Why My Kids’ School Lunch Is Unhealthy (+ What I’m Doing About It)

Why My Kids’ School Lunch Is Unhealthy (+ What I’m Doing About It)

When my older daughter started school three years ago, another mom in our community who already had kids in the school system gave me a word of caution: wait until you see what they serve for school lunch.

My husband and I had already decided that we would pack lunch from home because no matter what they served in school, we knew it wouldn’t be the healthy, homemade meals she was already eating.

Although I knew it wasn’t likely that the schools were serving roasted salmon and fresh green salads everyday, I never thought it would be as bad as it is.

When I took a look at the school lunch menu I was shocked.

Foods like hot dogs, tater tots and chocolate milk were on the menu every single week.

After the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was passed, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program made some positive changes to their menus like adding more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, limiting the amount of calories and reducing the amount of sodium in meals.

Take a closer look at most school lunch menus however, and I’m sure you’ll find that just because the meals meet certain dietary requirements, the foods that are served are not foods our kids should be eating.

And now that the Trump administration has rolled back the school lunch standards, schools have even more flexibility to serve unhealthy foods that meet a budget but only worsen our kids’ health.

Although I can’t say that my kids’ school has relaxed the Obama-era standards, their menus still fall seriously short.

Here are some reasons why my kids’ school lunch is unhealthy and what I’m trying to do to improve it.

Junk food is served as a “snack”

My kids’ school encourages parents to have lunch with their kids, so from time to time I do.

Last year while I was sitting with my daughter in the cafeteria, one of the cafeteria aids walked up to the front of the room and with mic in hand, announced it was snack time.

“Snack?,” I asked my 5-year-old. It was only 15 minutes into their 30 minute lunch time.

When I hear the word snack, I think about something small that tides my kids over until the next meal and is most certainly something they eat between meals.

Yet what my kids’ school dubs a snack, is actually a junk food treat: chips, ice cream, popsicles crackers and cookies.

One of the foods they sell are Nacho Cheese Doritos.

Sure, it satisfies the National School Lunch Program guidelines because it has whole grains (corn), but it’s processed, made with GMOs and contains artificial ingredients and artificial food dyes.

Take maltodextrin, which has an even higher glycemic index than sugar and evidence suggests it can alter gut bacteria and lead to allergic reactions and food intolerances. This is definitely not something our kids should be eating, especially during the school day.

Oh and did I mention, less than 3 hours later when the kids are packing up for the day, they get another snack?

Most of the food is fake

Nearly all of the school lunch items that are offered are highly processed, made with factory-farmed animal products, and are frozen foods that come out of a package and are re-heated. 

Take a look at some of the foods they sell:

  • crispy chicken patty          
  • general tso’s chicken
  • beef nachos with tortilla chips 
  • hot dogs                  
  • tater tots
  • processed deli meats                                                  
  • popcorn chicken
  • chicken nuggets
  • mozzarella sticks
  • pizza
  • hamburgers and cheeseburgers
  • French toast sticks

While they do serve fruits and vegetables every day, it’s not exactly fresh. The packages of apple slices for example, are prepared with preservatives that give them a 21-day shelf life.

Totally unbalanced

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a healthy plate is made up of 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 whole grains.

In my kids’ school, the kids are required to pick a fruit or a vegetable, but I doubt it makes up half the plate. They do offer salads as the main dish every day, but I’m sure the amount of kids that purchase salads is negligible, if non-existent.

Besides, some of the meal options seem totally unbalanced and only meet the requirements.

Take the yogurt or a cheese stick with a bagel meal and the macaroni and cheese with a wheat bread stick meal—not exactly the healthy, balanced meals we should be teaching our kids to eat.

A lack of healthy fats

Healthy fats like those found in fish, avocado and olive oil are essential to kids health, but they’re not a major part of the school lunch menu. The one caveat? The sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich.

Sugar everywhere

While fruits and vegetables and foods with whole grains are offered, the school lunch menu has several items that are high in sugar, including:


Free cookies

Despite how unhealthy the lunch menu is, my kids are allowed to purchase it every once in a while.

