I am a Music teacher at an elementary school. My job at 12:30 every day is to monitor my First graders as they eat lunch. My school call it "lunch duty". I call it "lunch cheerleading".
I encourage them to eat what's bought or packed. I encourage them to sit down and chew that food before they choke. I encourage them to talk (not scream), to walk (not run) and to at least TRY a bite of that PB&J before they tear into their bag of cheetos or drain their fruit punch.
On average, the lunch that's offered on the monthly menu we parents read is not the lunch that they bring back to the table on their trays. Fruit of all kind (except the kind that comes with maraschino cherries) is left behind. They choose the hot dog or the Uncrustables sandwich over the turkey on a whole-wheat role. And milk? In this land, milk comes in two colors: brown or Barbie pink. Is this what you want them spending that $2.50 on every day?
The packed lunches really aren't much better, on average. Sometimes my students have two or three pre-packaged snacks, a sugar drink, and and sandwich on white. Come on, people! If we're going to pack them a lunch, we need to pack one that won't leave them in a sugar hangover at 2:00PM. I hate peeling them off my classroom floor.
Some tips from a teacher, a mom, and a professional "lunch cheerleader":
- Pack water. No, not water and a tube of sugar to flavor and color it. Good old water. If there's nothing else to drink, they'll drink it, and they'll be fine. And they'll be hydrated.
- Pack one snack, and make it a good one. Peanuts, whole-grain crackers, granola, oatmeal cookie, etc. are great. There's a ton of choices that do not involve cheese powder-covered fingers.
- Pack a fruit, and if it's not easily biteable, pack it cut up in little pieces.
- Pack a vegetable. Yes, a fruit AND a vegetable. We're trying to fill their tummy with GOOD. Sending a dip to make it more fun ups your odds, too. Peanut butter is a favorite, and hey, carrots come in individual baggies, already washed!
- Make your sandwich or "main course" pack a protein punch. Meat, cheese, Greek yogurt, you name it! It keeps them feeling full and helps avoid a carbohydrate CRASH later on.
- Please don't forget the extras: yes, they have napkins and utensils at school, but you'd be surprised how many kids don't go to the trouble of getting up to get them. Messy.
- Pack a note. You have no idea the thrill, the unbridled joy, that abounds when they find a note from you tucked behind their apple. The ones who can read share them proudly with me. This is so sweet, and it practices reading skills outside the classroom.