Earlier this summer, a few students using the Twitter hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama criticized the First Lady’s initiative to bring more nutrition into public schools, by displaying some less-than-appetizing snaps of their school lunches.
The federal government responded:
The unfortunate reality is that some schools are still a mixed bag in terms of serving students wholesome meals. Both images represent a relative minority of school lunches: for the most part, American kids are not consuming that unidentified slop, nor are they to enjoy locally-sourced greens in the cafeteria.
Why does this matter? If your children are lucky enough to attend a school that prioritizes nutrition, then this isn’t much of an issue. If you believe your kids are receiving (negative) hashtag-worthy meals, or your budget cannot permit a meal plan, then you do what so many do:
Pack the lunch. Or make your student pack their own. In the end it’s hopefully you buying the groceries.
Most parents think they’re covering the bases with the staples:
PB&J, apple, chips and a drink is the widely accepted American brown bag. It’s transportable, not smelly and leaves an easy cleanup.
But what does that tell us about the macronutrients and micronutrients?
Are these foods necessarily satiating?
I’m no nutritionist, but as someone who has opted to cook all my own meals, while attending a college with the highest nationally ranked campus good, ALL in the name of monitoring nutrition… here’s what I suggest you may be missing.
Simply put, these are the protein, fat and carbohydrate components of each meal.
For the purpose of keeping your student feeling full and focused throughout the day, balance the ratios carefully. I suggest prioritize lean protein first and then see what room you have for the fats and carbs.
Chicken breast is king here: It’s protein-dense and low-calorie, and will keep you full for longer. Tofu is the vegan relative. They’re both highly versatile, meaning you can cook them in different ways to keep things exciting.
For fats, foods heavy in the omega-3 department are ideal. I’m talking seafood (salmon) and dairy products (yogurt).
Carbs are kind of up to your discretion. The common brown bag lunch is way too carb-heavy, so out of bread, chips, and fruit — the best carb is clearly going to be the apple. Which brings me to…
These are the essential components that help all the systems of your body run at full capacity. They run your brain, heart, kidneys, liver, lungs central nervous system, bone density, joints and ligaments.
Drink tons of water. Not literally tons. But kids are likely not hydrated enough, and the juice box has less micronutrients than hours of sleep I get per night (NOT ENOUGH).
Vitamin C, aka Vitamin Crucial in supporting the immune system, aka Vitamin Colds are less of a problem when the seasons are changing. Citrus fruits and red bell peppers.
A case for kale. Kale is a superfood with more calcium than milk, more iron than beef, and chlorophyll. To make this leafy green more palatable to high schoolers, try this kale chip recipe.
Don’t overstress on these factors — the point is to develop an investment and curiosity towards nutrition early on. I believe this is more directly correlated to classroom performance than many think.
Once they get to college, it really does turn into a free-for-all, which is neither here nor there. Just know that while you have the power of quality control, it’s best to instill healthy practices for optimal performance.