Although I want them to eat healthy, whole foods most of the time, I also don’t want school lunch to be a power struggle or something they think is forbidden, which can create unhealthy eating habits down the line.

Nevertheless, I was blindsided when my daughters told me that after purchasing lunch one day, they were given free cookies. As I came to learn, kids are given free cookies on Fridays and on their birthdays.

You might think I sound like an uptight mom, but I don’t understand why the school (or the food service provider) thinks it’s OK to give them cookies without my permission.

My kids can have cookies, but not during the school day.

Junk food is served as a “snack”

My kids’ school encourages parents to have lunch with their kids, so from time to time I do.

Last year while I was sitting with my daughter in the cafeteria, one of the cafeteria aids walked up to the front of the room and with mic in hand, announced it was snack time.

“Snack?,” I asked my 5-year-old. It was only 15 minutes into their 30 minute lunch time.

When I hear the word snack, I think about something small that tides my kids over until the next meal and is most certainly something they eat between meals.

Yet what my kids’ school dubs a snack, is actually a junk food treat: chips, ice cream, popsicles crackers and cookies.

One of the foods they sell are Nacho Cheese Doritos.

Sure, it satisfies the National School Lunch Program guidelines because it has whole grains (corn), but it’s processed, made with GMOs and contains artificial ingredients and artificial food dyes.

Take maltodextrin, which has an even higher glycemic index than sugar and evidence suggests it can alter gut bacteria and lead to allergic reactions and food intolerances. This is definitely not something our kids should be eating, especially during the school day.

Oh and did I mention, less than 3 hours later when the kids are packing up for the day, they get another snack?

Most of the food is fake

Nearly all of the school lunch items that are offered are highly processed, made with factory-farmed animal products, and are frozen foods that come out of a package and are re-heated. 

Take a look at some of the foods they sell:

  • crispy chicken patty          
  • general tso’s chicken
  • beef nachos with tortilla chips 
  • hot dogs                  
  • tater tots
  • processed deli meats                                                  
  • popcorn chicken
  • chicken nuggets
  • mozzarella sticks
  • pizza
  • hamburgers and cheeseburgers
  • French toast sticks

While they do serve fruits and vegetables every day, it’s not exactly fresh. The packages of apple slices for example, are prepared with preservatives that give them a 21-day shelf life.

Totally unbalanced

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a healthy plate is made up of 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 whole grains.

In my kids’ school, the kids are required to pick a fruit or a vegetable, but I doubt it makes up half the plate. They do offer salads as the main dish every day, but I’m sure the amount of kids that purchase salads is negligible, if non-existent.

Besides, some of the meal options seem totally unbalanced and only meet the requirements.

Take the yogurt or a cheese stick with a bagel meal and the macaroni and cheese with a wheat bread stick meal—not exactly the healthy, balanced meals we should be teaching our kids to eat.

A lack of healthy fats

Healthy fats like those found in fish, avocado and olive oil are essential to kids health, but they’re not a major part of the school lunch menu. The one caveat? The sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich.

Sugar everywhere

While fruits and vegetables and foods with whole grains are offered, the school lunch menu has several items that are high in sugar, including:


Free cookies

Despite how unhealthy the lunch menu is, my kids are allowed to purchase it every once in a while.

Although I want them to eat healthy, whole foods most of the time, I also don’t want school lunch to be a power struggle or something they think is forbidden, which can create unhealthy eating habits down the line.

Nevertheless, I was blindsided when my daughters told me that after purchasing lunch one day, they were given free cookies. As I came to learn, kids are given free cookies on Fridays and on their birthdays.

You might think I sound like an uptight mom, but I don’t understand why the school (or the food service provider) thinks it’s OK to give them cookies without my permission.

My kids can have cookies, but not during the school day.

How To Pack a Healthy School Lunch

How To Pack a Healthy School Lunch

Sending your kid off in the morning with a healthy school lunch can be better than school lunches you’ll find in the cafeteria, but getting the right balance of nutrition is key.

Surprisingly, most school lunches made at home are worse than those kids purchase at school. According to a July 2014 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only 27 percent of the lunches from more than 600 kids surveyed met at least three of the five National School Lunch Program standards.

