Tag Archives: School lunch

Follow-up: The Lunch Menu

I had a few requests to share the lunch menu choices that I came up with for my boy (see My Back-to-School Bento Strategy).  Here you go, along with some notes for clarification:

Main Courses (I have him pick this first)

  • Amy’s Black Bean burrito
  • Chicken nuggets (I prefer Applegate)
  • Hot dog (again, Applegate) with dipping ketchup
  • Broccoli and Cheese Quiche (Homemade and then frozen in individual slices)
  • Pasta w/ pesto
  • Pancakes (homemade in advance and frozen, usually oat-whole wheat-banana)
  • Chips & Salsa
  • Pizza bagel
  • Baked Ziti
  • Chicken Cheese Quesadilla
  • Mac & Cheese
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Cheese cubes w/ crackers
  • Cheese and salami sandwich
  • Spinach Ravioli
  • Taco dip (leftover taco fillings) w/ tortilla chips
  • Tiny Meatballs with tomato sauce for dipping
  • Hummus w/ pita triangles
  • Hard-boiled Egg
  • Steamed dumplings (frozen or Asian restaurant leftovers) with soy sauce for dipping
  • Cheese and salami slices

Side Dishes (He tells me that he only has time to eat 1 or 2 other foods besides his main course)

  • Peaches (fruit cup or whole)
  • Cucumber spears
  • Edemame
  • Pineapple rings
  • Kiwi rounds
  • “Shell nuts” (pistachios)
  • Olives
  • Mini-muffins (homemade and then frozen – usually banana oat or pumpkin)
  • Fruit leather
  • Grapefruit slices (peeled)
  • Carrots w/ ranch dip (recipe from Weelicious)
  • Red bell pepper strips
  • Pears (fruit cup or whole)
  • “Candy carrots” (homemade roasted carrot bites)
  • Popcorn
  • Crackers
  • “Mommy’s Power Bars” (actually Ellie Krieger’s power bars)
  • New pickles
  • Grapes
  • Apple slices
  • Dried apricots
  • Fig bar
  • Cookies
  • French fries (leftover homemade or Alexia brand) w/ ketchup for dipping
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My Back-to-School Bento Strategy

Earlier this year, I wrote about the challenges I have packing school snacks for my 6 year-old  (See Snack Time).  I didn’t get into this in that post, but the thing that frustrates me most about his picky snacking is that he’s NOT a picky eater!  He’s actually an enthusiastic eater who will eat almost anything… unless it’s in his lunchbox. Here are some of the foods which he has enjoyed recently: sautéed flounder, red quinoa, stir-fried bok choy, golden beet yogurt smoothie, roasted potatoes tossed with garlic scape pesto, chicken in green curry sauce, duck bacon, broccoli rabe. Does this sound like a picky eater to you?

What happens at school (and this summer, at camp) is peer pressure, I think. It’s so annoying. And after forcing my preferred lunches on him for almost an entire school year, and seeing 75% or more of the food come home uneaten (and then having an over-hungry bear on my hands), I was really getting upset. And the daily arguments were really getting old.

A child psychologist who knows my son suggested that I needed to let go of lunch and let him select his own food. It was becoming a major power struggle and my nutritional ideals were no longer worth it. Fair enough, I thought, though the idea of letting him have free reign didn’t sit well. Then, my mother threw in the advice that tipped the scale: Make a list of ALL of the potential lunch and snack options that I would be comfortable serving him and let him choose the menu each week.  Brilliant, I thought. Let him THINK he’s getting his way while still holding my Dietitian dignity intact.

As part of my new plan, I bought a bento-style lunch box from Laptop Lunches. I don’t know why, but a bento box lunch is just more fun.  It allows for the provision of a variety of foods along with nice extras like dips or small tastes of sweet treats (in its tiniest covered container). And for some reason packing a lunch in a bento box gets the creative juices flowing – suddenly you think of new ideas and your packed lunches become so much more attractive and appealing.

With bento box in hand, I made a list of foods for my boy to choose from and tested the strategy during the last few weeks of summer camp. The verdict: Success! The fights have basically ceased, and he’s actually selecting more fresh fruits and vegetables than he was eating before. The illusion of power has mitigated his picky-ness.

So, now as the start of the new school year approaches I have a bit less stress. I may not know WHAT I’m sending in the lunchbox each day, but I do know HOW!

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About last night…

I served the fam stuffed baked potatoes for dinner last night and I didn’t know I was stepping into a hot-button issue until I read the paper.  An article in the Wall Street Journal  (“Spuds, on the Verge of Being Expelled, Start a Food Fight in the Cafeteria”) highlights a provision in a proposed USDA regulation which would limit the amount of starchy vegetables (i.e., white potatoes, corn, lima beans, and peas) served as part of the National School Lunch Program to 1 cup per week. The rule is based on Institute of Medicine recommendations noting that kids eat too much starch and not enough other vegetables.  The USDA’s intention is to “encourage students to try new vegetables in place of the familiar starchy ones.”  (See here for the complete language.)

Perhaps because they have a louder lobby than, say, the lima bean folks, potatoes have been the starchy vegetable to make the headlines about this proposed rule. So, let’s talk for a moment about the potato.

