Healthy School Lunch Options for Children

hasselbackpotatoes1School lunch periods seem to keep getting shorter. While this may not be the case for everyone, if you asked parents in your community, you might find their children often feel rushed at lunchtime. Perhaps yours do too. It is a trend, according to a recent article by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which makes it more difficult for children to make healthy lunch choices and to consume healthier foods. As the article notes, a child can slurp down applesauce in a matter of seconds — but it takes more time to nibble a whole apple.

As Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association notes. “If we want our students to eat more salads, fruits and vegetables, we need to give them more time to consume them.” Pratt-Heavner recommends a child be provided 20 minutes to eat, after having been served. The problem is, many kids stand in line anywhere from 5 – 30 minutes for lunch. In some cases, students won’t eat at all because they don’t have the time — and that can make students “more prone to headaches, stomachaches and behavior problems and less able to concentrate in class.”

For families interested in school lunch nutrition, the Farm to School Organization is a great resource. For those of you in the Great Lakes region, you can follow the Farm to School in the Great Lakes Facebook page. The Facebook page is an easy way to find the most recent trends and articles on school nutrition and school initiatives such as School Gardens.

Farm to School is “a program that connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.” Farm to School offers a variety of programs and services, including:

• Providing locally grown foods in school breakfasts, lunches, after school and classroom snacks.
• Educational materials and tools.
• Food-related curriculum development, including assistance with school gardens, farm tours, visits by farmers and/or chefs, and visits to farmers’ markets.

The Farm to School website offers links to programs for each state. Currently, in Wisconsin we have 123 Farm to School programs in 102 school districts; there are approximately 168 farmers’ markets in the state. Farm to School has been growing in Wisconsin thanks, in part, to a 2009 bill that promotes the Farm to School program in our state. The bill provides the Wisconsin Farm to School program with a state level Advisory Council and a state coordinator through the Department of Agriculture (DATCP). In 2010, the Department of Public Instruction, the Department of Health Services (DHS) and DATCP also issued a memorandum officially sanctioning the purchase of locally grown fruits and vegetables for school meal programs.

To learn more about Farm to School in Wisconsin, you can also listen to WPR’s interview with Farm to School coordinators from the La Crosse County Health Department and the UW-Madison’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

What else can you do to ensure your children have the energy they need to do well both during and after school? Serve your children a healthy after school snack before they tackle their homework or some much-needed play time. Remember, potatoes are an excellent energy source (with 37g of complex carbohydrates) and are gluten-free. This Turkey and Potato Wrap is sure to be a hit for hungry students.

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