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Does Your Child’s School Lunch Make the Grade?

From the Show: Naturally Savvy
Summary: It's the never-ending parental conundrum: do you pack a lunch for your kids, or do you trust the school cafeteria?
Air Date: 9/3/14
Duration: 10
Host: Andrea Donsky, RHN and Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest Bio: Amy Hendel
Known as "The HealthGal," contributing health expert and blogger, Amy Hendel, is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, lifestyle expert, columnist and spokesperson. Trained as a physician's assistant and nutritionist, she maintains a private practice as a health coach. Her first book, Fat Families Thin Families (BenBella Publishers, 2008), offers a team approach to helping families cope with obesity and related health issues. The newest edition, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, is available at bookstores and online.

Amy is featured host of Healthination’s What’s for Lunch?, Food Rescue and Simple Smoothies. She’s been a guest on Today, Good Morning America, FOX News, Access Hollywood Live, Early Show, Marie!,  Rachel Ray, 700 Club, EXTRA, and national and local news and talk shows. Past producer and host of healthy home segments on HouseSmarts, Amy has also hosted Westwood One’s Good Eating Good Living, Lifetime's Stories on the Beach, and the PBS medical talk shows HealthZone and Doctors on Call.
  • Book Title: The 4 Habits of Healthy Families
  • Guest Twitter Account: @HealthGal1103
Does Your Child’s School Lunch Make the Grade?
With schools getting into full-swing, you might have the never-ending parental conundrum: do you pack a lunch for your kids, or do you trust the school cafeteria and let them buy their lunches at school?

Two recent studies show that, unless you are truly nutritionally savvy, the latter might be the better option.

The first study suggested that although the expectation was that parents would be sending healthier lunches than what was available at school; that was not actually the case. The school lunches won out.

In the second study it was made clear that while there is an obesity epidemic in our nation and many kids are overweight, many parents don't believe their children have a weight problem and that they are "normal sized."

These two things are going on head-to-head in an environment where the government (particularly First Lady, Michelle Obama) has been trying to improve school lunches... and is surprisingly winning.

In fact, schools have been aggressively implementing changes, against the tide of parents' voices.

What sorts of changes are schools making?

Many schools are changing the face of vending machines and providing healthier options, cutting down on juice, whole milk and sweetened/flavored milk, trying to bring in healthier protein options, switching out white breads for whole grains, and making fruit "fun."

When you look at it that way, it does seem better than a rushed, harried parent who is buying foods -- which, while they may purport to be "healthy" -- are truly not. The efforts of parents may fall short of what the schools are trying to do.

Granted, many parents would rather have their kids eat something rather than nothing. But, if that "something" contains high-fat, high-sodium, processed foods, you're actually setting them up for blood sugar slumps in the late morning or afternoon and clogged arteries which can impair and diminish mental and physical capacity.

Don't get the wrong impression, it's not the fault of the parent. Getting ready in the morning can be so rushed, especially when your kid tells you, "Oops, I forgot to do my homework."

So, if you still prefer to pack your kid's lunch rather than trust the school cafeteria, what are some things you can do to make sure that lunch is healthy and good?

Target fruits and vegetables, but add a wow factor. Add in a dip, such as peanut butter or nut butter, a healthy yogurt dip, or hummus dip. Kids love to dip!

Quality protein is crucial. It is satiating, essential for muscle strength, and tends to replace some of the bad carbs because it's so filling. Instead of processed lunch meats, include hard-boiled eggs, last night's leftover chicken and pasta, edamame beans, or nuts mixed with whole grain cereal as a nice topping for Greek yogurt (which is protein-packed).

Finally, presentation is everything. Get creative with your packing materials; this alone can encourage your kids to eat what you give them.

Remember, you're working against kids who have grown up drinking juice and processed foods. Even if you haven't raised your kids that way, your kids' friends may have that up-bringing. Off-set this challenge with presentation and creative thinking.

One other big mistake that parents make is trusting the marketing of packages. Words like "natural" or "fortified" or "whole grain" tend to grab the attention of parents who want their kids to eat healthy, but may not have the know-how (or time) to weed through those marketing tactics to find actual good, healthy, whole foods.

You have to be a food-buying detective. If you don't recognize the ingredients, or if the foods contain a lot of sugar, sodium and/or artificial colors, choose a better option.

What else can you do to make sure your kids' school lunch makes the grade? Nutritionist Amy Hendel joins Andrea and Lisa to share great ideas for ensuring your kids eat healthy, whether they are in school or at home.