School Lunches: What's a Mother to Do?

Never before have we been so focused on what our kids eat in the course of a school day, starting with breakfast. Is their breakfast whole grain? Are their lunches balanced with fruits, veggies, and lean proteins?  Do the calories match their needs?

I'm at least as guilty as the next parent in pondering these issues. In fact, it would be safe to call me a Poster Mom for Healthy Eating. The mother of two sons, 13 and 15 ½, I remember their distress at my refusal to buy a popular lunch kit when they were little guys because it was high in sodium, had no whole grains, and included candy.Instead, I packed lean meats and cheeses on whole grain breads surrounded by carrot slices, cucumber chunks and juicy pieces of fruit, all the while assuring them that one day the company would catch on and offer healthier kits. I believed in starting kids out with good-for-you foods.  I still remember when our then 2 year-old proclaimed that the restaurant pancakes weren't pancakes because they weren't topped with fruit. He didn't realize that fruit and pancakes were not inextricably intertwined because that was all he had eaten at home.

They're older now and make more of their own choices.  Although my kids brown bag it most days, the school has food for sale so I'm no longer the only food game in town.  Does my pancake-lover remember fruit at 15½ and select it for a snack when he's at school and free to choose? Will he eat the baked chips I sent along or will he swap them for the fried variety? Will the 13 year-old eat the grapes and carrots I packed or will they make their way down a trash chute in favor of a slice of pizza? One bag of the sugar snap peas I'd tucked into the lunch boxes for a little crunch made its way back home the other day. Does that mean the kids aren't benefitting from the array of healthy choices and I shouldn't have packed the peas?

Absolutely not. They get the message. I think my job is to hear what they like the most, present the best choices I can, help them understand the benefits of great choices, and trust that the importance of this dance is indeed seeping into their consciousness. I know that some things will go over big; others will fall flat. The rejects don't mean that I should stop trying. They mean I have to try harder—with the choices and our conversations.

Food topped our younger son's list of questions for his brother as he prepared to join him at the middle/high school this September. Despite my unending dedication to deliciously healthful eating as a way of life, not once did I hear a question about what types of salads the school served. Nope. I heard inquiries about fried tater tots. Thank heavens the school doesn't serve them!