What’s for lunch? Parents, students have options

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2011

As parents prepare for their students’ return to school in the coming days, what to do about lunch is among the decisions to be faced.

Cost, convenience, and nutrition are among the factors to consider when decided whether to pack a lunch or buy one at school.

This school year, the price for school lunches has increased, thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger Free Act of 2010, which Congress approved last year.

Beginning this school year, students in the Andalusia City School and Covington County system will now pay $2 for lunch. In Opp, lunch prices will increase to $1.75 at the elementary school and middle schools and to $2 at the high school.

Mrs. Obama’s bill also ensures that water is available free of charge during the meal service and that only lower-fat milk options are served.

Chances are students won’t get the same amount of nutrition from a home-prepared meal for the price of the school lunch, officials said.

Andalusia Regional Hospital dietician John Newsom said the decision “can be a mine field.”

“Meals should be balanced with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy,” he said. “There is also concern with food safety when a child takes a lunch from home, as the foods in the lunch box/bag are not kept at safe temperatures.”

According to kidshealth.org, a healthy lunch can be accomplished either way.

“But it’s not a slam-dunk,” the website says. “Chances are, some meals and foods served in the school cafeteria are healthier than others.”

Newsom said that if parents do choose to send their children to school with their own lunch, portion control is a must.

“Portions need to be appropriate and not super-sized just because that is what Johnny likes,” he said. “Sweets and high sodium foods should be left out of the lunch box as they are empty calories. Nutrient dense choices should be offered.”

However, that doesn’t mean students shouldn’t eat at the school cafeteria, the website says.

“It just means you might want to give the cafeteria menu a closer look. Read the cafeteria menu the night before.”

Newsom suggested that students utilize the school lunch program.

“My vote is for our young people to participate in the school lunch program, as they will be offered and encouraged to eat the right balance of foods,” he said. “The foods are prepared in a safe environment. And in the long-run, it is cheaper than carrying a box lunch.”

Whether one chooses to pack his or her lunch or buy it at school, here are some tips for an enjoyable, nutritious lunch.

• Choose fruits and vegetables. It’s a good idea to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, so try to fit in one or two at lunch. A serving is a 1/2 cup or about six baby carrots or one medium orange.

• Know the facts about fat. Kids need some fat in their diets, but not too much of it. Some of the best low-fat foods are fruits, vegetables, and skim and low-fat milk.

• Let whole grains reign. Brown rice is a whole grain, but white rice is not. Likewise, wheat bread contains whole grains, whereas 100 percent white bread does not.

• Slurp sensibly. Milk has been a favorite lunchtime drink for a long time. If you don’t like milk, choose water.

• Balance your lunch. If you don’t have a variety of foods on your plate, it’s probably not balanced. A double order of French fries, for example, would not make for a balanced lunch.

• Steer clear of packaged snacks. It’s OK to have these foods once in a while, but they shouldn’t be on your lunch menu.

· Mix it up. Eating lots of different kinds of food gives your body a variety of nutrients.

• Quit the clean plate club. If you feel full, it’s OK to stop eating.