I thought I was doing a pretty good job of packing my children’s lunch boxes by filling them with all of their favorites — pepperoni pizza Hot Pockets, ham and cheese Lunchables, mini Oreos, an orange and a juice box.
It’s what they wanted, and I didn’t have to listen to them complain about school lunches and hear about soggy broccoli, hair in the food or the “funny” tasting wheat rolls.
My conscience was re-awakened this month. While I scrolled through a few news articles, one caught my attention. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that packed lunches are not as healthy as school lunches.
It’s not hard to guess why, either. Many packed lunches contain desserts, sweet snacks, processed meats and sugary drinks. My children’s lunch boxes would definitely be on the chopping block.
School cafeterias get a lot of help. Thanks to recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture, schools know what to provide kids — things like fruits and vegetables and whole-grain foods.
Those guidelines have helped contribute to more children eating healthier, researchers found.
We, as parents, however, sometimes want to follow our own guidelines, or worse, let our children guide us. If it were up to my 8-year-old, her lunch box would run over with sour chewy straws, Nerds, Skittles and Kool-Aid drink boxes.
While it is true that many of our lunch boxes are not giving our children what the school lunches can provide — adequate nutrition — 40 percent of parents still prepare a packed lunch for their schoolchildren, researchers found.
My children particularly enjoy those pre-packed lunches on the store shelves. Many packed lunches, as the study found, contain low levels of protein, fiber, calcium and vitamin A. Box lunches also contain more saturated fats and sugars. They do have some positives, however, as school lunches contained more salt and less vitamin C, the study found.
My oldest daughter, who is 12, eats and often enjoys her school lunch meals — particularly the spaghetti and shrimp stew — so I do not take my younger children’s claims as serious.
My solution is to continue packing their lunches, but with a whole lot more green in those bags. Celery and carrot sticks are easy to pack and contain plenty of vitamins. I can even make wraps and sandwiches with non-processed turkey and cheese, and chop up a salad on the side.
It is going to take a little more effort on my part, but I do want to do a better job of making their lunch bags healthier.
Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org