Dear Dr. Miller:
I am concerned about the content of school lunches. Do you have an opinion or ideas about this topic?
The media is full of frightening news about the prevalence of obesity in the United States. Sadly, many of our children are obese. It is a good idea to find out exactly what types of lunches are served in your child's school, and what standards they follow. All of us also need to watch the nutritional content of any food we bring into our homes and check the type and amount of snacks that our children consume.
In general, many of us eat entirely too many carbohydrates and starches. This contributes to our obesity epidemic. Every person has a unique enzyme system for digestion and different metabolism rates based on activity level and hormones, including thyroid levels. Too many carbohydrates and starches set up a metabolism syndrome first with increased weight around the trunk area. Increased blood lipids and elevated cholesterol eventually can lead to type 2 diabetes. Decreased consumption of carbohydrates, sugars and starches, and an increase in muscle activities will burn off the carbohydrates and starches and help to prevent these problems.
Lunches the schools provide can vary in quality. It is encouraging to know there are regulations that create specific requirements for all school lunches. I do believe that most school districts take nutrition seriously and do everything possible to provide a healthy lunch. If you are concerned that your child is not getting enough healthy choices, if your child has dietary restrictions or even if you prefer to eat only organic food, it might be best for you to send your child to school with a cold lunch.
The first thing that you need to think about if you are going to go the cold lunch route is lunch gear. It is not as simple as it once was when you could just go out and buy a box decorated with a favorite movie hero on it, or stuff it in a bag. Your choice depends on the type of food you will be packing, and where and when it's eaten. Will this lunch contain hot food or food that needs to stay cold? What kind of beverage will you be sending?
J.M. Hirsch of The Denver Post had some interesting ideas. He advises people in an Associated Press article to buy only lunch containers that are dishwasher safe. He said that even though you might not plan on using a dishwasher, a product that can be cleaned in one is probably more durable. He recommends soft-sided, insulated cooler bags and says two compartments are best. This helps when you want to segregate items. Insulated drink bottles are great because they don't sweat and you can use them for hot or cold drinks. Thermoses are good for larger foods such as spaghetti and meatballs. When you are buying a Thermos, the thermal rating will tell you how long it will keep food hot or cold. Prime them for hot foods by putting boiling water in them for a few minutes and for cold food put them in the freezer for a few minutes before filling.
Shereen Jegvig had some good lunch ideas in an article she wrote called "Pack a Health School Lunch." She said that ranch or French onion dip in a small container is delicious with crunchy raw green beans. A salad in a covered plastic container, with the dressing on the side, is refreshing and good and now they have salad containers with sections that can be frozen so that the dressing can be kept cold until lunchtime. A fruit salad with grapes, melons and blueberries is tasty and any kind of yogurt makes a delicious dressing for a fruit salad. A cold pasta salad makes a good lunch and if you are sending sandwiches add cheese sticks for a good source of calcium. Sometimes, especially in the winter a hot lunch seems preferable. Now that we have insulated jars this is possible. If you make sure the food is heated to at least 140 degrees before putting it into an insulated container you can send just about anything from leftovers from the night before to stews, soups, spaghetti, chili, etc.
When you are packing a lunch for your child, try to make it delicious and fun. If you send your child to school with something he or she does not like, it will most likely end up in the garbage and your work packing it will be for nothing. Above all, make sure your child is eating food that is healthy and nutritious.
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