ounces) frozen stir-fry vegetable blend

2 packages (6 ounces each) ready-to-serve grilled chicken breast strips

½ cup fat-free Italian salad dressing

3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

6 flour tortillas (8 inches), warmed

In a saucepan, cook vegetables according to package directions. Drain. Stir in the chicken, salad dressing and cheese. Simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes or until heated through. Spoon about 3/4 cup down the center of each tortilla. Roll up tightly. Yield: 6 servings

Hawaiian Ham Salad Pockets

1 ¼ cups cubed lean ham, fully cooked

¾ cup unsweetened pineapple tidbits, drained

1 large carrot, chopped

¼ cup fat-free mayonnaise

1 tablespoon honey mustard

2 pita breads (6 inches), halved

4 lettuce leaves

In a small bowl, combine the ham, pineapple and carrot. Stir in the mayonnaise and mustard until blended. Line each pita half with a lettuce leaf. Fill with ham salad. Yield: 4 servings

Sandra Cain can be reached by calling 910-862-4591.

Sandra Cain

Bladen County Cooperative Extension