A medium potato grows in the ground, not in a factory. It contains about 160 calories, mostly from carbs.  It also provides about 4 grams fiber, 10% of your iron for the day, 28% of your vitamin C, 27% of your B6, 26% of your potassium, good amounts of magnesium and phosphorus, and even a few grams of protein.

Yeah, this sounds like a terrible food. Better serve the kiddos pizza boats instead.

I’ll spare you ALL of my thoughts on this issue, and let’s put aside for a moment the fact that it’s probably the case that too many potatoes served in schools are in the form of French fries.  My problem with this rule is that placing limits on an entire food group feels like ” nutritionism” – the focus on specific nutrients and dietary components of a food to decide whether or not it’s “good” for you or to decide whether or not it fits into a healthy diet. This kind of rule-making leads to the absurd reality that schools can serve processed foods as long as they are specially formulated to meet all of the NSLP requirements. Why would we want make a rule that will in effect limit the consumption of a whole healthy food?

(Perhaps it’s odd for an RD to express anti-nutritionism leanings, but I’m definitely concerned with the way food manufacturers and marketers and uninformed consumers can use this kind of perspective to build a diet full of processed foods.  Attention to nutrients certainly has its place, especially in Medical Nutrition Therapy for certain medical conditions, but for me personally, when selecting manufactured foods I tend to read the ingredients list but not the Nutrition Facts.  But I digress.)

And finally, does anyone honestly believe that by eliminating potatoes and corn it will force kids to try other vegetables? (“Well, there’s no mashed potatoes today so I guess I’ll eat this over-boiled asparagus instead!”) I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it.

So about last night: I served stuffed baked potatoes and they were enjoyed by all.

Mushroom, Spinach & Feta Stuffed Potatoes  (adapted from Rachael Ray) – Serves 4 (2 adults, 2 kids)

  • Olive oil
  • 4 baking potatoes (I pick out larger ones for me and the husband, smaller ones for the kids. And I prefer organic.)
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 bunches spinach, stems trimmed and leaves chopped.
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • S/P to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the potatoes until cooked through, about 50 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat about a tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Add a little more olive oil to the skillet; add the spinach and cook until wilted. Add the spinach to the mushrooms; add the feta and stir until mostly melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cut a deep “X” into the top of each potato and squeeze together to open. Generously stuff each with the spinach mixture.

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Snack time

My kindergartener eats lunch at 10:45am so they have snack in the early afternoon.  At the beginning of the year, I foolishly (brazenly!) packed his snack bag with “real food” – not chips or cookies or little fish-shaped cheese crackers. I gave a cheese stick one day, a yogurt another.  Half a sandwich.  An apple. Well, did I get a talking to. “Mommy, I DON’T want ANYTHING from the REFRIGERATOR!” (translation: “I don’t want real food – I want snack food from the pantry instead).

Of course, for the first few weeks I ignored his whines, secure in my RD-mom knowledge. But eventually these nutritious morsels started coming back home in the bag, uneaten, unwanted (and now spoiled after being at room temperature for 10 hours).

So, trying to reach a common ground, and accepting that he has his own opinions, I asked him what he wants for snack. “I dunno,” he said.  Well, what do the other kids eat? “Candy,” I was told.  This can’t be true.  Kids are given candy to get them through the afternoon?  Brilliant. (Actually, for you NY Magazine readers, it’s Despicable-Lowbrow.)

Well, I can’t abide candy for a snack. But I also grew very tired of wasting food and arguing with my son. And so I got kinda lazy. Those fish-shaped crackers are really easy to throw into a baggie each day.  And granola bars aren’t so bad… I mean, I buy the organic ones. And Sun Chips are made with whole grains…and on and on.

And at this point I must let you in on a little secret: this post was going to be about how it’s not a big deal that I give my child processed snack foods every day because I choose the “right” ones and the rest of his diet is really healthy and I’m tired of fighting and I’m not an uptight food nazi, you know.

But as I’m writing this, I have decided that that’s just silly.  These snacks may be “healthy” processed foods, but they’re still too high in sodium, too high in sugar.  I do have these foods in my home and I think in moderation they’re ok.  But, a few hours after snack time at school it’s snack time at his afterschool program, where he is served a lot of junk like Oreos, Doritos, lollypops. (I’m thrilled when I hear he had something relatively wholesome like plain pretzels or Cheerios.) So, suffice it to say, he gets plenty of processed snack foods.  Also, I like to give him ice cream for dessert sometimes or make cookies together or other treats without feeling like he’s already so full of junk that I’m junking him up even further.

And so, as of this week, I’ve decided to fight back, get back to my good nutrition roots.  I made a batch of homemade energy bars with nuts, dried fruit, oats, wheat germ, and a touch of maple syrup (from Ellie Krieger’s cookbook, “The Food You Crave”). I’m making oatmeal applesauce muffins this weekend.  I’m going to make yogurt dip to go with some 100% whole grain tortilla chips and carrot sticks.  I’m going to make him try edamame again. And I’m giving him a cheese stick sometimes, darnit. Occasionally I’m going to throw some little fishies or Fig Newmans in a baggie and send him on his way.  But I’m not going to completely give up again. It’s hard, but gosh if I can’t give this a good effort, how do I advise others with a straight face?

That’s it for now. Go forth and snack healthy…er.

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