When it comes to school lunches, there are plenty of regulations which can be different in each country, state, and grade in school. It is very important that parents make sure they know what their school allows and what it doesn't. It is also of essence that the parents make sure they fulfill all the nutritional requirements in order to assure the child has a well balanced and good meal.
Every parent wants their child to grow up into a healthy person, and most of these restrictions serve exactly that purpose.
By complying with them, parents will make sure their child not only gets used to healthy food but also forms good eating habits. As much as they might hate spending more time preparing their child's lunch, at the end of the day it is part of a parent's job, and if the child is old enough they can definitely assist and perhaps even learn how to prepare some of their lunches on their own.
While there can be very unique school lunch requirements, these are 17 of the most common ones a lot of schools have, as well as three things parents can definitely get away with!
First, the 17 restrictions parents should be paying attention to...
Fruit and vegetables are such important foods, especially for children as they are still growing and developing. It also tends to be the food kids like the least, so it is of no surprise that parents sometimes take the easy route and don't include them in their kids' lunch boxes. This is absolutely wrong, and if anything parents should try to find those kinds of veggies and fruit their kid hates the least and figure out a way to prepare them so that the child won't mind eating them. Veggies and fruit are a very important source of a lot of nutrients, especially vitamins, and children absolutely need those.
One thing parents may not think about is how salty their kid's lunch is. We live in a world where salt is put into almost everything, and the sodium levels in food have risen quite a bit. Plenty of studies have been conducted on why a lot of salt is bad for the human organism, and the thing with salt is that the earlier one starts to consume a lot of it, the saltier they end up wanting their food. Most food naturally has some sodium in it, and a lot of times there is no need for extra salt, so parents should keep that in mind.
The first restriction in the list is a pretty common one for schools, and for good reason.
Too much chocolate and candy at a young age can cause so many health problems later on, that it is only common sense that parents shouldn't pack it into their child's lunch.
Now even if a school does allow this, the parents should definitely make sure they pack only a little bit and maybe even opt for some slightly healthier alternative such as a piece of high cacao percentage dark chocolate, or a little fruit roll up instead of candy. But in general, avoiding it completely if possible is only beneficial for the kid.
One thing parents that might neglect is making sure their child is and stays hydrated throughout the day.
While giving them a dairy drink or a juice is alright, they should still make sure the child has water (or a reusable water bottle they can fill themselves up at school) to ensure they stay hydrated all day long.
Making sure the child develops a habit of drinking enough water daily is something that can be started from a very early age, and parents can heavily influence this by making sure their child has some water with them at lunch.
The next restrictions is another no-brainer: chips, crisps, and any other unhealthy snacks. Honestly, kids love those (who doesn't, that stuff is deliciously addictive), but as everyone knows or should know by now, those are very unhealthy, especially when eaten in big amounts and often. While it may seem easy to add a bag of chips to a kid's lunch, parents should definitely stray away from that, as chips and similar snack are extremely caloric, and contain unhealthy amounts of fats and sodium.
Opting for healthier options such as homemade oven-baked chips made from sweet potato or kale is much better for the child.
Another very obvious restriction is cakes and cookies. Again, too much food with added sugar won't do the child any good, and many schools restrict this. Besides, cakes and cookies should not be a part of a healthy lunch, but rather an occasional dessert.
Keeping things like this a special occasion food will not only make the child appreciate and look forward to them more, but it will also keep the child healthier and their blood sugar lower. Most school lunch restrictions are there to make sure the child gets enough healthy food, so parents should never take these restrictions lightly.
It is so easy to substitute certain grains for a healthier option in a kid's lunch.
For example, using whole grain pasta instead of regular, or making a sandwich from wholegrain bread instead of white are just tiny ways of making sure the child gets better nutrition.
And chances are they won't even notice or complain, but if they do it is a parent's job to make sure they stick to it and explain to their child that this is for its benefit. The earlier on the kid is used to better food options, the healthier it will grow up to be!
Protein is extremely important in a school lunch, and the main source of protein is either meat or a meat alternative for those who don't want their child to necessarily eat meat every day.
It is important to mention that the meat should be lean, and fish meat is also a great option.
As for meat substitutes, the easiest ones are protein-rich veggies such as beans or chickpeas. There are plenty of easy to make at home meat substitute recipes that can be found online, and those can even be pre-made and frozen to be used whenever wanted.
Fizzy and sugary drinks should definitely not be part of a child's daily nutrition as they can contain extreme amounts of added sugar and sometimes even caffeine, both of which should not be a part of a growing child's diet, especially not in big amounts.
Instead of sending their child to school with a bottle of a fizzy and sugary drink, parents should consider buying a healthier option, like a 100 percent fruit juice or naturally flavored water, both of which they could easily make on their own. It is true that healthier options can also be more pricey, but at the end of the day, there is no price one can put on their child's health.
No matter what specific restrictions schools have regarding lunch meals, one thing all of them agree on is that the meal needs to be well-balanced.
