Tuesday, March 2, 2010

School Lunches, Bento Style

Most school lunches are nutritionally dismal. Recently I took tours of my town's elementary schools in preparation for sending Ben next year, and I peaked at the kids' trays during lunch at one of the schools. Meatball sub, canned peaches, chocolate chip cookie, milk. It's depressing. Truly it is. I've been reading a lot lately about people who are passionate about doing something about changing school lunch; I plan on getting active locally when my son starts kindergarten. One particularly interesting blog, called "Fed Up With School Lunch," is about a teacher who has committed to eating her school's lunch every day for a year. She figured, if it's good enough for the children, it should be good enough for the adults. Read about her adventures here.

Fortunately for many of us, our children do not have to eat what is served in the school cafeteria. They can bring healthy and delicious food from home. In the Pre-K my child attends, school lunch is not an option so he is quite used to bringing a lunch every day. That won't change when he starts in a new school in the fall.

Today, Ben got a fun lunch: three mini pita sandwiches (you can get Mini Whole Wheat Pita Pockets at Trader Joes for $1.49), one with almond butter, one with tofu salad, and one with black bean spread; a homemade vegan banana flax muffin; carrots, celery, and dip; and grapes and strawberries. If you're wondering about that cool lunch box, it is a Laptop Lunch Bento Box, which I've been using for almost 2 years now. I love that thing; it cuts back on waste (no paper or plastic bags needed) and encourages me to include a variety of healthy foods every day (gotta fill those sections!) Most of you out there probably already know about the blog Vegan Lunchbox; the blogger, mom Jennifer McCann, has the Laptop Lunch systems as well (she showcases the one I have in older posts). I think that her family is the best-fed family on the planet!

Anyway, back to school lunch...The sad truth is that many families cannot afford to send their children to school with fresh, healthy food. They qualify for free or reduced school lunch, and since the USDA promises that the meal meets at least 1/3 of a child's daily requirement for nutrients, it should be a trusted program. Unfortunately, the meatball sub meal mentioned above DOES meet these requirements. But imagine if the standards were different -- imagine the meals had to meet OPTIMAL nutrition standards! Antioxidants. Phytochemicals. Fiber. Disease-preventing phytonutrients. The problem, as always, comes down to money: the government provides subsidized foods to school, mainly dairy products and meat. Healthy foods, in OUR system, are costly. It doesn't have to be that way.

In future posts I'll showcase some of the heroic pioneers who are transforming school lunches to make kids maintain a healthy weight, perform better in school, and have reduced risk of chronic diseases that are more frequently showing up in childhood, particularly heart disease and diabetes.


Stefania said...

I'm always worried about sending almond butter in my child's lunch. While the school is peanut free I'm concerned some ill-informed teacher will take her sandwich away.

I want to buy the Bento-style box but I'm concerned the lids won't make it back home and then I'll have to buy replacements.

Dina said...

Sounds like your child's teacher needs a talkin-to! :-) Maybe you could call him/her or email him/her or set up a short meeting, where you can discuss the peanut butter / almond butter issue... not sure how old your child is but you can also be sure he or she knows that it's not peanut butter. Or you can leave a note in the box: "THIS IS NOT PEANUT BUTTER. IT IS ALMOND BUTTER."

As far as the replacements... I have been using the box for almost 2 years (sending it to school) and no piece has ever been lost. Ben's name is clearly written on each piece, and I have taught him that it's important to be careful with the pieces and not remove them or lose them.

Laptop Lunches does sell replacements, though. And even if you have to buy replacements now and then, it still saves $$ overall b/c you're not buying bags and foil and such. And of course it's better for the environment!

Stefania said...

I'm going to order the Bento system. I think The Pea is pretty good about returning things home. I'm going to roll the dice... :-)

Dina said...

Yeah, good for you!!! If you order from the LL web site, tell them I say hi!! They're really great... one time a piece burned on the heating element in my dishwasher, and they sent me a replacement gratis.

Stefania said...

I thought you're supposed to handwash only. That's awfully nice of them to send you one for free.

I'm going to try to buy one locally so I can save on duty and conversion rates.

jaime said...

Hi Dina!

I was hoping to email you, but this will be fine for now. I came across your site today while researching online about raising vegan children.

I was wondering if I may email you a few questions - not about kids, actually, but about your career path! I have tossed around the idea of becoming a dietician and if you had the time to answer a few things, I'd appreciate it!

I'm in Bethlehem, PA and don't think you're terribly far away. It would be wonderful to meet you some time!

Dina said...

Sure jaime! Please email me privately at dina@welltechsolutions.com and we'll talk!