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Moms Talk: POLL: Bag or Buy School Lunches?

Do you pack your student's school lunch? Let them buy? Or mix it up a bit?

A few weeks ago, Patch posted a story that set off a flurry of comments, "School Lunch Standards to Take Effect This Year."

The conversation, which began about whether healthier school lunches should be mandated on a federal level — as they will be starting this year — later turned to a discussion over whether parents should take more control over what their children eat in school by getting ambitious and packing up a lunch themselves.

As a parent myself who feels I have so far packed a zillion school lunches (and am continuing to do so for that student), I have to say that I think a combination of home and cafeteria lunches is the best way to go.

To set straight one of the misconceptions that were floating out there, the school lunch program in a school district such as Bernards Township does not rely on taxpayer support. Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian confirmed as much this week in answering an email. In fact, he said the program, run by Aramark, turns a profit.

The Somerset Hills School District also is self-supporting. That school district offers its lunches through Maschio’s Food Services, said Nancy Lee Hunter, the school district's business administrator.

I don't know what other parents have seen, but I think it's relatively easy for students buying lunch in the elementary, or a la carte high school cafeteria to choose something that relatively healthy.

And of course the cafeteria provides more of a variety than I usually send from home. I especially am more prone to send in lunch money on very hot days when I might be relucant to have something like a tuna sandwich sit unrefrigerated for hours. (Not that my younger son would eat a tuna sandwich).

There are other reasons to have your student buy lunch. They seem to enjoy the variety, and look forward to certain menu items. And on very busy nights, (say, when I have to cover a meeting and then write a story for Patch) the option of school cafeteria food is a lifesaver.

In the Bernards Township school district, students often are delighted to find more of a choice of items to buy once they reach middle school. And then, when they finally reach Ridge, the high school offers as many selections as a cafe, some that sound pretty tasty!

Still, in this household, most school lunches come from home.

Economy is part of it, although when you add a drink and a special treat, you might not always be spending less anyway.

Even for a busy Patch editor, packing lunch the night before is not that much of a time drain. (And, hey, that kid probably knows how to wash an apple and make a simple sandwich anyway. And you might let the kids have fun and get a little creative, but maybe not TOO creative, to inspire them to enjoy lunch.)

Packing a lunch lets you know that you can pack your child's favorite fruit, a reasonably healthy drink, and a sandwich or other food item that they will like. Leftovers are another option, packaged correctly.

Meanwhile, desserts also can be somewhat nutritious, or if you want to include a small indulgence, you can make it small indeed.

But then there's those teenage boy appetites!

On Thursday, the first day of school in these here parts, a school lunch packed at home included turkey and cheese on a small Italian roll, a piece of leftover pizza with barbecue chicken from an apple, Vitamin Water with extra vitamin C — not caffeine — and a small bag of specialty potato chips I'd picked up during a late summer jaunt to Pennsylvania.

That certainly kept him full through the afternoon!

But by Friday, I had to make good on a promise to fork over for lunch in the Ridge cafeteria. I handed out $5. How much does your student spend on Ridge lunches? (By the way, I found that prepaying lunches at the high school meant the fund was drained rather quickly. And I get the impression that too much goes for snacks.)

I'm sure whatever was purchased was thoroughly enjoyed!

As a pertinent point, I found that one of the main reasons that I usually sent in my own school lunches when my children were in elementary school was that I found that the 20 or so minutes they were alloted for lunch at that level often wasn't enough time to stand in the school lunch line. They often then didn't have time to actually eat what they'd purchased!

In an earlier Mom's Talk, including dads, even with home-packed lunches, doesn't seem enough time for children to unpack, enjoy their lunch and digest.

So what do you do with your child (or children's) school lunches? Do you/they have a preference?

Are you satisfied with the selections offered in the school cafeteria? Is your student?

Does you child have a favorite school cafeteria food? Or something that he/she will never eat again?

What school lunches from home can you suggest that are quick, nutritious — and maybe hold up well in hot weather?

Is your child ravenous by lunch time? Or picky? And do picky eaters find what they want on the cafeteria menu?

Do you think school cafeteria selections have improved since back when you were in school?

Let us know in comments!

Linda Sadlouskos September 08, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Thanks, Teagan, for such specific suggestions. My older son eats hummus on turkey in a sandwich, and although I can't say I would have that of it myself, it can be very tasty — especially with red pepper hummus!
TL September 09, 2012 at 04:49 PM
My daughter (elementary school) has always asked me to pack her lunch. She's the one who said that it takes too much time to go through line so she wouldn't have enough time to eat. I totally agree that 20 minutes is too short for the kids to be able to eat. Everywhere experts say that the best way to eat is slowly, but all we do is rush the kids to eat quickly. For me, I do like packing her lunch (I do it in the AM while I'm doing my own since I prefer taking my lunch to the office as well), I like knowing she's getting a balanced meal with fresh fruit and fresh veggies as well as I know what is being eaten or not (she brings home any she doesn't finish).
hope September 24, 2012 at 04:17 PM
No wonder my son said he couldn't finish lunch, the time is too short, I didn't know there's a line for lunch. My son likes to buy school lunch because it's different from what's made at home. I'm health conscious and prefer healthy food. Besides, the fruit or pudding or milk or juice costs too much more. So I'm thinking of a combination of fruit and water brought from home, and regular school lunch. Hope once he is old enough (he's in K grade now) to understand (though he knows now) what is healthy, he will prefer home made. For milk, he can drink organic milk in the morning and in the evening at home.
JG March 07, 2013 at 02:08 AM
I realize that every child is different, but as a WAMS grad, I never had an issue finishing my lunch, and I went to study hall almost every day.
Mom2twins May 08, 2013 at 05:21 PM
If we want to help to ensure that our children are eating healthy and developing healthy eating habits, lunch time needs to be extended! With lunches cut too short we are teaching our kids to eat on the go and choose fast food over nutritious food. Not a healthy way of living. Also, without enough time to eat food, how are they expected to do well the rest of the school day? It's absolutely terrible.

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