Dishing on School Lunches with TrayTalk.org

by Stacey Heneveld

Sending your child off to school can be a tough transition, especially if this is your son’s or daughter’s first year. Putting your child in the hands and trust of others and trusting that your child makes the right decisions…it can be nerve racking, to say the least!

This year I sent my oldest off to first grade, which means she is there all day, Monday through Friday. This also means she is there for lunch. Now, while she is super excited to eat lunch with her friends, I don’t find myself quite so excited. Is she getting enough to eat? Or is she rushing through lunch so she can get to recess? Is she eating the right foods? Healthy foods? I can control what she eats here at home, but at school I’m putting my trust in the school and her! YIKES!

Let’s face it, school lunches don’t always have the greatest reputation. I grew up eating school lunches and, when I think back, I remember “pizza spins”, nachos, chicken sandwiches, hamburgers and fries. I even worked in a local middle school for a few years before I had my own kids and I would cringe at some of the stuff the kids were eating — there were kids whose entire lunch consisted of a sports drink and a bag of chips!

So, as we dive into this school year, I’m excited to be partnering with the School Nutrition Association (SNA) to help give parents a little peek as to what is happening with school lunches these days!

School Nutrition Association is a national, nonprofit organization that helps train and educate it’s more than 55,000 members to help provide high-quality, healthy, low-cost meals to students. In August 2010, the SNA launched TrayTalk.org to help provide parents with information about what really is going on with school lunches.

TrayTalk.org

Here’s the thing…when I ask my kids about school, they give me a very vague idea of what actually happened throughout the day. And I have to trust that there is more going on in their day. If I took just my preschooler’s word, I would believe that all she does at school is eat a snack and sit on the carpet. But I know she does more. I know my first grader does more than recess and laugh at how silly the boy is that sits next to her in class.

When I ask my daughter about lunch, of course she’s going to just say she ate pizza and, if I push, she might say she had some grapes. What she’s not going to tell me is that the pizza she ate was made from whole grain crust and had low-fat cheese. And she didn’t just eat a few grapes, she ate a mix of grapes and apples with low-fat yogurt.

TrayTalk.org and their newly launched interactive community on Facebook helps parents learn more about what really is going on with school lunches. The community allows you to voice your opinions, hear about success stories, and learn about new legislation that will affect school lunches. They also share fun “school lunch” recipes that have been scaled down to a family size portion that you can make right at home.

Southwest Veggie Wrap recipe found at TrayTalk.org

It’s all about education! Educating ourselves, as parents, as to what’s happening in the school lunch room. Here are a few quick tips:

1. Understand that many lunch menus, the ones you see coming home with your kids, are often times written to appeal to your kids. Kids don’t want to see “baked, all white-meat chicken nuggets”. They just want to see “nuggets”! So…

2. Talk to your school! Meet with your school’s food or nutrition director if you have concerns about the menu and ask questions about ingredients, portions, baked vs. fried, options, etc. Also, ask them if they are a member of SNA!

3.  Do your research. Did you know that this past July the USDA released new guidelines for schools, requiring such things as serving 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetables and foods made with whole grains and lower in fat? You can find out things like this and more at TrayTalk.org! Also, visit your school district’s website to learn more about the nutrition program they are using.

4.  Be an advocate! Share the information you learn through TrayTalk.org with your school. Learn what other parents and school are doing to improve school lunches. I talked with one school who was actually mixing a tiny amount of jello mix with their applesauce to give it green or red color. The kids flipped! How awesome is it that they get to eat bright green applesauce!!! Schools are beginning to realize that they need to actually market the food to the kids to make it more interesting while being healthy.

5. Go to lunch! Actually go have lunch at school with your child. See for yourself what the school is serving and how it is presented to the kids. Don’t just rely on the memories you have of school lunch when you were seven!

 

6. Talk to your kids! Kids can get easily overwhelmed with food choices, especially in a busy school cafeteria. Sit down with your child and the school lunch menu and talk about the choices they have that day at lunch. Let them pick which item(s) they will choose that day. Forming a lunch plan before heading off to school can make selecting the right foods even easier for kids. Remind them that is important they eat their entire lunch to keep up their energy throughout the day and ask them after school how they enjoyed having X, Y, or Z for lunch!

I really hope you’ll take some time to check out TrayTalk.org and join the conversation at Facebook.com/TrayTalk. It’s amazing having this information available to us as parents and I hope you’ll take advantage of it!

We’d also love to hear your thoughts on School Lunches! Do your kids eat school lunches? Have you noticed a change in menus? Share with us in the comments! 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post by TrayTalk.org but all opinions are my own. Images courtesy of SNA and TrayTalk.org.



Email Author    |    Website About Stacey Heneveld

Blogging at StaceySays.com about life as a mother to 3 young kids, Stacey dreams big through her life list and is currently shopping two of her children's books to publishers. How does she do it all? She has a secret stash of chocolate that keeps her going each day!

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