The changing face of school lunches


Do you hear that? The sound of young parents’ sighs as they turn the calendar to August? It’s not long before their children switch out pails and shovels for lunch bags and backpacks. 

This is my fourth year writing about the annual ritual of the school lunch. In past columns I’ve discussed alternatives to the standard sandwich/fruit/drink combination, healthier meals and some of the new technologies that are keeping lunches fresher throughout the day. In other words, the world of the school lunch continues to change. 

And why shouldn’t it? Other than recess or physical education, lunchtime is one of the most important periods in a child’s school day. Without the proper foods, or any foods for that matter, children can suffer both academically and socially. This is why both school districts and corporations are tweaking the way they handle this time of day. Here are a few of the newer trends going on locally as well as across the country.

Brown for green
The Poudre School District no longer serves fries. Well, regular fries that is. Instead, they serve baked sweet potato fries. In addition, students need to stop at the salad bar and pick at least two items from it before they can head into the main line.

This is the trend that is spreading across Colorado as well as the nation. This is pumping better vitamins and minerals into the students’ bodies, thus giving them a boost of energy for the rest of the day.

So long, sandwich
The sandwich is no longer the king of the school lunch. These days you can find packages that contain a starch, dairy and some form of fruit. Should sandwiches be included they’re on whole wheat or multi-grain breads that are minus high-fructose corn syrup and contain lean cuts of meat and healthier cheeses.

Due to the increase of gluten-type allergies you’re also seeing an increase of students bringing many produce-based items to lunch. And the drinks they’re pulling from their lunch bags are not fruit punch or other sugary products. Many kids are grabbing non-refrigerated milks from their cupboards to include as part of their daily meal.

Carry on
The standard soft-skinned lunch bag with your child’s favorite character – at least for this year – is still king among totes. However, technology has gotten to the point that their salads are no longer wilted and their leftover pasta is no longer cold. Companies like Cryopak now sell reusable ice/heat packs that can be placed in lunch bags. For keeping things cool you would place the pack in the freezer. For keeping them hot you would place it in the microwave before dropping the kids at the bus stop. 

Another new product is the Warmables lunch kit. This organic and BPA-free option provides a container to store home-cooked meals, and insulated bag and two small bags to store cherry pits that are warmed stored near the meal.

Online sources for the best school lunch recipes 

There are two reasons for preparing humdrum school lunches. One, there isn’t enough time in the day or night to do so. Two, you don’t know of any sites that offer school lunch recipes. Look no further, here are a number of online locations offering unique recipes that will make your children’s friends envious.

Food Network– The 15 kid-approved lunches on this site include the semi-basic chicken salad and ham sandwich to items like sesame-pecan chicken strips, peanut butter crackers with glazed grapes and even fruit leather roll-ups.

bon appétit – It’s not always beautiful meals for beautiful people at this website. The school lunch alternatives here include turkey salad rolls, corn and zucchini fritters and sushi made with avocado, carrot and cucumber.

Good Housekeeping – The king, or should we say queen, of all things home has over two dozen recipes to keep your children excited for school lunch. Items include turkey meatball pitas, turkey melon wraps, corn and tomato chowder and whole grain ginger snaps.