Nick Offerman starts out this video with the statement:
“The government wants us to offer healthy choices in school lunches…”
However, what is “healthy” and how can thousands of schools across the nation supply healthy foods to students when they also have to contend with shelf life, space, and storage issues?
After all – healthy foods spoil quickly; processed foods (with varying degrees of healthy qualities) stay in suspended degrees of ‘freshness,’ sometimes indefinitely.
This video does a great job of adding some humor to a subject that causes parents some worry as they shuttle their kids to school. It’s the question, “What’s for lunch?” that nags at us as we wander down the grocery aisles.
Face it, many us try to navigate three important priorities as we journey through grocery store aisles for lunch solutions:
- Satisfy our conscious of doing what’s best for our kids health;
- Satisfy our wallets by avoiding purchases that, although healthy, may remain untouched, even making their way to the trash can because our kids won’t eat it, and
- Satisfy our kid’s tastes and “coolness” factor as they sit down to eat.
Yes – there is a “coolness” factor at the lunch table!
As adults, it’s easy for us to say “Don’t worry about what Johnny is bringing to school for lunch…just eat what you have – it’s better for you!”
But don’t be too quick to judge your child’s desire to ‘fit in.” After all, how often do you find yourself wanting some “thing” after you saw it advertised on television, or saw it at work or the coffee shop? You know, that new gadget, accessory, vehicle, or whatever.
We all do it…even the best of us, on the best days.
The Good Ole’ Days of School Lunches
Once upon a time, school lunch wasn’t so complicated…really!
The lunch lady was happy to whip up a sandwich that was a simple mix of creamy peanut butter, honey, and bananas on bread. Or, the brown-bag group begged mom and dad to let them buy lunch on Thursday because it was Turkey with Mashed Potato and Gravy day where the whole thing was mixed together in a Styrofoam cup…yum!
Or even better, the school had a working cafeteria where the lunch choices were made fresh, on-site, and had a variety of options…made from fresh ingredients.
However, today, schools are struggling to find that balance of “healthy” and “cost effective.” That’s difficult enough; however, throw in government oversite and everything starts to resemble a 3-ring circus. Case in point…did you know that apples served in today’s school cafeterias cannot be “too large” or else the calorie count goes up and all the sudden, the apple is evil…*sigh.
So what can you do as a parent and caregiver?
3 Tips for Bringing Healthy Foods Home
#1: If It’s Not In the Cart; It’s Not In the Pantry
Nutrition starts at home. If your kids spend most of their time in your household, then that is where they are going to develop and practice good habits. You can control what they learn. It starts at the grocery store. Rather than “stock up” on those processed treats and extras (like chips, cookies, sugary drinks) when they are on sale or you have a coupon, purchase them only when you are going to use them.
Better yet…eat them only when you make them from scratch!
While it would be great to tell you that you should never let your kids eat the chips, cookies, or cereals they see advertised on TV or what their friends eat; implementing that advice is a little harder in real life. You know, you have to pick your battles.
So – clear the battlefield by eliminating the worst of the worst from your pantry. If it doesn’t make it home from the store, then when your growing kids get the munchies their choices will tend to be on the more healthy side.
#2: Leave it to Beaver…or Something Like That
Wouldn’t it be great to be just like June Cleaver. You can put on a dress and pearls each day, and be the stereotypical “housewife” of the 1950’s where every meal is hot and ready by the time the gang came home?
Um…I didn’t think so!
Now, I have nothing against moms of every walk in life. It’s your life, your choice, and I’m guessing most moms do a pretty darn good job of getting it done when it comes to child rearing. No matter what your style is!
It’s not, as the 1950 black and whites would have us believe, a one-size-fits-all solution.
After all, Barbara Billingsley, the woman who played June Cleaver on the Leave it to Beaver series, was a working mom.
But what if you added just a little bit of domestication to your life (or hired it out) in order to bring better options to the table?
Here’s a really simple example. Let’s look at the all-time favorite – Chocolate Chip Cookie. You can buy a package of them from one of the big food manufacturers down the cookie aisle; you can venture into break-and-bake territory in your grocer’s refrigerated section; you can call Grandma; or you can bake them from scratch.
Here’s the benefit of the last option – baking from scratch. You control what goes into that cookie!
How much or how little you experiment with the original recipe is totally up to you; however, here are a couple easy “baking hacks” you can try right now:
- Flour: Rather than All-Purpose Flour, try a half and half combination of Almond Flour (you can even grind fresh, raw, unroasted and unsalted almonds to create the flour) or Oat Flour (again, you can grind whole oats) and your normal flour. This adds a little more fiber and complex carbs to that cookie. Or, purchase Sprouted Wheat Flour – it’s more expensive, but studies show increased nutritional value with sprouted wheat.
- Sugar: Cut the amount in half. If the recipe calls for 1 cup, try it with just half a cup.
- Try some Add-Ins: Good options are little bit of Flax Seed, Sunflower Seeds, or Dried Figs (chopped).
- Butter: Many people (including yours truly) still prefer to use butter in their cookies. As often as possible, choose organic and non-salted. For some baked items, try alternatives like Extra Light Virgin Olive Oil (great for Omega 3 Fatty Acids); Coconut Oil; or Apple Sauce. Test it by using part butter and part the alternative.
- Bake only what you’ll eat today: If there are 4 people in your family; bake 8 cookies and freeze the rest of the dough for later. This type of food is meant to be a treat so when you bake it when you want it; you’re less likely to reach for this when you’ve got a ‘sweet tooth.’
- Pack it with a Buddy: If you’re sending a cookie off to school as a snack, include a sliced apple in the bag. Just slice the apple (finger food), soak it for just a minute in a mixture of water and lemon juice (1 cup water and 1 tsp lemon), pat dry, and put it in the container. In fact, you can slice and pack several apples at the beginning of the week and they will stay fresh looking as long as you soak them in the lemon water and store them dry.
What you may notice is after you start baking your own treats, using less sugar and fewer processed options, your taste buds will begin to adjust. It will be harder to go back to the processed items offered at the grocery store and bakery because they will just taste too sweet, or too salty, and you won’t miss them. Really.
#3: Everyone Wants to Be Italian
I remember reading about Italian families that immigrated to the United States in the 1940’s and 50’s. The kids were the envy of all their new American neighbors because of what they carried in their lunch pails. Sure, they got a few odd looks at first; however, what happened next was transformational.
While the American kids packed sandwiches, the Italian kids carried pasta and meatballs and osso buco, and all those other delectable Italian dishes you and I gladly pay for at our favorite Italian trattoria.
In fact, the food looked so amazing, the American moms approached their new Italian female neighbors to learn how to cook up something new and exotic, beyond the mac n’ cheese casserole which they had perfected.
Why not start something new at your kid’s school?
As you build up their appreciation for healthy and delicious food at home, which can be a variation of home-made, partially pre-made, or delivered from one of the meal delivery companies that are popping up, you can allow that to spill over into their academic day.
Think about this possibility: Once they bring spaghetti and meatballs to school, that cola and chip option may not look so “cool.”