School cafeterias have an indistinguishable smell… no matter what’s on the menu. The sectioned off Styrofoam or cardboard plates usually hold some kind of overcooked vegetable, a syrupy fruit concoction, and a main course of something fried and/or processed. However, with health problems on the rise in children ages 4-12, parents are becoming more conscious of what their students’ mid-day meals consist of.
The makers of CLIF Bar who teamed up with Chef Anne Cooper, author of Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children have started the All American Lunchbox Makeover this school year.
They are helping parents, they said, helpful ideas to encourage healthier food choices, beginning with the reinvention of the American lunchbox.
“Eating habits are learned behaviors; they’re not intuitive, so what your children learn to eat at home early in life sticks with them well into adulthood,” Cooper explained.
“Implementing healthy eating habits doesn’t have to be a daunting task. The key is to know how to make food appealing to kids.”
Cooper said she got involved in the revolution some years back, while writing a book about the food industry.
“During the writing process I really started thinking about, as a chef, why food that I cooked for people could be making them sick and how the food supplies were owned and how that all happens….”
When offered a job involving school nutrition, Cooper jumped at the chance. “I thought it was a way I could truly give back and maybe make a difference with kids and I already knew the serious issues with the food supply…high in salt, not really any fresh fruits or vegetables,” she explained.
Healthy alternatives to the popular dried fruit peels, juice boxes and cereal bars for both lunch and snack times will be available in places such as Whole Foods and Wal-Mart this September.
“Its better for kids who have smaller stomachs to eat smaller meals and snacks throughout the day… for better digestion,” explained nutritionist Tara DelloIacono-Thies, RD.
Since this is the first year of the campaign, statistics on the effects of the lunchbox changes are not yet available.
“But anecdotally, absolutely we see kids better behaved, etc, “ said Cooper, who is the director of Nutrition Services for the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), improving meals at 16 public schools with a population of over 9,000 students.
CLIF Kid offers these five simple and easy-to-remember tips in a LUNCH acronym for parents looking for ways to pack healthier back-to-school meals and snacks:
-Load up on fruits, vegetables and whole grains-Cater to kid-specific nutrition needs.
-Use variety-Keep it interesting and fun with shapes, colors, textures and flavors.
-Nix artificial foods-Look for organic and all-natural foods.
-Cut stuff up-Give kids bite-sized foods or dipping pieces.
-Hydrate! -Keep kids’ bodies in balance with water and electrolytes.
“The very first thing we should be doing is making sure our kids get as little processed food as possible,” said Cooper.
by Jennifer Bihm