The first time I saw a public school lunch menu was this past September when my oldest child started kindergarten. To say I was shocked, is putting it mildly. Considering that the percentage of kids who are overweight has doubled since the time I was a kid in the 1970s, the fact that school lunches are loaded with so much fat and sugar is unconscionable.
Some recent entree selections from the "hot lunch" menu: "Mozzy Sticks" (those would be fried mozzarella sticks), "Italian Dunkers" (bread sticks dipped in tomato sauce), "Nacho Chips with Meat, Cheese, and Salsa", and "Chicken Tenders". Hmmmm----to me this reads more like the appetizer menu at a TGIFridays than a lunch menu for elementary school students. Mozzarella sticks and nacho chips for LUNCH? Is the person making these menu decisions high?
To be fair, about once per week there is a selection that sounds at least semi-healthful. The baked chicken with cranberry sauce and whipped potatoes may not be terrible, and the turkey breast on a multi-grain roll could qualify as wholesome. But I draw the line at "Belgian Waffle Sticks with Sausage Links and syrup". Sounds to me like a sugar/fat fest on a plate. I wouldn't want to be the teacher of 22 five year-olds who just scarfed down a plateful of white-flour waffles and processed syrup. Oh, and don't forget the Trix-brand cereal flavored yogurt on the side. Talk about sugar-induced hyperactivity!
As much as I like the idea of not having to pack my daughter's lunch every day, I find myself doing it anyway. I wouldn't serve her nacho chips for dinner, so why would I allow her to eat it for lunch? Thankfully, she likes bringing her lunch. The students only have 20 minutes to eat, and if you buy "hot lunch", you spend half of that time waiting on line to purchase it. Great---so in addition to teaching our kids that it is okay to eat fried mozzarella sticks for lunch, we are telling them to shove it down their little throats in under ten minutes. Good eating habits that last a lifetime!
For those of you (like me) who hate packing lunch, don't have the time to pack lunch, and/or would rather sleep an extra 15 minutes in the morning, here is an idea for a make-ahead sandwich that requires no preparation in the morning. Toss in a piece of fruit and an organic milk box (oh yes, they also do not serve organic, hormone-free milk), and you've packed a healthy lunch in under 2 minutes.
To make these rolled sandwiches, you'll need to set aside about 30-45 minutes on a weekend. You can prepare enough for enough for a few weeks' worth of lunches.
Make-Ahead Lunchbox Rolls
Makes a dozen small sandwiches (you may double this recipe as needed)
2 - 1 lb packages whole wheat pizza dough, or other variety (usually found in the refrigerated deli section at the grocery store)
3/4 lb sliced turkey breast, ham, or other lunch meat (look for low-fat, low-sodium, nitrate free varieties like Applegate Farms brand)
1/4 lb low-fat sliced cheese (Swiss, cheddar, or other non-processed, hormone-free variety)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Non-stick cooking spray
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray two large cookie sheets with non-stick cooking spray.
Divide each 1 lb dough into 6 pieces (for a total of 12 pieces).
On a lightly floured surface, roll into circles (about 6" in diameter).
Place 1-2 slices of deli meat and 1 small piece of cheese on each circle.
Roll into "wrap" like sandwiches, and seal the seam and ends by gently pinching dough together.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and baked through.
Transfer to a baking rack and cool completely.
If you like, cut each roll in half (on the diagonal), and place in a ziplock baggie, and freeze for up to 2 months.
In the morning, simply remove desired number of sandwiches from freezer and place in lunchbox. By lunchtime, it will have defrosted, and acted as an ice-pack for the other items in the lunchbox.
Alternatives: For a vegetarian variety, substitute steamed broccoli, spinach, or other vegetable for the deli meat.