B2S Health: cafeteria lunches vs. brown bags

Kids and adults often face the choice of buying lunch or brown bagging it from home.  Now that school is back in session, that debate continues.

The USDA has new requirements on the nutritional value of school lunches, but some parents are still opting to pack their kids' lunch.

School cafeterias have undergone a makeover, thanks to the USDA and nationwide healthy initiatives.  CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital Assistant Director of Patient Services, Samantha Rider, is passionate about nutrition for patients and as a mom to two kids.  "Schools are getting some whole grain products in there, getting more fruits and vegetables, taking away a lot of the high fat items that we've always had and the kids have always loved," she said.

Rider says even though parents might want to pack healthy items, like celery sticks or carrots, you need to consider your child's palate.  "The key thing is what do they like, what are they gonna eat and what is gonna be safe for them," she said.

School lunches now have at least a half cup of fruit for students through 8th grade and a full cup for high schoolers - something that Rider says should be used if packing a lunch, too.  "Grapes, oranges, bananas, apples, anything like that that you can put in a Ziploc," said Rider.

Veggies are also now served up more, with K-8th needing 3/4ths of a cup at each meal and a whole cup for the older students.  "For some kids, that may be their main source of nutrition for the day, so they are providing a little bit more than what you would typically do at home," said Rider.

Making a decision about whether to pack a lunch or go through the school cafeteria line is a decision that does not need to just be left up to the mom or dad. The child needs to have a big say in what he or she is going to eat.  "If you've been bringing your lunch, it's a good time to say 'is that working for you or have you been eating lunch, is that working for you?'" said Rider.

Half of a student's school lunch plate now consists of fruits and veggies. Rider says the same model should be used for packed lunches, and meat or cheese sandwiches should be avoided.  "If it's not properly insulated and it's not kept at the correct temperature, it can really make your child sick," she said.

Whether it is the cafeteria line or grocery store, Rider says there are plenty of healthy choice options to keep students fueled throughout the day.

Students should avoid caffeinated drinks and always eat breakfast.

One tip for keeping a lunch box cool is freezing a portable yogurt that will be thawed out by lunch time.

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