Monday, January 19, 2009

Bagging on the Nutrition of Packed Lunches

There's a whole lot of talk about getting soda and fast food out of schools. And about improving school lunches, even as most schools are needing to cut funds or cut the lunch program altogether, which is what happened to 46 schools in two counties of central Texas. When this happens, parents have no choice but to pack their children's lunch.

Are parents doing any better for getting out the junk and providing a nutritious meal?

No, according to the recent study "Do Sack Lunches Provided by Parents Meet the Nutritional Needs of Young Children Who Attend Child Care?," by Sara J. Sweitzer, MEd, RD; Margaret E. Briley, PhD, RD; and Cindy Robert-Gray, PhD.

Findings from the study for the closed schools found that the parent-packed lunches failed to provide adequate nutrition to meet recommended daily intake for several nutriets.
  • 96 percent of lunches failed to provide even a third of the needed fiber
  • 71 percent did not meet requirements for fruit and vegetables
  • 80 percent did not meet requirements for calcium and dairy, fruit juices were packed instead.
Staff at the child care centers reported many of the lunches offered chips, fruit juice, sugary snacks and pre-packaged lunch meals. Fruits and vegetables were rarely noted.

Interestingly, the parents were surveyed about nutrition and all of the parents stated that they felt it was important for their child to get a nutritious meal at lunchtime. Other criteria for the parents' food choices:
  • 69 percent chose foods based on family preferences
  • 47 percent based on convenience of stores
  • 22 percent chose items for best quality produce
  • 11 percent said that seasonl produce was important
  • 55 percent admitted they knowingly packed lunches that were not healthy choices
Other reasons including only wanting to pack items the parents knew their children would eat, and the tendency for their kids to not want to try new things. Both of these issues are challenging, but can be overcome (Why Kids Eat What They Do — And Don't). In fact, the sooner these tendencies are overcome, the better outlook for your child's nutritional future. Food habits and preferences learned as a young child remain into early adulthood.

Pack wisely.

A few links to help:

  1. Children’s Nutrition Series (Intro)

  2. The State of Our Union’s Children
    A detailed overview of what trends are occurring in our children's diets, and the factors that contribute to the issues

  3. Our Children Are What They Eat
    A look at what our children are eating and the nutritional issues parents face.

  4. Why Kids Eat What They Do (or Don’t) Part I: Parents' Role
    A look at all the sources of dietary influence on our children's food choices. Part I includes the parents' role in influencing our children's diets.

  5. Why Kids Eat What They Do (or Don’t) Part II: Outside Influences
    A look at all the other sources of dietary influence on our children's food choices. This includes schools, social activity, marketing, food supply, culture. The post will examine each of the outside influences and how it affects our kids.

  6. Food Marketing and Your Child Part I: The Small Screen with Big Impact
    This topic belongs under the sources post, but it has become such a huge issue that it needs to be reviewed in depth. An estimated $12 billion is spent anually to market foods to children and youth. Often these marketing messages are targeted to pre-schoolers who are too young to be able to differentiate commercial messages from educational messages. Part I covers television advertising.

  7. Food Marketing and Your Child Part II: When the TV is Off, the Marketing is Still On
    Part II covers all the other forms of advertising, including marketing in our schools.

  8. We Shall Overcome: Recommendations for Parents
    A set of ten actionable steps we can take as parents to encourage a better diet and lifestyle for our children and minimize the impact of food marketing to our kids.

  9. Links and Resources
    Want to learn more on this topic? These links and resources are a great place to start.
Above is a typical lunch I packed for a two-year-old. The portions are bigger these days, but I try for 1-2 fruit, 1-2 vegetable, protein, wholegrain and milk daily. The reusable bento box in an insulated case helps me size portions and make sure I have a space for each food type.


ChristieNY said...

I am so guilty of packing poor lunches for my children because I put in what I know they will eat. My eldest is about to start Kindergarten though and I WANT to remedy this, but he has major aversions to various textures.

Strawberries and blueberries he won't touch, but he does eat apples, bananas, pears, etc. He loves cheese but I don't even know what kind of cheese that is in your picture, I'm guilty again of American Processed Cheeses and basic cheddar/mozzarella as his cheese repertoire.

When I give him cold veggies, even carrot or celery sticks, he pushes them aside, even though I eat them myself. I just need a bit of guidance and encouragement on exactly what and how to prepare these raw fruits and veggies to make them appeal to him.

You've inspired me - I WANT to get him and his toddler brother eating more healthy lunches, but it's hard when they request (and eat so willingly) balogna and american cheese sandwiches, sugar-filled yogurt cups, and the much abused option of sliced apples. Clearly I'm going to need help making better grocery lists and following through with preparing the food to be tasty and appealing to my little ones.

Thank you so much for all of your helpful articles and inspiration! :)

Janet said...

Ah, kids and food. My daughter took the same lunch to school for her entire elementary school career: peanut butter and honey on soft wheat bread (not necessarily 100% whole wheat), a small portion of chips (maybe 10) of some kind, an apple or banana, and graham crackers or cookie, and she bought milk at school. Somehow, she survived, even thrived, despite her 100% refusal of vegetables (although she'd eat any fruit put in front of her). We want to do best for our children, but sometimes what's best may be to quit worrying so much!

Expatriate Chef said...

Christie, we eat a lot of veggies around here, it just takes time and many exposures. Edamame is a FUN veggie, popping the beans out of the shells to eat, might give that a try. Dips are a good way to make veggies enticing. Control, like the power to choose a vegetable to try at the store, or even growing something from seeds that can be eaten. On the site (recipe index) there are things like carrot-raisin salad and some other veggie sides that are fun, and can be packed. I think I cooked everything orange a hundred ways, and carrot souffle I KNOW I made 50 times before the kid liked it. Now, she loves carrots.

It's not easy, but it gets easier. Hang in there! Also remember to gauge nutrition for kids over the course of a week since they can prefer one thing for a day, another the next. And the portions they need for a serving are smaller.

Textures can be worked with. Like sweet potato fries, you can steam the fries first, then bake, which makes them crisp like chips. Or mash them with orange juice (Basil-Orange Sweet Potatoes see index).

Experiment, make it fun for you too. You care, and that's what counts.

Expatriate Chef said...

Janet, you are right. It's good to not worry and enjoy the food, make it an experiment. I really like the "Great Big Veg Challenge" as an example. Check that one out!

ChristieNY said...

Thank you *so* much for the great info! I am definitely going to try getting more creative to make the "foreign" veggies look more familiar (like chips, fries, etc) to get started. :)

Any tips for green veggies? My kids will eat frozen peas and that's about it for green, and they won't stay crisp/frozen in a lunchbox. As soon as they SEE something green, they push it away.

Thanks so much! :)

Expatriate Chef said...

ChristieNY, Here is a link to an earlier post all about kids and green food.

Co-authors on the post with me were Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP. authors whose most recent book is Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor and a Bottle of Ketchup

I also like to serve green foods that are not vegetables just to get past the green thing and show how different a color can taste. The article should help.

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