The good news is that packing lunch doesn’t have to be difficult. Here, learn which foods you should focus on and how much and how to make packing a healthy school lunch a breeze.

Plan ahead

Without time to plan healthy school lunches, chances are you’ll resort to PB&J and processed, packaged foods everyday. Making a grocery list and having a list of healthy school lunch ideas will take the guesswork out of school lunch in the morning.

 

Start with fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which will help to satisfy your kid’s hunger and help him feel fuller longer. When packing your kid’s lunch box, 50 percent should be made up of both fruits and vegetables—not just fruit.

Do your best to “eat the rainbow” and offer a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. If your kid is a picky eater however, pack fruits and vegetables you know he’ll eat. After a few weeks, start to add in small amounts (a teaspoon will do) of new fruits and vegetables you’d like him to try. If you’re consistent, he may eventually come around and they may even become his new favorite foods.

Pick a protein

Protein is important for your kid’s growth and development and meals with protein keep hunger at bay, balance your child’s blood sugar and give her enough energy to keep up at school.

Protein should make up 1/4 of a healthy school lunch but you’ll want to focus on lean, quality protein sources instead of processed foods like deli meats and cheeses or hot dogs.

Try chicken, beef, turkey, beans, edamame, tempeh, eggs, fish and seafood. If you’re worried about the mercury levels in fish, find out which types of fish are safe for your kids.

Choose whole grains

Grains should make up about 1/4 of a healthy school lunch box. When packing whole grains, think about other grains your child will eat that day since 50 percent of grains in his diet should be whole grains.

Whole grains have vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and filling fiber, which are stripped from refined grains. Try whole grain bread, pasta, brown rice, quinoa or another type of gluten-free grain.

Add calcium-rich foods

The USDA MyPlate recommends milk or sources of dairy with meals because of the calcium they provide. If your kids are dairy-free, or you’re trying to avoid dairy because it’s inflammatory, they can still get plenty of calcium from green leafy vegetables, chia seeds and other calcium-rich foods that aren’t dairy.

Focus on plant-based foods

Studies show plant-based diets are one of the healthiest because they’re high in vitamins and minerals, anti-inflammatory and prevent constipation.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, sweet potatoes and nuts and seeds are all plant-based foods to include in your child’s lunch box.

Include healthy fats

Omega-3 fatty acids are part of a healthy diet and support your child’s brain health and memory.

Salmon and sardines are low in mercury and good sources of both protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Or try olives, a mist of olive oil on salad or vegetables, avocado and nuts and seeds, which are all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids too.

Get a bento box

Kids love choices and a reusable bento box is a great way to serve up a variety of foods at lunch time and also ensure that you have healthy portions of all the major food groups.

Re-think treats

Packing a cookie with an “I love you!” note makes you and your kid feel happy, but most treats you’ll find in the grocery story are high in sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients, not to mention, kids don’t need them while they’re trying to learn.

 

If you decide to pack treats, read labels carefully or consider your own homemade healthy versions. Also, re-think what a treat could be. Applesauce, dried fruit or chocolate covered fresh fruit are just as sweet but a bit healthier.

 

Teaching balance is also a key component of raising kids who are healthy eaters so consider including a treat once a week instead of everyday, for example.

 

13 Ways To Add More Vegetables To School Lunches

13 Ways To Add More Vegetables To School Lunches

Getting your kids to eat more vegetables any time of the day is always a challenge, but school lunch can be even harder especially when most kids don’t pack vegetables, refuse to eat vegetables or end up throwing their vegetables in the garbage.

If you want to raise kids who love to eat vegetables, it’s important to consistently offer them at every meal.

The good news is that it’s not as hard as you think.

Here are 13 ways to add more vegetables to kids’ school lunches.

1. Wrap it up

Ditch the sandwich and make a roll up with sliced turkey, cheese and lettuce or make a lettuce wrap and put your protein inside. Or add grilled or sautéed vegetables to a tortilla, burrito or wrap.

