Buying lunch at school may be the first time your child gets to call the shots 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.
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:
— 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.
— Encourage your child to pack a lunch, at least occasionally. If you do it right, this can put you back in the driver’s seat and help you to ensure that your child is getting a nutritious midday meal.
Encourage your child to choose cafeteria meals that include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, such as wheat bread instead of white. Also, avoid fried foods when possible and choose milk or water as a 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 (www.eatsmartmovemorenc.com) 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” website, 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 cues 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 www.eatsmartmovemorenc.com.
Source: www.kidshealth.org North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Brown Bag Bean Burritos
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 cup salsa
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
8 (10-inch) flour tortillas
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Rinse beans in cold water, drain well. Combine beans, salsa, cumin and chili powder in large pan. Cook over medium-high heat for about ten minutes, mashing beans slightly with back of wooden spoon. Stir occasionally, adding a little water if mixture looks too dry.
Spoon bean mixture into tortillas. Top with cheese. Fold each tortilla into an envelope shape, ensuring both ends are tucked in. Eat warm or wrap in plastic to take for lunch.
2 packages (16 ounces each) sourdough pretzel nuggets
1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
1 teaspoon dill weed
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ cup olive or canola oil
Place pretzels in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the dressing mix, oregano, lemon-pepper, dill weed, garlic powder and onion powder. Sprinkle over pretzels. Toss gently to combine. Drizzle with oil. Toss well until coated.
Spread in a 15 inch x 10 inch baking pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Stir and bake 5 minutes longer. Cool completely. Store in airtight containers. Yield: 10 cups
Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-862-4591.