Packing a lot into a school lunches

Eating Well: A column by Paul Webster
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 8/21/19

A friend of mine asked if I could offer healthy school lunch ideas for her child. Even though my children are well beyond college, I still care about what kids are eating at school. The American …

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Packing a lot into a school lunches


A friend of mine asked if I could offer healthy school lunch ideas for her child. Even though my children are well beyond college, I still care about what kids are eating at school. The American Heart Association (AHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify childhood obesity as a main health concern, with approximately one in three American pre-teens and teenagers being overweight or obese.

Proper nutrition and exercise play a key role in overall health for both adults and children. The AHA and CDC clearly state that weight related chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and elevated blood cholesterol are becoming more common in children. Healthy eating at a young age can reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses as your child grows into an adult.

Schools want students to enjoy lunch, which is why they offer a wide variety of options, some of which are healthier than others. I jumped on the Internet to see what schools in Colorado are serving this year. After viewing the school lunch options, I can understand why my friend asked for a little help.

The nutrition information for the school menus that I viewed was surprising. A single school lunch can contain enough protein, fat, sugar and sodium for an entire day, which could be good or bad depending on the remainder of the child’s food consumption for that day. At the same time, many lunch items contain very little fiber from vegetables, fruits and unrefined grains. Most Americans, whether children or adults, are lacking in fiber as a result of low fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption.

It is possible for a child to eat a healthy school lunch, but it takes the child to make the best decision based on their knowledge of nutrition. As a nutritionist, I know from experience that no matter how much you educate your children, they still have the freedom and ability to make their own choices when it comes to food.

What can you do?

If you have time to make lunches for your children, you should include more fruits and vegetables. You should avoid sandwiches that include processed lunch meats. Processed meats are high in fat, sodium, nitrates and other chemicals. If you are not aware, the World Health Organization has defined processed meats such as pepperoni, sausage, bacon, hot dogs and processed deli-style meats as cancer causing Group 1 carcinogens. In addition to processed meats, other processed foods such as chips, protein bars, white bread and sweetened beverages should be eliminated. A single can of soda contains more added sugar than the AHA recommends for daily intake. Did you know it takes more than 9 feet of sugar cane to sweeten a typical 12 ounce can of soda?

If you are concerned about protein, you need not worry since all legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits contain the necessary amino acids required for the body to build protein necessary for growth. There is nothing wrong with a sandwich made with peanut butter or almond butter and a few slices of banana or apple stuck between a couple slices of whole wheat bread. You can also make a wrap by spreading hummus on whole wheat tortillas adding lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers or other sliced vegetables for sweetness and texture. Whole fruit, salads and cut vegetables with a low-fat dip are also great options. A great resource for school lunch information can be found at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,, just search School Lunch for ideas.

Paul Webster is certified in Whole Food Nutrition, Weight Management, Sports Nutrition and Training. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. Questions and Comments can be sent to


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