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Homemaker’s Column: Pack a Healthy Lunch for your Child

August 8, 2022

Christine J. Patrick, County Extension Agent – EFNEP

Most schools welcome students back to the classroom during August. That means a change in routine and eating patterns for most children. Many children eat in school cafeterias. Some buy lunch, while others bring lunch from home. Either option offers a chance for children to refuel and get a boost of nutrition that will help them finish the rest of the afternoon.

School lunches were started after Federal Legislation was passed back in 1946. Interestingly enough, part of the National School Lunch Act was created due to the large number of depression-era men who had been rejected for military service because of health conditions related to their prolonged poor nutritional intake. Since then, states have been providing nutritionally balanced lunches in the schools for students.

School lunches are required to follow the dietary guidelines for Americans. This means that one-third of the recommended daily allowances for calories and essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and calories must be provided. You will also see lower amounts of sodium, sugar, and fat while more fiber, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables are included. Sound pretty good.

South Carolina school food service program has made serious strides toward providing wholesome, nourishing lunches for the students enrolled in public schools. But what if your child prefers to take his lunch? Not a problem. But a parent will want to ensure that the lunch is tasty, safe, and nutritious. Try to use MyPlate as a tool to assist with meal planning. Check out the website at www.myplate.gov. The basics of planning for your child’s lunches are reasonably straightforward. Try to include all the food groups: grain, protein, fruit, vegetable, and dairy. Grains should be whole grains if possible. Proteins should be lean. Fruits and vegetables should be whole if possible. Look for foods that include fiber and that are low in fats and refined sugars.

So, what does a typical lunch look like following these guidelines? How about low-fat turkey on whole wheat bread, baby carrots, a box of raisins, and some low-fat milk? Another option: A low-fat peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a whole-wheat wrap, apple wedges, celery sticks, and a sugar-free pudding cup. Don’t forget to put in a disposable spoon for the pudding.

Items such as milk boxes are great because they can be frozen and added to lunchboxes to keep the other things cool, yet they thaw out in time for lunch. Other easy options are individual cups of natural applesauce (be sure to check the label to avoid added sugars), string cheese, pickles, salsa cups, and grapes.

Plain is a good plan when making sandwiches for children. Peanut butter and jelly mixed usually get a thumbs-down, but that same sandwich will be eaten if the ingredients are layered. Chicken salad, ham salad, and tuna salad are most adults’ favorites, but many children turn away from such foods. Try just ham and mustard, or turkey and mayo. Most children will readily eat a plain sandwich with no complaints. And remember that even if your child brings lunch from home, sometimes he may want to purchase school lunch. Some children eat cafeteria food one day while bringing lunch the next. This is perhaps the best scenario of all. Look at the school menu with your child and decide which days they would like to purchase food and which days they would like to bring food from home. Parental guidance, with a child’s input, is a winning combination. The food pyramid from myplate.gov shows children’s many healthy food choices and activities.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. It is an equal opportunity employer.