Yesterday I shared with you the top ten foods kids purchase in the cafeteria versus what they bring from home. It was certainly a mixed bag of healthy choices (like fruit, vegetables, and milk) and less wholesome ones (like french fries, salty snacks, and pizza). I was actually pleasantly surprised to see that the top 5 foods purchased at schools were healthier than the top 5 foods kids brought from home. However, there is still a lot of education that needs to be done to help children make better decisions when faced with choices — some healthy, some not — in the cafeteria. Some school food service companies are providing that education and making changes on their menus. Even better, some schools have dietitians on staff to teach nutrition education. But for the most part it is still up to teachers and parents to help children make healthy choices.
Here are some tips to help your kids eat better at lunchtime:
- Review the menu. Have your children bring home a menu from school and look over what is being offered. Then discuss with them what they would want to get and what would be the healthiest choice.
- Involve your children. It’s important that your kids take part in making the decisions, otherwise it’s doubtful they will choose what you suggest.
- Stick to the basics. Remind your children that their lunch plate should contain “real” food, made up of the basic food groups: bread/grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and healthy fat.
- Encourage experimentation. Some school food service companies are starting to incorporate foods kids may never have tried before, like quinoa, wheat berries, soy beans, or pomegranates.
- Quench their thirst. Remind your children that water is the drink of choice at school. The only other drink they should be having is nonfat or low-fat milk.
Best cafeteria choices based on food group include:
- Bread/Grains: whole wheat or multigrain bread, bagel, wrap, or pita; brown rice, quinoa, wheat berries, barley
- Fruit: all fresh fruit
- Vegetables: fresh, steamed or sautéed vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, peppers, salad, sweet potatoes
- Lean Protein: grilled or roasted chicken or turkey breast, vegetable burger, turkey burger, steamed or sautéed tofu, veggie or turkey chili, hard-boiled eggs, natural peanut butter
- Low-Fat Dairy: low-fat yogurt, sliced cheese or cheese stick, low-fat milk
- Healthy Fat: raw nuts, seeds, olive oil, vinaigrette dressing
Cafeteria choices to limit:
- White bread, white rice, chips, cookies, donuts, candy bars
- Fruit juice, fruit in syrup, fruit snacks or roll-ups, soda
- French fries, fried vegetables, mashed potatoes
- Dark meat turkey and chicken, hamburgers (especially cheeseburgers), hot dogs, tuna or chicken salad with mayonnaise, chicken nuggets or tenders
- Chocolate or fruit-flavored milk, whole milk and yogurt, ice cream
- Creamy salad dressing, candied nuts, butter
Next up: How to pack a healthy brown-bag lunch