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The Problem with School Lunch Programs

School lunch programs are great for some families and children, especially those in need and missing out on balanced meals at home. However, school administrators and government organizations struggle with feeding millions of kids without breaking the bank and providing food children will eat (picky eaters all around!). They are often filled with canned, frozen, and processed foods to keep them within the budget. Some children eat whole foods at home and others eat mostly processed foods so it’s a challenge to find a balance between healthy and palatable. Processed foods (including many canned or frozen) are less nutritious due to processing destroying vitamins, minerals, and beneficial probiotics. Often, preservatives are added to increase shelf life and sodium levels are high. While school lunch programs benefit many families and officials are trying their best to make these meals nutritious, affordable, and palatable; if you want to prepare lunches at home from fresh ingredients that you source, here are some creative and fun recipes to try!

Tips to Create Healthy Lunches Your Child will Eat!

1. Get Your Kids Involved! Allow them to help with meal planning and preparation. You can set guidelines such as one protein, one veggie, one fruit, and allow your child to come up with ideas on how to satisfy those guidelines. Have them help you pack the lunch and prepare it. This usually gets them excited about eating it and gives them ownership of their lunch.

2. Stick With What They Like! You can try new recipes and foods at dinner time or over the weekends but when it comes to school lunches, keep it simple! If they like salad, give them salad! If they struggle with eating veggies, sneak them into other foods you know they like. 

3. Use Thermos Style Lunch Boxes for Hot Lunch! Just because lunch comes from home doesn’t mean you kiddo has to miss out on hot lunch! Use lunch boxes with a built in thermos to send hot lunches like chili, soup, or lasagna (sneak veggies into these meals!). 

4. Cut Out Shapes and Fun Designs for Younger Kids! Kids enjoy eating when it is fun. If you have a picky eater on your hands, try cutting out veggies into different shapes and use nutritious dips for fun eating.

5. Bake and Prepare in Advance! Use leftovers when possible and bake healthy snacks or desserts over the weekend for the upcoming week. Remember to aim for less processed and more whole foods where possible. Sneak veggies into sauces and baked goods!

Recipe Ideas

Lettuce-wrapped hamburgers (or plain hamburger patty), sliced cucumbers, homemade ranch (or favorite dipping sauce), grapes, and a homemade cookie.

Homemade meatballs, carrot sticks, homemade ranch (or favorite dipping sauce), clementine, and applesauce.

Lettuce wrapped tacos with grilled chicken and rice, sliced cucumbers, strawberries, and a homemade muffin.

Grilled chicken, dried fruit, crackers, and carrot sticks.

Cucumber sandwich (sliced cucumbers with organic deli meat and cheese in between slices), broccoli or cauliflower, sweet potato chips, and blueberries.

Lunchmeat roll-ups (organic deli meat with tomato rolled up and sliced), sliced apple with almond butter, homemade jello or fruit gummies, and crackers.

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