2. Add a dip

Kids love to dip so pairing a healthy dip with raw, cut-up veggies is a great way to add more vegetables to kids’ school lunches.

Try hummus, bean dip, a vegetable dip or salsa. Consider making your own homemade dip with fresh ingredients so you know exactly what your kids are eating. If you purchase a store-bought dip, read labels carefully because many have artificial ingredients and are too high in fat.

3. Make grilled cheese with vegetables

Add spinach, diced broccoli or slices of pepper to a grilled cheese sandwich made with whole grain bread and you have a fiber-filled lunch your kids will love.

4. Add veggies to pasta, rice or another grain

Mix in last night’s leftover vegetables with whole-wheat pasta, couscous, brown rice or another whole grain like quinoa.

5. Make veggie quesadillas

Quesadillas take minutes to make and lend themselves to so many types of vegetables. Encourage your kids to have a hand in making their own lunches by putting out a “buffet” of vegetables and letting them make their own.

6. Puree vegetables and add them to sauces

I don’t believe in pureeing vegetables as a sneaky way to get your kids to eat them, but it can be a great way to get extra nutrition in their diets and add more vegetables to their lunches.

Carrots, zucchini and eggplant make a great addition to tomato sauce and roasted butternut squash can be added to homemade macaroni and cheese, for example.

7. Bake vegetable “fries”

Slice zucchini, eggplant, yucca, carrot, or jicama, spray with some olive oil and roast them in the oven on high heat. You can also dip vegetables in egg and breadcrumb for more flavor and texture.

8. Batch cook soups, stews and chili

Making a large batch of your kid’s favorite soup, stew or chili is an easy way to have several meals throughout the week and add more vegetables to school lunches.

9. Whip up an omelet, quiche or frittata

Eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids and adding vegetables to an omelet, quiche or frittata also makes for easy and healthy kids’ school lunches.

10. Bake veggies into bread

Add shredded zucchini, carrots or pureed pumpkin to your favorite bread recipe as a healthy treat for your kid’s lunch box.

11. Swap vegetables for grains

Instead of pasta or rice, swap in cauliflower “rice” and spiralized veggies and a protein for a healthy school lunch.

12. Assemble kabobs

Kids love food on sticks and kabobs can be an easy to assemble, healthy school lunch. Add sliced peppers, mushrooms, squash, onions, cherry tomatoes, and meat or tofu for a healthy portion of vegetables.

13. Add vegetables to pizza

Pizza may not be the healthiest option for kids’ school lunches but if you’re going to serve it, make the most of it by adding vegetables as a topping.

8 Healthy School Lunch Ideas That Aren’t Sandwiches

8 Healthy School Lunch Ideas That Aren’t Sandwiches

PB&J, turkey and cheese or tuna fish sandwiches make for a fast and easy school lunch but if your kids are gluten-free, you’re trying to cut down on the amount of bread they eat, they don’t like sandwiches or you’re simply looking for more school lunch ideas that aren’t sandwiches, there are so many healthy, delicious, and easy options.

Here are 8.

1. Beans and legumes

Beans and legumes are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids. An excellent source of folate, zinc, iron and magnesium, they have both protein and fiber to satisfy your kids’ hunger for hours. There are also so many varieties, you’re bound to find at least one your kids will love.

To make packing school lunch easy, I make a large batch of lentil soup for the week. I then re-heat and pour the soup into a thermos for lunch. You can also serve beans alone or incorporate them into quinoa, brown rice or pasta dishes or make a batch of homemade bean burgers.

2. Lettuce wraps

With a lettuce wrap, you’ll get an extra dose of vitamins, minerals and fiber and a nice texture without the bread. You can also use the same ingredients you would when you make sandwiches: sliced turkey, egg salad, leftover roasted chicken or chili meat.

 

3. Roll ups

If your kids are like mine, they’ll love a roll-up for school lunch and they won’t miss the bread. Roll-up sliced turkey, ham, or roast beef, cheese and lettuce and you’ll have an easy and delicious lunch.

4. Eggs

An excellent source of protein, 9 essential amino acids and choline which supports memory, eggs are one of the best school lunch ideas that aren’t sandwiches.

