My children are allowed to buy lunch two days each week — usually on days of their choosing. While I feel like the school lunch menu skews carb-heavy, I appreciate how it’s changed since I was in school. Instead of deep-fried chicken nuggets and tater tots with a side of processed cheese, chicken nuggets were recently served with whole grain rice, a whole wheat breadstick, peas and applesauce.
A perfect menu? Not quite. Personally, I would love to see the breadstick replaced with another fruit or veggie — or even a side salad. But it’s better than it was before the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was enacted.
Among other things, that act gave the USDA the authority to set new standards for food sold in schools during the school day — including in vending machines. It also provided resources for schools and communities to turn to local farms and gardens for fresh produce for school lunches as well as increase the nutritional quality of food provided.
Thanks to the act, the federal government has required kids buying school lunches to take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch, mandated all whole grains in lunches and banned trans fats from cafeterias — all good things for the health of our kids.
The act expired on Sept. 30, 2015, and is in need of reauthorization by Congress to continue. So far, that hasn’t happened.
While I am grateful for the improvements to school lunches that have come, good nutrition begins at home with the food that we, as parents, feed our kids — including in the lunches we pack for school.
When my kids aren’t buying, they bring lunch from home — lunches that I try very hard to make sure are balanced and nutritious.
Somedays, that means I whip up a quick veggie-filled homemade soup in the morning and pack it with crackers, yogurt and a fruit. Other days, that means leftovers served with a bit of mozzarella, a fruit cup packed in juice and a granola bar. Some days, it means sandwiches paired with chopped veggies, pretzels and some other snack.
When it comes to packing lunches that my kids like — and that are nutritious — I try never to pack the same thing two days in a row. Changing the variety of food keeps it interest. But whatever I pack needs to be easy, quick and delicious. After all, mornings are bustling in our house.
These kabobs? They are great for packing. With a lean protein, antioxidant-rich tomatoes and a touch of cheese, these are a nontraditional take on kabobs that can be enjoyed hot or cold. Kids love biting the sausage, tomatoes and cheese off of these … and I love that I can make them the night before for easy packing in the morning.
Hint: Snip the pointy ends of the kabob stick before packing them to prevent them from poking open the resealable bags.
Am I perfect? Nope. But I am trying every day to raise healthy kids. That’s all any of us can do, right? Just keep trying.
- 4 precooked Sweet Italian chicken sausage links, each cut into 4 pieces
- 16 grape tomatoes
- 4 bocconcine-size fresh mozzarella balls (they are about 1-inch in diameter)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and cook the sausage until heated thoroughly. Remove from the oven.
- Thread the end piece of 1 sausage onto a wooden skewer followed by 2 grape tomatoes, a middle piece of sausage, a mozzarella ball, another middle piece of sausage, 2 grape tomatoes and another end piece. Repeat with three more skewers.
- Serve immediately, while hot, or trim the pointy end of the skewer and pack a kabob in a resealable bag for lunch later.