My youngest daughter and I join my eldest for school lunch every Thursday. I brown bag it as I’d rather bring my own. In past years, I packed all of my daughter’s lunches as well, but she now (usually) prefers eating what the school kitchen has to offer. This used to bug me, as I’m well aware of the high childhood obesity rates. It’s so easy for kids (and adults) to make bad nutrition choices. Junk food lurks around every childhood corner–cookies after musical rehearsal, juice boxes and candy-bar like granola bars after soccer, the list goes on. And the school lunches I remember were high in calories and low in good nutrition. Lately, though, things are looking up. True, mini corndogs were on today’s menu, but so were carrot sticks, broccoli florets, and baked sweet potato fries. The pizza crusts and tortillas are whole grain. Fresh fruit is always offered. But at the end of the lunch period, it’s less about what the school serves and more about what the kids will eat. Cut-up fresh vegetables may be on the menu, but if those veggies end up in the trash they haven’t added to anyone’s 5-a-day.
The most important nutrition responsibility, I feel, falls on parents. Kids who learn to like fresh fruits and veggies at home are more likely to eat them at school. Does my daughter make healthy choices? Not always. I’ve seen her eat her chocolate chip cookie first and leave the veggies untouched. (Yes, I call her on it. So far, she still wants me there.) But I keep hoping that by setting (mostly) good examples with my food choices, my daughters will eventually come round. And in the meantime, I know they’ll get (again, mostly) good nutrition at home and the school meals are better than they used to be.