On the Menu: Send them off to camp with a winning lunch

Steer clear of lunches that remind them of school days during the summer

Children are often fed up with sandwich bread and the same old fillings that remind them of school days. Think about colour to entice them, with their lunch boxes and the food you put in them. Photograph: Thinkstock

Children are often fed up with sandwich bread and the same old fillings that remind them of school days. Think about colour to entice them, with their lunch boxes and the food you put in them. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 01:00

Last month Michelle Obama undertook yet again to fight attempts to delay enforcement of US school lunch nutrition standards. The Washington Post reported that the First Lady expressed surprise and regret at proposals to allow some school districts to seek waivers from meeting the requirements.

“I find myself surprised that we’re here because just a few years ago, everybody was around the table celebrating this victory, that school nutrition standards had been improved for the first time in 30 years. And everyone was on board.”

“Of course it’s hard” to wean students off pizza, French fries and other high-fat, high-sodium foods that had been staples of school lunches before passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, she added.

“We expected those challenges, particularly among our oldest kids, who’ve grown up eating junk food. But what we did not expect was for the grown-ups to . . . go along with them and say ‘well, this is too hard, it costs too much money. So let’s just stop.’ ”

Apparently more than 90 per cent of schools have improved their school lunch offerings and children are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result.

Obama said the administration was looking for ways to knit in cooking classes into the school curriculum because children eat out so frequently that they simply don’t know how to cook.

Americans now spend almost half their food dollars eating outside the home where they have little or no control over what goes into their meal choices.

Closer to home, the University of Essex carried out research on the impact of the Jamie Oliver healthy dinners campaign in 80 Greenwich schools. It found that Jamie’s changes were positively associated with an improvement in the academic performance of students aged 11. Results demonstrated an 8 per cent improvement in science and 6 per cent in English in Greenwich schools.

No national policy

Here at home, we are without a national school lunch policy but many primary schools draw up their own healthy lunch guidelines and run programmes such as Food Dudes to broaden children’s food tastes.

In October 2013, a three-year, all-island campaign by Safefood, in partnership with the HSE and Healthy Ireland, was launched to remind parents about the negative health impacts of excess weight in childhood and how this can impact on a child’s quality of life.

One in four primary school children is overweight or obese, which equates to 327,000 children. It’s estimated that this figure is increasing by 11,000 children every year.

Summer camps are a great opportunity for children to reap the health benefits of structured activity or exercise, which make up for some of the time spent in front of the TV, computer or in other sedentary pursuits.

Providing the camp lunch can be challenging because it frequently competes with sugary alternatives from a vending machine or nearby tuck shop.

Children are often fed up with sandwich bread and the same old fillings that remind them of school days. Think about colour to entice them.

There are fabulous yet affordable flashy water bottles and bright lunch boxes in most supermarkets now.

An attractive mini-sectioned container with a luminous spoon can transform a pesto pasta and veggie salad into something more exotic.

Brown or wild rice, pasta, cous cous, new potato or quinoa salads with their favourite roasted vegetables and some shredded chicken can be assembled after the Sunday dinner ensuring more time for breakfast on a harried Monday morning.