Thursday, September 6, 2012

School Lunches Part II

Deviled Eggs: Great for the Parent Back-to-School
Celebratory Luncheon. NOT great for the child's
brown bag school lunch. 
The new school year is underway and advice—from how to save on pencil sharpeners to how many extra-curricular activities are too many—floods the media. I’ve already tapped into my experience to provide the PICK FROM TWO system. In my second of two blogs addressing even more advice for back to school, we delve into the school lunch dilemma with notes on why not to pack certain foods.

Rather than take up valuable blog real estate and bore you with the entire list of foods at least one expert claims are best for your child’s school lunch, I’m going to focus on the items from the list you should AVOID. These items  include: Greek yogurt (or any yogurt, really), soup or chili (even if it is in an insulated container), deviled eggs and pasta or rice salad.  

While yogurt and deviled eggs are highly nutritious after school snacks, I’m not a fan of including them in a child’s lunch. I’ve been to the cafeteria. Those items will not be edible at lunchtime. They will be fun to use in an unofficial science experiment involving mushy foods, milk and a soda. Having some of the more interesting ingredients for the lunchroom experiment will make your child popular at the lunch table as well as increase his chances of getting to know the principal. But your child won’t be eating these foods.

Remember, your child is not headed to a swanky office complex where he or she can store the lunch in an oversized refrigerator sitting in a community kitchen. Your child is headed to school. His or her lunch bag or box will reside at the bottom of a backpack, in a stuffy locker or in a wooden or plastic cubby that may or may not get direct sunlight most of the day. It is best not to send your child to school with items that need to be refrigerated. If they don’t become part of the lunchtime entertainment, they will end up in the trash or, even worse, you child might actually take a bite, become sick—another popularity booster—and end up at home for the next two days. It’s best to pass on these items and leave the bacteria-growing to the biology department at the high school.

You are probably wondering why I’d be against soup or chili, considering experts suggest these items be packed in insulated containers. If children were able to prioritize or even conceive of proper insulated container handling and maintenance, I’d say go for it. However, this skill isn’t developed until one’s mid-thirties. If you send your child to school with soup or chili, you are going to have to clean soup or chili up for days. It will be in the child’s lunch bag or box, book bag and clothes. Drips and drops of soup or chili will dry to the interior of the child’s locker and be forever part of the bus or car seat cushion upon which the child sits while going to and from school.

We are left with pasta and rice salad. Rice should be self explanatory. By the time your child is old enough to eat rice without getting it everywhere, including in his or her ear, up his or her nose and between pages of his or her grammar book, he or she won’t want it unless it comes with hibachi steak and shrimp.

Pasta salad is a great snack. However, like other items requiring refrigeration, a salad is not the safest of selections for the school lunch. In addition to bacteria growth concerns, it has been my experience as a parent that children treat salads, including pasta salad, the way most people treat mixed nuts. They pick out the good stuff and toss the rest. Therefore, you might think your child is eating pasta, olives, sun dried tomatoes, and shaved carrot tossed in creamy Italian dressing. In reality, he or she is eating olives—one of which might have piece of shaved carrot clinging to it.

I advocate broadening your child’s palate and increasing his exposure to healthy foods. However, this is something that should be done at home, under close supervision, in a place where there is always a backup pbj sandwich at the ready.

Micki Bare, mother of three, wife, writer, and content strategist is the author of Thurston T. Turtle books. 
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Read Navigating Hectivity
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The PICK FROM TWO System for Back-to-School

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