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Pizza a 'Vegetable'? How to Handle School Lunches

Recently, Congress passed a bill that classifies the small amount of tomato paste in pizza as the equivalent of a serving of vegetables. The problem is that this legislation can affect the public school lunch program, but not in a positive way. Instead, it may trick parents and their children into viewing certain food options as "healthy," not to mention that it will do nothing to combat our nation's growing epidemic of child obesity. Parents must focus on ways to make sure their children are eating healthier while they are at school.  So what can you do to make sure that your child is eating healthy every day?

Making Healthy Choices at School

Allowing your child to eat lunch at school gives them freedom in decision-making, giving them the skills to make healthy choices in their meals. You may not agree with every option that is available on the menu, but you can look at it in advance to see which days you would not mind if your child ate at school. If your child's school provides nutrition facts with their menus, review them together with your child. It is never too earlier to teach a child how to look at the nutrition facts as a way to make healthy choices. This can also get you into the habit of looking at nutrition labels on other foods as well.

As a parent, you can encourage your son or daughter to always choose the fruits and vegetables available. White and chocolate milk are both offered at most schools, but you can encourage your child to choose the white milk over chocolate. If this is hard for your child to do, or if she gets an afternoon snack where milk is served, compromise by having her choose white milk at lunch and chocolate at snack time. You should encourage your child to choose whole grain bread over white bread, if there is an option offered.

On days that your child does eat the school lunch, ask her what choices she made that day. Sometimes her intention may be to take one item, but she sees her friends taking a different and follow suit. You should not discourage your child, but provide her with guidance to making her own choices instead of following her peers.

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Sending a Packed Lunch

You may think that sending a lunch with your child automatically makes it healthier than what is being offered at the school. However, it matters what items you put in that lunch that make it healthy or unhealthy. When packing your child's lunch, you should make sure you are choosing lean deli meats such as turkey, chicken, or ham over fattier meats like bologna and salami. Sandwiches should be made on whole grain breads instead of white. Use low-fat or light spreads if necessary. Instead of choosing potato or corn chips, pack air-popped popcorn, baked chips, or trail mix. Include veggies and low-fat dip, fruit, yogurt, or crackers and hummus. Send low-fat white milk, 100% fruit juice, or water with the lunch, or have your child purchase white low-fat milk in the lunch line.

Even though you sent lunch with your child, it is still a good idea to ask her what she ate that day. You want to make sure that she is eating the foods you send and not trading with her friends. As a parent, it really is your responsibility to monitor and educate your children about eating healthy. Whenever possible, provide them with the right tools and knowledge from the beginning.


Amy Reidenbach is a registered dietitian with a desire to help others learn about nutrition. She has many years of experience in the food service and health care industries. Amy holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from the University of Wisconsin - Stout and a Master of Science in Human Nutrition from Eastern Michigan University. Amy uses her personal life experiences to fuel her passion for nutrition and the overall well-being of those around her.


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