Eggs cook quickly and are so easy to incorporate into practically any dish. Try scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, make egg salad, egg “muffins,” a quiche or frittata.

One of my kids’ favorite ways to eat eggs is a lightened up version of egg fried rice: incorporate scrambled eggs with brown rice, edamame and a splash of soy sauce.

5. Spring rolls

Spring rolls are simple to pull together for lunch and a great swap for sandwiches. Grab a package of spring roll wrappers, add a protein, your kids’ favorite vegetables and seasonings and lunch is ready.

6. Salad

I know what you’re thinking: my kid will never eat a salad. Yet packing a salad for lunch is a great way to get in several servings of vegetables in one meal.

Making a salad can also be a fun activity with your kids because they can pick the ingredients, help you chop and toss the salad and add the dressing. When kids have a hand in making their meals, they’re more likely to eat them.

If your kids aren’t salad eaters, start small with a side salad alongside one of their favorite foods. Experiment with different add-ins like:

  • Peppers, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, etc.
  • Tomatoes
  • Leftover meat or fish
  • Tofu
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Edamame
  • Beans
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and/or seeds
  • Fruit (fresh or dried)
  • Avocado

7. Tempeh

My children and I eat a predominately plant-based diet so to ensure we get enough protein, we often eat tempeh. It’s not every day or even every week, but it’s one of the best school lunch options that aren’t sandwiches.

Tempeh can be used in most recipes that call for meat but you can also simply marinate and bake it.

8. Soup

In the cooler months, soup can be a healthy and delicious school lunch. If you’re inclined to make your own homemade soup, you can incorporate several servings of vegetables—whole or pureed.

If you buy soup in a can, box or one that’s prepared in the store, read labels because most soups you’ll find are high in sodium.

5 Healthy After-School Snacks

5 Healthy After-School Snacks

Kids love their after-school snacks.

If your kids are like mine, they come home from school and head right to the refrigerator for an after-school snack. Despite eating breakfast, lunch AND a snack, somehow they’re (apparently) famished.

After-school snacks can tide your kids over for awhile but if they eat filling foods or overeat, they won’t be hungry come dinner. Instead, afternoon snacks with a combination of protein and fiber will satisfy their hunger without making them too full.

1. Kale chips

healthy-after-school-snacks

I don’t believe in sneaking vegetables into meals or making faces out of food so your kids will eat but I don’t see the harm in preparing one type of food in various ways.

If you can’t get your kid to eat green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, try making kale chips and watch as your kids will devour them. The next time you make a kale salad or a meal with cooked kale, they may be more likely to try it.

Kale is nutrient dense and an excellent source of vitamin A and lutein for healthy eyes and a good source of calcium for healthy teeth and bones.

2. Hummus and Jicama

healthy-after-school-snacks

If you’re trying to add more plant-based foods in your family’s diet, hummus is a great food to serve for after-school snacks.

Chickpeas are a great source of protein, fiber and iron and sesame seeds which are used in tahini are an excellent source of minerals like zinc, copper and calcium for bone health.

Although you can serve any vegetable with hummus, I like jicama (pronounced HEE-kah-ma), which tastes like a combination of a pear and a water chestnut. Jicama is a great source of vitamin C, potassium, iron, calcium and filling fiber.

3. Celery

healthy-after-school-snacks

A rich source of vitamins and antioxidants, celery is one of the healthiest vegetables you can feed your kids. One cup contains an amazing 5 grams of fiber which will keep your kid satiated and even prevent constipation.

If your kids like foods with a crunch, celery is a great one to swap in for chips. Add a bit of peanut butter or almond butter for protein and a delicious after-school snack.

4. Greek Yogurt

healthy-after-school-snacks

Yogurt is a good source of protein but most yogurts, especially those marketed to kids, have a ton of sugar.

Instead of flavored yogurt, serve your kids plain, Greek yogurt topped with fresh berries like raspberries which are an excellent source of fiber, have a low glycemic load and are super-tasty.

5. Green Smoothies

healthy-after-school-snacks

Like kale, serving a smoothie isn’t a way to sneak vegetables but it can be another way to get in a serving.

