School lunches kids hate to love

As the childhood obesity epidemic continues (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that 1/5 of American children are obese), public health officials continue to look at ways to improve children’s eating habits during the school day.

While researching this article, I asked my friends and healthy eating advocates to help me by sharing their perspective on the changes happening in school lunchrooms across our country. 

You may have heard about First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch program, and as a result new legislation has called for updated nutritional standards for school meals.  The kicker is, in order for schools to continue to get funding for their lunch programs, they must conform to the new standards.  Those new standards include more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, low-fat milk, and an 850 calorie limit with a higher limit on unhealthy fats and salt. 

When it comes to school lunch, the majority of kids seem to agree that most of what you get in the cafeteria is gross.  Anything with sugar is worth its weight in gold. Despite rules prohibiting food trading at many schools to protect students with allergies, there’s still a lot of snack swapping going on, and sweet treats are perpetually in big demand.

Just to get an idea of what the trends are, I asked a few kids to tell me about their favorite foods to take for lunch and what they like to trade.

Madison, age 12, from Carrollton, TX: “I bring lunch from home.  My mom makes great stuff like chicken and spaghetti.  A lot of times I take leftovers.  The school cafeteria food is gross, so pretty much everyone brings their own lunch.”

Analicia, age 8, from San Angelo, TX: “The school lunch smells weird and tastes disgusting.  I pack my own lunch, things like a sandwich with chips or leftovers, some fruit water and a cookie.”

Kylee is a parent of a fifth grader who refuses to eat school lunch, he would rather go without.  She states: “This causes a problem for us because if he takes lunch from home – how does he fit within the recommended 850 calorie limit?  Face it, kids love their sweets, chips and lunchables – and they will trade food at school.  So, is packing a lunch from home a healthier alternative than a half size quarter pound burger made with bean paste and wheat bread?”

You bet! A recent study found that children who regularly ate school lunches were 29% more likely to be obese than their peers who brought lunch from home.

My boys are now grown, but making school lunch never seemed like a big deal.  I always tried to be prepared by strategically stocking the pantry and by getting creative – always included a fruit, vegetable and WATER!   Keep it Simple: Stick with fruits and vegetables your kids love.  It’s okay to pack leftovers; especially grilled or baked!  Chicken, salmon and turkey are great the next day and healthy too.  I packed fruits they loved, including kiwi, grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon, bananas, fresh pineapple and oranges.  Vegetables included green beans, broccoli, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes that are quick and easy to pack.  Don’t forget eggs – many kids, mine included, love hard boiled eggs! 

When it comes to dinner, I’m a firm believer in one meal — chosen for the whole family.  Approaching dinner this way kept us all satisfied and went a long way to encourage healthy eating in our family.

While I was totally comfortable sending my kids to bed without dinner if they didn’t like what I served, I was not so comfortable with them having to endure a long day of school on an empty stomach.  This presented a challenge when they forgot their lunch: Yes, I was one of those moms that drove 40 miles to Prince of Peace Christian School in Carrollton from Argyle to take food to her kids.

Packing lunch or buying lunch at school is really a matter of addressing the whole food environment at school, not just the school lunch. A consistent message regarding what foods to eat starts with what foods we give them access to at home.  Sometimes we forget that we are the role models for our children and we have a parental obligation to teach them the right path by making healthier food choices ourselves.

What are YOU doing to take care of YOU?  An estimated 80% of Americans do not engage in a regular exercise program. Now that the dust has settled and kids are back to school – If 2013 is truly the year you are going to get fit, be your physical best, consider starting today.  Don’t wait until 2014. Start now and avoid the New Year crowds.

If you have been thinking of getting in shape – I would like to personally invite you to join Argyle Adventure Boot Camp where for over six years, men and women of Denton County are shedding fat, getting off medication, improving endurance, eliminating back pain, fitting into their skinny clothes, taking active vacations and living longer, stronger, youthful more energetic years.

For more information on getting into the best shape of your life at a fraction of the cost of personal training, go to or call (214) 729-0001.

Norma Zitterkopf is a Certified Personal Trainer, Wellness Coach and owner of Argyle Adventure Boot Camp, a consultant with Isagenix International.  For more information visit Call (214) 729-0001.


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