This generally means that it needs to include a bit of everything: grains, meat or meat alternative, dairy and fruit, and veggies.
While it is up to the parents to decide what exactly the lunch is going to contain, it is important for the child's proper development that it contains food from all these crucial food groups on a daily basis. A well-balanced meal is something that all schools definitely needs to insist on.
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a classic kid favorite, and who could blame them? However, some schools do have restrictions not allowing parents to give their children a PBJ sandwich for school lunch, as it is not necessarily a well-balanced meal; it is a sweet sandwich and while it can provide with the necessary grain and protein intake.
It certainly does not provide with the required fruit and veggie portions. Besides this, depending on what kind of peanut butter and jam the sandwich contains, it can also have a lot of unhealthy fats and quite a bit of added sugar.
Some schools imply the Meat Free Monday Rule, with which they try to make the children and their parents understand that eating meat on a daily basis is can be bad for health, but also for the environment.
While this might be tough for some parents to accept, it is fairly easy to deal with, as meat substitutes are just protein rich veggies, and those tend to be even cheaper than meat.
Besides, there are plenty of meat alternatives parents can get in the vegetarian sections at supermarkets, and putting those in the kid's school lunch box isn't all that difficult.
A lot of schools try to restrict their students' sugar intake, and that for good reason. Sugar addiction is one of the most common addictions in today's society, and it can start developing from a very early age. Limiting a child's daily sugar intake to only natural sugars found in fruit and veggies would be ideal, but of course, achieving that is very hard.
However, keeping an eye on all the added sugars in other foods such as breads, pasta dishes and dips is something parents can and should do, in order to assure their child doesn't consume too much.
While this might not make those vegan parents out there too happy, a lot of schools do require the children to have dairy in some form with their daily lunch. Calcium is crucial for growing children, and the easiest source of calcium is dairy.
By incorporating some milk or yogurt into the child's lunch box, parents can easily fulfill the daily calcium intake needs the school requires.
Dependent on how strict the school's dairy requirement's are, parents might be able to get away with calcium-rich dairy substitutes such as some kinds of almond milk or coconut yogurt.
Another quite common school lunch regulation is the number of calories each kid should intake during lunch. Now, this is obviously grade and/or age-dependent, and parents should reach out to their children's school to ask for specific requirements.
Getting enough calories is very important in order for the child to have enough energy, however getting too many can lead to different health problems. Knowing the right amount of calories needed daily and for lunch, as well as how to make sure to get the right amount is something parents can learn either by asking the school for guidance or by consulting a nutritionist.
Fatty food such as pizza, pasta, and cheesy pastries are another lunch no-go at a lot of schools. Now while all of these dishes can be made healthier by using better ingredients such as whole grain doughs and lower-fat cheese, the store-bought or take-out kinds tend to be quite unhealthy.
In addition to this, fatty dishes usually don't fulfill the necessary well-balanced requirement for school lunches as they don't contain enough veggies.
While fatty foods are undoubtedly delicious, they are definitely not good for anyone's health, especially not a growing kid's one. Trying to replace saturated and trans fats and replacing them with healthier fats contained in avocados and different nuts is a way better lunch option.
Nobody likes a bland meal. And nobody likes eating the exact same thing every day over and over again. So when it comes to a kid's school lunch, parents should really try to give their child some diversity. Doing this shouldn't be too difficult as there are plenty of different meals that can be made from a variety of different vegetables, meats, and dairy products.
And even if the parents like to stick to a simple but healthy homemade sandwich, they can definitely switch up what they put into it, so that the child doesn't get too bored of it.
And now for the 3 parents can get away with...
One thing that parents might be able to get away with when it comes to sweet drinks is chocolate milk. While the fatty, super sweet one isn't good for a child's health, finding a better low-fat and low-sugar alternative is something that schools might approve of.
And if parents really want to know what goes into their child, they can also make homemade chocolate milk from low-fat milk (or a plant-based milk), some unsweetened cacao and a natural sugar alternative such as stevia or agave syrup.
Schools will allow healthier homemade alternatives to your child's favorites, and that means your child doesn't have to miss out on the things they like!
Remember how candy and cookies aren't allowed at most schools as part of the child's lunch? Well, some schools will allow a healthier homemade alternative, and parents would be surprised how much they can actually make themselves at home, by using better ingredients and making sure they know exactly what their child is eating.
Sure, making things yourself might take a bit more time, but when it comes to a child's health and that smile on their face, it is undoubtedly worth the extra effort. A lot of these sweets can be made in big batches and frozen so that a little something sweet is always ready for packing.
One thing that parents can definitely get away with is making something their child will love. Just because a lunch is healthy doesn't mean it cannot also be delicious. In fact, a lot of kid favorites can be made with slight alterations to ensure the meal is healthy and well balanced.
At the end of the day, forming healthy eating habits starts very early on, and parents should look at these school restrictions as a positive thing that will make their child grow into a healthy and happy person...
Even if that means they might need to spend a bit more time preparing those lunches!