A good rule of thumb: the 80/20 rule. Eighty-percent green leafy vegetables and 20 percent fruit. Add some chia seeds for protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health.

4 Reasons School Lunch Isn’t Healthy

4 Reasons School Lunch Isn’t Healthy

When my daughter started full-day kindergarten last year, my husband and I decided we’d pack her school lunch everyday.

I knew that no matter how healthy the school lunch menu claimed to be, there’s no way she’d eat lentils and salad like she did at home. I also knew it wasn’t likely the lunches were made from scratch but instead came out of some sort of a package.

With the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, many schools have overhauled their menus to include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy so I was surprised to hear from other moms that the school lunch wasn’t much better than it had been years ago.

And when I read the school menu, I was shocked.

The choices included things like:

  • Chicken fingers
  • Deli meats
  • Pizza
  • Tater tots
  • Cheese-filled breadsticks
  • Hot dogs
  • Crispy chicken patties
  • Meatball parmesan subs
  • Macaroni and cheese with a dinner roll.

Sure, they offer vegetables and fruit but the main meal options they offered are not something I wanted her to eat.

Now that President Trump has loosened up the school lunch rules former first lady Michelle Obama spearheaded, school lunches may get even worse.

Not to mention that studies show kids who regularly eat school lunch are 29 percent more likely to be obese than kids who bring lunch from home.

4 Reasons Why School Lunch Isn’t Healthy

1. Sodium


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of kids consume too much sodium and 1 in 6 kids has high blood pressure.

Deli meats, chicken fingers, hot dogs and French fries are all loaded with sodium and shouldn’t be a school lunch staple.

2. Refined carbohydrates

White bread, pasta, rice and processed foods are made with refined carbohydrates that are low in fiber or missing it altogether, lack nutrients and spike your kids’ blood sugar. Eating refines carbs is also linked to an increased risk for obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

3. Unhealthy fats

Despite what experts have preached for years about the dangers of eating fat, research shows kids actually need fat, but they need “good” fats, not saturated fats that raise cholesterol and are found in many school lunches. If your kid continues to eat saturated fats at school and at home, over time he’ll have a higher risk for obesity, heart disease and stroke.

Kids need healthy fats like those found in salmon, avocado, and nuts. The likelihood you’ll find these on the menu? Fat chance.

4. Sneaky sugar


Schools might not be serving up cookies and cake, but sugar is sneaky. For example, one choice on my daughter’s school lunch menu is “whole grain blueberry glazed pancakes.”

One can assume the word glazed means the blueberries aren’t fresh but in some sort of sugary syrup. Other sneaky sources of sugar include yogurt, juice and baked beans.

I won’t lie: last year my daughter was allowed to order pizza a handful of times whether it was because I needed to go grocery shopping or we wanted her to experience getting school lunch. The reason she had pizza was because I was concerned about her food allergies. My hope was that she would come home and say she hated it but that wasn’t the case.

This year, we’ll continue to pack lunch from home and she’ll be allowed to buy lunch—but only occasionally.

Does your child’s school serve a healthy school lunch? How could they do better? Let me know in the comments.

7 Hacks for Stress-Free School Lunches

7 Hacks for Stress-Free School Lunches

One hundred and sixty-five.

That’s approximately how many school lunches you’ll pack for your kid this year. Got 2, 3 or more kids? You better get started.

I’m not a fan of my daughter buying lunch at school. Although many schools in the U.S. have upgraded their menus in recent years as a result of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to include more vegetables, less sodium and more whole grains, the lunches at my daughter’s school pales in comparison to what I pack at home.

The only drawback if I’m being perfectly honest is that packing healthy school lunches with real, whole-foods takes planning, prep work and time. But because I don’t want my kid eating deli meat, chicken fingers or pizza, I send her to school with lunch.

It may not be quick, but packing healthy school lunches doesn’t have to be stressful.

7 Hacks to Make School Lunches Easy

1. Pack school lunches the night before

After you finally get your kids to sleep at night, all you want to do is put on Netflix or curl up with a good book—even if you fall asleep a few pages in.

