Because lunch is fuel for the brain and muscles, the power of a well-balanced, adequate lunch cannot be overstated. Lunch helps keep kids nourished, focused, motivated, engaged, energized, composed, and good-natured. Aside from the right number of calories, a well-balanced lunch will contain the right balance of nutrients to fuel the body’s needs for at least the next four hours. A poorly-balanced or inadequate lunch is likely to cause kids to not only be nutrient-deficient, but also distracted, indifferent, disengaged, sedentary, and temperamental. A good recipe for such negative effects is fried chicken nuggets, pizza, fries, oodles of noodles, hot dogs, cookies, junk snacks, refined flours, and sugary beverages. hat our kids are, as a population, having problems with unpredictable behavior, distraction, indifference, poor grades, and food cravings—not to mention obesity—should come as no surprise to anyone.
So what makes a lunch balanced? The best answer, for the first time in awhile, is provided by the federal government. The new MyPlate model, issued in June 2011, demonstrates an excellent balance of nutrients and food groups for most people. Picture a plate divided into four quarters, each occupied by protein, fruit, vegetables, or whole grains; calcium is provided along side. What about fats and oils? We all should know why deep fried nuggets, French fries and greasy pizza don’t fit the model well. Learn more about food groups and serving sizes at ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Although local school systems are trying hard to meet new standards for quality lunches, the healthiest kitchen is nearly always at your house. When lunch is brought from home, we have more control over its quality and nutrition. Inevitably, many of you will ask, “But how can I be sure my child will eat what I pack for him/her?”
The answer is don’t—pack it for them, that is. LET THEM PACK IT (subject to your guidance, of course). Offer your child a range of healthy choices, and let them choose. For example, offer baby carrots, raw broccoli florets, bell pepper sticks, and celery sticks (and two tablespoons of their favorite dip)—don’t worry which one they choose, as long as they choose at least one; the same applies for tuna fish, egg salad, a veggie burger, or turkey breast. If the child perceives control over choices, they are more likely to eat what’s been packed. If the child perceives less control, expect more resistance. Add an insulated lunch bag, a frozen ice pack, and a small dessert. Yes, desserts can be useful—but they can’t be the main course.
Remember this rule: Garbage in, garbage out. However, if we put well-balanced ingredients in, we are more likely to have a well-balanced child.