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Back to the basics school lunches

Tips for parents on how to pack a nutritious snack for lunch and actually get their child to eat it.
/ Source: TODAY

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the nation’s children are facing a health crisis. Few are meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans; many are flunking healthy eating and are physically inactive. The consequences are troubling. So how can parents pack a nutritious snack for lunch and actually get their child to eat it? Kathleen Daelemans, author of “Cooking Thin With Chef Kathleen,” shares a week’s worth of lunches for even the pickiest kids.

THE PERCENTAGE OF children who are overweight has more than doubled since 1970. Childhood obesity is recognized as a national epidemic, resulting in earlier onset and increased prevalence of disease.

The USDA has established new nutrition standards for its school meal programs and progress is being made in providing meals that meet the standards. But not all students are eating the healthier meals.

Lunches are an opportunity to do your best to control the quality of foods your child eats. They might not eat everything you prepare and send but they’ll know where you stand on nutrition and if some of that wears off on them, you’ve made progress. Giving in to the junk food culture shouldn’t be an option.

With birthday parties, scout meetings and sporting events, kids have enough access to junk food without counting on their parents as a source. A sound lunch is a springboard to good health. Do you want your kids combating the effects of high sodium, high sugar, and high fat meals? Most kids need every edge they can get when it comes to being able to stay awake, behave and concentrate at school. Food fuels young minds and young bodies.


None of the above. Push water and milk. Freeze the water so it keeps their lunch cool and is a nice refreshing treat or give them milk money. Check out all the fruit flavored waters but look out because some contain sugar although a lot of them do not.


For the most part, you can’t control what they do when they’re out of your control. But you can bank on the good habits you’ve instilled in them and you can work with their personality traits. Encourage them to participate. Get them involved in the actual making and packing of the lunch or at the very least the “menu” planning. They’ll get bored but wait until they do and start again.


“I like giving them dessert because it’s my way of saying I love you and because I know they like dessert.” A note from mom would be more to the point and appreciated in the ways that matter most. Consider not packing the “treat” and junk because according to a few of the teachers I spoke with, “kids eat that and throw away the healthy stuff.” One lunch room lady collected all the apples and oranges and bananas kids were going to throw away and lined them up for the kids whining that they were hungry in the middle of the day. A lot of the hunger was from inadequate lunches. If you want to send chips and dessert, consider sending one or the other. And whatever you send, make sure you pay attention to the portion size. Kids don’t need “more”, super size or king size. Send a single cookie, two bite size chocolates, and a 1 oz. portion of chips in the snack size plastic bags so it doesn’t look “too small.”


Ask them to bring home what they don’t eat but don’t make a stink about what they bring home or they’ll catch on. At least you’ll have an idea of what they need to get at dinner and breakfast.


All those items packaged for kids tend to be high in sugar, sodium and fat. They’re also more expensive. The “gimmicky” items are a nutritionally dumbed down version of something healthy. Go back to the basics. Those super high sugary squeezable yogurts were developed because kids like yogurt. Buy them the tiny yogurts instead. Should you pack peanut butter and jelly cracker packs or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Pack the sandwich because you can control the bread, the quality of peanut butter and the sugar content in the jelly and overall meal. Cheese and crackers you pack are better than the “kits” you can buy. Again, you can control the quality and quantity. All cheese is not created equal. Some are higher in calcium and lower in fat than others.


This is your opportunity to teach them good eating habits, portion control and the proper way to satisfy their hunger pains. They can fuel up on nutritious foods or junk. The choice is yours until they’re old enough to decide on their own.


Less is more. Keep lunches simple: A fruit, a veggie, a sandwich or leftovers you know they’ll eat, water or milk. The battle of getting them to eat the greatest percentage of what you pack is all in the packaging and presentation. Make sure they like their lunch box. Use tiny Tupperware containers, zipper bags and good plastic wrap. A leaky, messy lunch will go uneaten.

Day 1:

Leftover pizza because you can control the quality and quantity (cheese and veggie pizza if you can get away with it)

Zucchini, celery sticks & dip (they might eat one piece of zucchini before they discover it isn’t celery but you won a round)


Day 2:

Mini pita tuna sandwiches

Carrots, cucumbers and blue cheese dip

Kiwi cut in half so they can scoop it with a spoon

Day 3:

Apple cut into eights and cored. Stuff peanut butter into the core. They can dip the slices into the peanut butter.

Tiny tomatoes

Hard boiled egg (not overcooked)

Small box of raisins

Day 4:

Cheese tortellini

Broccoli and dip

Melon chunks

Day 5:

TLT wrap — turkey, lettuce, tomato — use whole wheat pita if you can get away with it and instead of mayo sometimes try those hummus spreads or even pesto

Leftover green beans (blanched) and dip

Orange cut into eighths or a Clementine — wrap properly or they won’t eat it


When you want to layer more nutrition into school lunches, you might try spreading a little hummos on their sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. You can find it already prepared or it’s simple enough to make at home.

Properly stored, it will keep for a week or longer.


1 (14-ounce) can chick peas, rinsed and drained

1 lemon, juiced

1 garlic clove minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)

1 teaspoon fresh oregano (optional)

Olive oil to taste




In a food processor, combine beans, lemon juice, garlic, cumin (if using) and oregano (if using) and puree until smooth. Thin with a few tablespoons of water to get desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Decide if you want to add olive oil and if so, add by the teaspoonful to desired taste. Spoon into a large shallow bowl and smooth with a spatula.