But it’s worth packing school lunches the night before instead of waiting until the morning. I’ve found that no matter how early I wake up, I’m still running around stressed out and pressed for time if I wait until the last minute.

Packing school lunches the night before also gives you an opportunity to cook a batch of vegetables or even a meal for the next day at the same time so it’s one less thing you have to worry about.

2. Double up

Instead of making individual lunches for everyone, try to find ways to stretch each meal. For example, I make a large salad and then divide it up for my kids and myself. The next morning, I’ll add a bit of olive oil and a splash of vinegar so it’s not soggy by the time they open it.

Or consider making a double batch of a meal. One portion can be dinner while the other can be divided up for lunches throughout the week.

3. Transform leftovers

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, turn last night’s leftovers into school lunch. Roast chicken can be made into chicken salad or combine leftover rice with some edamame, vegetables, egg and soy sauce for a quick and easy stir-fry.

4. Batch cook

Set aside a few hours on Sunday or use your Crock-Pot  to make large batches of meals you can pack for school lunches.

Soups, stews and chili work well but you can also make large batches of baked chicken cutlets, beans or vegetables, for example.

5. Use a bento box

Kids like to nosh. They like to eat a little of this and a little of that. A bento box is a great way to pack a variety of foods and plenty of nutrition into a school lunch that your kid will love.

6. Make perfect portions

Set aside individual portions of fruits, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs and nuts and seeds in small containers or Ziplock bags to easily grab for school lunches and snacks. This method works well for making smoothies or green juices for breakfast too.

7. Ask for help

Just because you’re a mom, doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to pack your kids’ lunches. Last year, my husband took on this task and it made my life a little less stressful.

This year, things are going to change again. Although my kids are young, I think they’re ready to pack their own lunches so this school year, we’re going to try it.

Teaching your kids to pack their own lunches or at least help teaches them responsibility, allows them to take ownership and feel empowered and teaches them what a healthy meal looks like. The process might be slow and messy but it’s well worth it.

How do you make packing healthy school lunches quick and easy? Leave me a comment.

7 Worst Foods For School Lunch

7 Worst Foods For School Lunch

Do you dread packing school lunch? I sure do.

I want to make sure my kids get enough protein, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats every day in their lunch bags but packing whole foods instead of packaged snacks takes time and brainpower—two things I often don’t have after a long day or in the early morning.

Like me, I know you also want your kids to have a healthy school lunch, but there are some foods you might think are perfectly healthy but are actually filled with tons of not-so-good-for-them ingredients.

So the next time you pack school lunch, here are 7 foods you should avoid.

1. White Bread

White bread is delicious no matter how you cut it. Add some peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish or deli meat and your kid’s happy.

Yet white bread is one of the worst foods you can pack for school lunch. White bread is made with refined, white flour which spikes your kid’s blood sugar. Continue to feed it to your kid every day and down the line, he may be at risk for insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes. Since white bread is also low in fiber and protein, it’s digested quickly and won’t keep your kid feeling full so he can stay focused and on task all day.

Pack a high-fiber, whole grain bread or tortilla instead. Or nix the bread altogether and choose brown rice or quinoa.

2. Peanut Butter & Jelly

It’s the fastest, easiest sandwich to pack and one that is sure to please but it’s definitely not the healthiest option. For starters, most brands of peanut butter have added sugars, vegetable oils and other nasty ingredients you can’t even pronounce. Likewise, jelly and fruit preserves have loads of added sugar.

To upgrade PB&J, swap white bread for whole grain bread and pick a peanut butter that only contains peanuts and some salt. I like Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter. Instead of Jelly, add slices of your kid’s favorite fruit.

3. Fake Fruit

Fruit cups are convenient and portable but they’re not the healthiest option for school lunch. Most are soaked in juice concentrate and some have added sugar—15 grams worth. Not to mention that if you want your kid to eat real, wholesome fruit, then serving fruit drowning in sugar isn’t the way to do it.

Likewise, those gummy-bear-like fruit snacks and fruit leather have too much sugar, lack fiber to keep your kid feeling full and many have artificial colors and flavors.

