It is that time of year again, the time most parents eagerly await all summer, the new school year is only days away. This very special day brings with it the age old question: what will the children be eating at school? While each cafeteria continues to offer their personal version of the famous mystery meat, the quality of school lunches has drastically changed over the years. No longer is there only one or two options available. Now a days, students are offered a variety of food choices wildly varying in their nutritional value. Fortunately, Missouri Public Schools have taken the initiative to go above and beyond the USDA requirements for school provided lunches, at least for many of their items.
According to the Eat Smart Guidelines provided on the Columbia Public Schools website, both the school meals and a la carte items go well beyond the minimum health requirements set by the USDA and the state policies. The breakfast and lunch choices available in these two categories consist of daily fruit and vegetable options as well as low sugar and low fat options for a variety of foods including yogurt, milk, cheese, sides, and beverages. If your child selects options from either the regular school meals or the a la carte items, they are more likely to be making better food picks. Of course, there is no guarantee that just because healthy options are available that they will actually be consumed.
It is important to be aware that there are ways for your children to be consuming nutrient deprived, processed foods while at school. Both the vending machines and snacks offered by the after school programs just meet the bare minimum nutrition requirements. These foods tend to be the higher fat and sugar items that are available in most vending machines and convenience stores. So why the lack of regulation on the these other foods while there is such an effort to provide the other healthier options? This is a great question to ask your local school officials.
The best way to make sure that your child is being offered and making the healthiest food choices possible, is to stay involved.
- Make lunches a family affair, get the kids involved in making healthy food choices by selecting and preparing items together
- Use a bento style lunch box to seperate items and make room for creativity
- Use the bento box concept to create a fun and balanced meal with meat, grains, and veggies
- Use whole grain products and slip in some veggies to make easy and healthy wrap ups, sandwiches, etc.
- Veggies (carrot sticks, apple slices, celery sticks, etc.) with nut butter, low-fat yogurt based dips, or other accompaniments make a great side dish
- Allowing kids choices for their meals helps them to feel empowered and gets them excited about making healthy choices.
- Provide an incentive for taking a healthy lunch such as a few extra dollars a week added to their allowance, since taking their lunch will save money in the long run
- Talk with kids about the risk of unhealthy eating and the benefits of healthier choices
- Lead by example; if you want your children to make healthy choices then start with yourself. They learn a lot from you: monkey see, monkey do.
Also, it is so important to get involved directly with the school. Let school officials know about any extremely unhealthy options being offered at your school and provide them with some of your healthy food ideas. With so many food choices out there, it is imperative that parents and schools stay involved, communicate, and work together in order to ensure the safety and overall well being of each child.
Columbia Public Schools website for nutrition information: http://www.columbia.k12.mo.us/depts/nutrsvcs.php
Also check out the link contained in that website labeled Missouri Eat Smart Guidelines.