School lunches aren’t what they used to be and thank goodness for that! Back when I was a kid, the food was so horrendous that I still have an irrational fear of women in hairnets and avoid any recipe with the word “surprise” in the name . . . remember Tuna Surprise?!
In addition to tasting terrible, the food back then wasn’t all that nutritionally sound. That may have just been a sign of the 1970s, the era in which I went to elementary school. The food was high in fat, high in sodium and, rumor was, some of the casseroles were held together with Elmer’s Glue. The phrase, “When you know better, you do better” holds so true. We know so much more about what our bodies need for optimal performance and today’s school menus reflects this healthier mindset. Age-appropriate portions of low-fat milk and whole grain products, healthier make-overs of traditional kid-friendly food, and a colorful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are found in the lunch lines of the 21st century.
National School Lunch Week, a celebratory event created in 1962 by John F. Kennedy as part of the National School Lunch Program, is taking place from October 14th through October 18th. This year, the theme is “School Lunch Across the USA” and is meant to showcase regional flavors, spices, produce and traditions. For example, Monday’s menu might feature New England Clam Chowder while Tuesday showcases Southwestern Tacos and Wednesday offers Cajun Gumbo, you get the idea! I was shocked to learn a recent study from the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston found that children actually ate more nutritious foods when purchased from the school cafeteria than when they brought lunch from home. The school lunches studied contained a higher percentage of fruits, vegetables, and dairy, while homemade lunches were often packed with sugary or fatty snacks and non-100% fruit juice. Fruit was only included in 45 percent of the lunches brought from home and vegetables only appeared 13.2 percent of the time.
I plan on encouraging my school-aged kids to join in the festivities of National School Lunch Week; it’s a fun way for them to explore unfamiliar tastes and cultures. Normally my kids choose to bring lunch from home four days a week. Preparing lunch together is a hands-on opportunity for me to educate them on what actually comprises a healthy meal. I follow the guidelines at ChooseMyPlate.gov and give them some leeway to decide what should and what shouldn’t go in their lunch box. One of the fun meals we created together is Rainbow Veggie Wraps – I’m excited to share it with you and your children! It’s so simple to prepare; kids can do it from start to finish once you given them the initial demonstration. Softened, reduced-fat cream cheese is blended with a bit of Litehouse Food’s Feta Cheese Crumbles to create a tangy mixture that is spread on a whole grain tortilla. A colorful array of raw vegetables is laid on top of the cheese spread to resemble a rainbow. Rolled up tightly, and sliced if desired, it packs nicely into a lunch box. My kids are “dippers,” so I send along a single-serving cup of Litehouse Foods Ranch Veggie Dippers and pair the wrap with fruit, dairy and another protein selection such as a hard-boiled egg or slices of roast chicken.