kids school lunchNutrition Tidbits

by Lisa Metzgar, PhD

Solving the School Lunch Dilemma

by Lisa Metzgar, PhD

How To Pack A Healthy School Lunch

My daughter is very excited about starting the first grade this year. It is her first year in public school. One of the experiences she seems to be really excited about is eating in the cafeteria. Months before that first day she asked me if she could eat the school lunches and I just cringed. The choices in the school lunch programs, in my opinion, just aren’t the healthiest for our children. School lunches have an average of 32 g of fat compared to 24 g for the average bag lunch. They also contain a significant amount of sugar. Both leading to obesity in our children. Most of our children today don’t know how to make healthy choices. Unfortunately, the school lunches don’t help. They are provided with unhealthy choices along with some healthy ones but the majority of kids will choose the hot dog over the salad.

I remember as a child, volunteering to work in the cafeteria, there was a full staff cooking meals for hundreds of children. The key word being “cook”. The meals were fairly balanced and there were teachers on lunch duty making sure you at least tried the veggies before you left the table.

Those days are long gone. The school budgets don’t allow for full staffs to cook a variety of balanced foods. Now everything is ready made and convenient. Schools have vending machines providing kids with chips, candy, and soda. The high schools have pizza delivered and there are students who choose to eat it every day. I wonder how our children can go back into the classroom, buzzing from sugar and additives, and actually absorb any learning. We wonder why there is such a high percent of ADD and ADHD!

My daughter has come to expect the answer to her question of eating in the cafeteria will likely be a resounding NO. In my opinion, it is one battle that I choose to fight as a parent. So how do we deal with the dilemma of school lunches and not fall into the trap of going the easy route for convenience and avoiding the never ending battle with our child?

Here are a few ideas to make it easier to send your child to school with a healthy lunch:

1. Give you child choices. I bring my daughter shopping with me and give her the choice of fruit, snacks, lunch meat, bread, etc…Of course I only give her healthy choices to choose from and I explain why other choices aren’t as healthy for her. She feels empowered by her choices and looks forward to seeing them in her lunch.

2. Make lunch fun! Try using a large cookie cutter to make fun sandwich shapes. Put little notes and surprises to make your little one smile.

3. Make your own “fun” foods. We like making our own fruit leather and dried fruit. My daughter gets to choose the types of fruit and take part in the process. A dehydrator is easy to use and safe for your children to help with. You can also make your own jerky from lean beef and turkey. You are assured that there are no additives and it tastes great!

  • Trail mix is also fun to make.
    You can use nuts, seeds, and your own dried fruit to make very yummy and nutritious mixes.
  • Making your own cookies is always fun. There are lots of great recipes for healthy treats. A great healthy classic are oatmeal with raisins.
  • Make your own chips with sweet potatoes sliced thin with a little olive oil brushed on them. Bake in the oven until slightly crispy

4. Have your child help pack their own lunch. They get to make the choice and they feel “big” having a part in the process.

5. Substitute healthy choices for not so healthy.

    • Whole grain bread for white bread.


    • Water, 100% juice, or milk instead of soda.


    • Make your own healthy cookies instead of packaged cookies


    • Lean meats like chicken and turkey instead of bolgna


    • Fruit instead of sugary sweets


    • Mustard instead of mayonnaise


    • Homemade macaroni and cheese instead of boxed. Use whole grain pasta


  • Substitute chips with crunchy vegetables like carrots with hummus, celery sticks with peanut butter, or sugar snap peas

6. Variety is key. Instead of a sandwich everyday, try making pita pockets, wraps, homemade pizza, fruit kabobs, homemade soups, turkey roll ups with cream cheese, whole grain crackers and cheese, or even last nights leftovers.

7. Have a collection of fun lunch boxes. I even like taking them to work. My clients think it is great that I carry a Wonder Woman lunch box to the office!

We really do need to focus on our children’s nutrition. There is an epidemic of childhood obesity, diabetes, and ADD that needs to be addressed. It takes a little effort to provide fresh wholesome foods for our children but they are worth that effort. We need to be teaching our children while they are young how to make healthy choices that will stay with them for a lifetime. We also need to be a good example of that. Make goals with your family to make healthier choices. If you lead the way, your children will follow.

Have a great school year!

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Lisa Metzgar

Lisa Metzgar

Nutrition Tidbits by Lisa Metzgar, PhD
LisaMetzgar, PhD,she received her BA in Biology from UCSD, is a certified Holistic Health Practitioner, and received her Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition.

Lisa has taught body mind retreats in San Diego, Seattle, and Australia and currently has a practice in Reno, NV where she does nutrition counseling.Lisa's passion is to educate families about a healthy lifestyle.
Lisa Metzgar MetzgarNutrition TidbitsNutrition Tidbits by Lisa Metzgar, PhDSolving the School Lunch Dilemmaby Lisa Metzgar, PhD How To Pack A Healthy School Lunch My daughter is very excited about starting the first grade this year. It is her first year in public school. One of the experiences she seems to be really excited about is...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids