School Lunch vs. Home Lunch – How do you decide?

Juggling with the idea of school lunch or packing your child’s lunch? If your child’s school participates in the National School Lunch Program, school lunch may be the best bet.

According to a 2012 study, here’s why1. Home lunches are:

  • Less likely to have fruits, veggies, and dairy
  • More likely to have snacks high in sugar and fat.

Overall, home lunches are typically high in refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates digest quickly into sugar, providing your child with a quick boost of energy but will likely leave them sluggish and hungry shortly thereafter. School lunches provide balanced energy to make for a productive school day.

If you do decide to pack your child’s lunch, follow these guidelines:

  1. Protein – This will help power your child’s brain and keep them full until the end of the school day. Great examples for lunch protein are deli meat, nut butters, nuts (such as almonds or walnuts), hummus, chicken, beans, or hard boiled eggs.
  2. Fruit & Veggies – cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, or any variety of raw or cooked veggies. Fresh fruits are a great complement to any lunch as well. If you choose canned fruit or fruit cups, make sure they are packed in their own juice or light syrup. Applesauce is a great option as well, just look for unsweetened versions.
  3. Snack – cheese sticks or cubes, yogurt, pretzels or low-fat popcorn are a great complement to any lunch.
  4. Water or milk – One of the biggest differences between home and school lunch is the addition of sugary drinks. Choose low-fat plain milks or small water bottles.
  5. Be creative when you pack. Use silicone cupcake holders to separate food items (for portion control) within lunch containers. Mason jars work great as well. Don’t forget to use cookie cutters for sandwiches and fruit. Add a note of encouragement or funny joke. This will let your child know that you are thinking of them.
Johnston CA, Moreno JP, El-Mubasher A, and Woehler D. (August 2012). School Lunches and Lunches Brought from Home: A Comparative Analysis. Child Obesity Journal

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