Originally posted on the WishFit Blog on August 29, 2012

School is back in session, and that means many kids are back in the lunch line. Last week I shared some fresh ideas for packed lunches, but what if your kids buy lunch? Are they happy with the lunch offerings at their school? Are you?   

In January I told you all about some new mandatory guidelines for school lunches, many of which kicked off during the recent back-to-school season. I also talked about how my school district was addressing those guidelines, and reviewed some of the new food offerings. The biggest issue facing those of us who want to overhaul school food is getting kids to actually eat healthier items.  That challenge was reinforced for me today as I opened the Food section of The Denver Post.   

Colorado Kids columnists give lunch a makeover   

I encourage you to click the link and read the whole article. But if you don’t have the time (or the inclination), here are the highlights:  

  • Kids care a lot about their lunchtime environment: several of the kids interviewed in the article mention how they’d like to eat outside, or just have a nicer, less-crowded place to eat lunch. One girl also mentioned the time crunch for lunch at her school, lamenting they only have “five minutes to eat.” It sort of surprised me to see this sentiment pop up over and over, but it makes a lot of sense. If our goal is to educate kids about the benefits of healthy eating (and that should be our goal), it makes sense we should treat lunchtime and space with more respect.  
  • Students don’t want bland, lukewarm, reheated food: I’m sure it’s a challenge to make tasty food on a large scale, with a tight budget, and the varied palates of a lot of kids. And let’s face it; cafeteria food is never going to earn five stars. But it could probably be better. I mean, why are we stuck on the idea that kids will only eat dumbed down “kid food?” I think a lot of the time we train our kids to eat that way, and then wonder why they’ll only eat buttered pasta and chicken fingers. Spices are good. Balsamic vinegar is cheap and makes lots of stuff taste better. Fish doesn’t just come in battered, fried sticks. Pizza is still pizza, even if it has veggies instead of just plain cheese.  
  • Kids want chocolate milk and fruit juice, but not whole grains: shocking, right? I blame parents for this one. Nothing else to say about it. Teach your kids from birth (yes, birth: there’s no chocolate flavored infant formula!) that water and non-fat milk are the rule, and juices, sports drinks, soda, and flavored milk are the exceptions. Sandwiches come on whole wheat bread, with the crust, not white bread with the crust cut off. Kids will always love chocolate milk. Heck, I love chocolate milk. And lemonade too, now that I think of it. But most of the time, it just doesn’t enter into my mind that those are options for me.  
  • Some kids really are getting it: yes, there were the standard, “I wish we had fast-food Wednesdays again,” answers, but there were a lot of kids who wanted healthy choices. There were kids who liked having fresh fruit and veggies available. One girl said it best when she said, “Some of the foods I would include would be salads, assorted varieties of fruits and vegetables, and occasionally a few unhealthy foods.” Sounds like a perfect balance to me. Which is why sometimes at our house we eat this baked tilapia with kale and avocado salad on the side (and yes, my kids really did eat/like this). And sometimes we eat sausage and ricotta pizza, with s’mores ice cream for dessert. If you haven’t had s’mores ice cream, you are missing out!   

Oh, and btw, the zucchini casserole last night was a.maz.ing. It was kind of labor-intensive, and the cooking time was long, but Garrett said, “The time you spent was definitely worth it mommy, this is awesome!” And then he ate three helpings.