James and I have added a new dimension to our 2015-2016 home school program: We will begin serving our students breakfast, lunch, and snacks. For the past five years, our students brought their own lunches. Now, preparing and providing healthy meals and snacks are our responsibility. Our goal is to enhance the educational experience by teaching our students the importance of healthy eating. We will lead by example.
We turned to several resources that would teach us how to prepare and provide healthy meals that children would actually eat and enjoy. First, we turned to ChooseMyPlate.gov where we discovered a vast array of games, activity sheets, videos and songs, and healthy recipes from children around the world.
ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information for individuals, health professionals, nutrition educators, and the food industry to help consumers build healthier diets with resources and tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and other user-friendly nutrition information. On their website they say, “Americans are experiencing epidemic rates of overweight and obesity, the online resources and tools can empower people to make healthier food choices for themselves, their families, and their children.”
They suggest the following food tips on helping children develop healthy eating habits:
- Set a good example.
- Offer a variety of foods
- Start small with portions
- Help them know when they’ve had enough
- Follow a meal and snack schedule
- Make mealtime a family time
- Cope with a picky eater
- Help them try new foods
- Make food fun
MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet using a familiar image – a place setting for a meal. Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl.
ChooseMyPlate has a variety of posters and and other and other tools that parents and students can download. My favorite is this race car made of broccoli, carrots, blueberries, celery, and more.
In In addition, the site offers curriculum resources for the following grade levels:
The USDA Department of Agriculture has a great meal planning worksheet that parents and other food providers can print and use to plan weekly menus that meet the requirements for various age groups.
James and I also took an online course called Creating Healthy Lunchrooms offered by Cornell University. They suggested some basic principles for creating a positive lunchroom environment. Those principles are:
- Manage portion sizes. In other words, avoid buffet style food service that allows children to serve themselves.
- Increase convenience. Make it easy for them to select healthier options by simply removing the unhealthy options. Rather than have cookies and chips to choose from, allow them to choose between apple slices or orange slices. In other words, if the unhealthy option isn’t available, there’s no discussion.
- Improve visibility. While we may not have time to assemble the creative rice pandas (photo above) on daily basis, we can use tools-such as cookie cutters-to create heart-shaped sandwiches, put grapes or carrots in colorful cupcake papers, or top a sandwich with a cheese smile and quinoa freckles.
- Enhance taste expectations with flavorful dips, such as honey-mustard or yogurt.
Another way to make lunchtime healthy and fun is to find ways to keep mealtimes interesting and fun. Offer a small amount of many different foods in a variety of colorful bento-style containers. Pick a theme that will tap into your student’s creative sides. Here’s a few ideas.
- Mexican food Mondays can be days that students can build their own burritos or top their own nachos with chopped lettuce, olives, and tomatoes,
- Do da dip! Cut a baked chicken breast into strips. Serve alongside a small bowl of honey mustard or bar-b-que sauce for dipping. Add carrots and broccoli or kiwi and strawberries to dip in a honey-yogurt dressing.
- Inside out: Make Inside Out place mats and use them to serve inside out sandwiches such as turkey lettuce wraps.
- Cut sandwiches into fun shapes, add colorful fruits and vegetables in different sizes, and pack yummy dips such as fat-free or low-fat yogurt or hummus. Hummus is packed with nutrition and easy to prepare. There are also many store bought varieties.
Salad bar BOOM! Keep fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains available as a main course option.
My favorite hummus recipe
- 4 clove garlic
- 1 large lemon
- 1 can garbanzo beans
- 2 tbsp. tahini
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. water
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Pinch ground red pepper (cayenne)
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
- Pita bread wedges
- Assorted fresh vegetables
- In 1-quart saucepan, heat 2 cups water to boiling over high heat. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes to blanch; drain.
- From lemon, grate 1 teaspoon peel and squeeze 3 tablespoons juice. In food processor with knife blade attached, combine beans, tahini, garlic, lemon peel and juice, oil, water, salt, and ground red pepper. Puree until smooth. Transfer to platter; cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours. To serve, sprinkle with paprika and cilantro, if using. Serve with pita bread wedges and fresh vegetables.