Instead, just pack a piece of real fruit.

4. Juice


100% fruit juice can take the place of one serving of fruit and it definitely contains nutrients. And although experts have said it can lead to obesity, a study out in March 2017 in the journal Pediatrics shows one serving a day of juice is probably OK.

Yet because you need more servings of fruit to make fruit juice, there’s still more calories, carbohydrates and sugar in juice than in a piece of whole fruit. Juice also lacks fiber to help your kid feel full and prevent constipation. And look at the ingredients of most juice boxes—even those that are organic—and you’ll see they’re made with fruit juice concentrate.

Pack water for school lunch instead and save the juice box as a treat. Or buy a juicer and make your own green vegetable juice at home for breakfast.

5. Granola Bars

They’ve been touted as a healthy on-the-go snack and for good reason. They have oats, fruit, nuts and seeds—all ingredients that are supposed to be good for you. Yet not only are many granola bars low in fiber and protein and high in sugar, they’re all processed. Experts say processed food is at the heart of leaky gut syndrome and a host of health problems.

Instead of store-bought granola bars, make your own or simply swap them for a handful of nuts or seeds.

6. Deli Meat


Processed deli meats are filled with sodium, saturated fat and nitrates and some have added colors.

Instead of packing deli meat in your kids’ lunch box, roast whole chicken or turkey breast on Sunday, slice it thin and have enough for lunches all week long.

7. Yogurt


It’s always been perceived as a health food and although some types may be a good source of protein and probiotics, most kid’s yogurts are sneaky sugar bombs.

If you’re going to pack yogurt for school lunch, choose a plain Greek or regular yogurt without added fruit, candy or granola. Add berries on top with a sprinkle of cinnamon or choose a yogurt without a ton of sugar, like Siggi’s yogurt tubes.

Schools Want Kids To Eat Breakfast, But Is It Healthy?

Schools Want Kids To Eat Breakfast, But Is It Healthy?

Whole grain strawberry toaster pastries.

Cheese grits.

Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry milk.

That’s what Rowan Elementary Middle School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi is serving up for breakfast. They also have sausage patties which are a good source of protein, but have quite a bit of fat and sodium too. Fruit is also on the menu but vegetables? No way.

A whopping 13 million children in America live in food insecure households where healthy and safe food isn’t always a given. In high-poverty areas like Hattiesburg, the good news is that Community Eligibility, a federal program and key provision of The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, allows students to eat breakfast and lunch for free.

Studies show kids who eat breakfast have more energy, are more alert, miss less days in school, get higher scores on standardized math tests and are more likely to graduate.

The town I live in has a median household income of approximately $76,000 and at my daughter’s school, the breakfast menu includes whole-grain muffins, pancakes and waffles—all with milk and fruit. Not the best options in my opinion but what shocked me the most when my daughter started kindergarten is that they also offer graham crackers.

In my house graham crackers are a cookie and a treat. They’re low in fiber, protein and have added sugar. Not exactly the way I want my kid to start her day.

The School Breakfast Program, which is offered to any child, serves nearly 90,000 schools and child care institutions. According to the USDA, schools must follow the meal pattern and nutrition standards based on the Dietary Guidelines for America. Although they must adhere to federal meal requirements, the foods and the way they’re prepared are up to local school food authorities.

Yet it’s not only the schools in poverty-stricken areas that fall short when it comes to school meals.

School districts have to adhere to their budget but why can’t they serve whole-grain toast instead of pastry or oatmeal instead of grits which have more fiber and less sodium.

Rather than sausage, why not eggs, Greek yogurt or even beans?

It seems that come September, the problem will get worse. The Trump Administration announced recently that they will revise the school meal nutritional requirements relaxing the rules on whole grains, sodium and milk. Schools no longer have to offer 100% whole grains, adhere to a sodium limit and can now offer 1% flavored milk.

When it comes to teaching kids how to eat healthy, it must start at home with healthy food all the time. For food insecure families, however, that’s not always possible which is why healthy school breakfast and lunch are even more important.